Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte is a castle in Puglia, southern Italy. The castle stands isolated in an elevated position on the low plateau, the Murge, between Corato and Andria. Its name is derived from that of S Maria del Monte, the church of the nearby Benedictine monastery.

Castel del Monte History

Castel del Monte Entrance

Castel del Monte is the only Apulian castle to preserve its original character; it was built ex novo in a single campaign in the mid-13th century as part of Emperor Frederick II’s fortifications in southern Italy and Sicily. Unlike Frederick’s other Apulian castles, but like those in Sicily, Castel del Monte has a rigorously geometrical plan, and its architectural features are derived from north European and Cistercian buildings.

It is not known if the Castle del Monte was finished before Frederick’s death in 1250. On the fall of the Hohenstaufen, Charles I of Anjou (1266–1285) imprisoned Manfred’s sons and followers of the Swabian court at Castel del Monte. From the time of the Angevin Queen Joanna I (1343–1382) until 1507 it was part of the royal domain. Under Spanish domination, it became the fief of Consalvo de Córdoba. In 1528 Odet de Foix, Lord of Lautrec, bombarded the castle, damaging its outer defenses, and in the 17th century, the building was uninhabited and already stripped of its furnishings.

Castel del Monte Inside octagonale plan

Castel del Monte was purchased by the Italian State in 1876 and became a national monument; it has been restored several times since 1879.

The exterior of the Castel del Monte looks like a fortress. It has massive walls, corner towers, loopholes, and portcullis gates; the finely jointed masonry is composed of large limestone ashlar blocks. The interior, however, reveals that it was conceived as a hunting lodge, with every possible comfort. Some scholars attribute the original conception to Frederick II himself since many of the singular aspects of the building are in accordance with his ideas.

In fact, Castel del Monte fits more naturally into the medieval notion of the building as a mirror of the Universe, following rigorous geometric schemes and regulated by precise numerical relationships.

Castel del Monte view from inside

The plan of the Castel del Monte is based on the octagon, which determines both its external perimeter and that of the courtyard, as well as the plan of each of the eight corner towers. The castle has a maximum width of 49.6 m, measured from opposite angles; each side measures 9.8 m between the towers, and the outer wall is 3 m thick at the base.

The overall design of the main entrance, facing towards Andria, is Classical, but with Gothic details. The door has a lintel resting on pilasters with foliate capitals; the pointed arch above springs from lions that project over the abaci of the flanking columns. The door is further framed by two fluted pilasters supporting a corbelled cornice, with a form of pediment above.

Castel del Monte interior detail

There was once a stairway in front of this portal, with two symmetrical flights. A second door, facing the countryside, opened opposite the main one. The six ground-floor windows are round-headed with double embrasures, cut from blocks of pink breccia. The eight windows on the upper floor are pointed with twin lights, except for one on the northwest side, which has three lights; the embrasures are made from various kinds of marble. A robust string course separates the lower story from the upper, and the total height of the building is 24.4 m. There was no moat; the outer defenses were provided by a circuit of walls.

The interior arrangement of the Castel del Monte is the same on both floors: eight trapezoidal rooms, nearly all intercommunicating, with doors and windows facing the inner court. The rooms are each vaulted in three sections, with a rib vault over the central square and quasi-barrel vaults over the lateral, triangular sections. The vault supports consist of half-columns with foliate bases and capitals in pink breccia on the ground-floor, and groups of three small colonnettes in white marble with single capitals on the upper floor. The white limestone ribs have rosette bosses.

Castel del Monte land

The interior walls were faced with slabs of coral breccia or plastered and painted in imitation of it; its intense red color was probably intended to suggest imperial purple. The ‘antique’ ambiance was also evoked by the mosaic pavements on the ground floor; a section with polychrome rosettes survives. Three of the interior rooms communicate with the inner court through doors surmounted by pointed arches.

Each room gives access to the corner towers, five of which, spanned by octopartite rib vaults on corbels, was designed as service rooms; the other three, circular on the interior, contained spiral stairs leading to the upper floor. The upper rooms are profusely decorated with sculptures in colored materials. The eight walls of the courtyard are articulated by pointed wall arches rising from pilasters at the angles of the octagon; a balcony once ran around the walls at the level of the arch apexes.

Castel del Monte Location

Castel del Monte Address: 76123 Andria BT, Italy
Approximate Geographic Coordinates: 41.085093,16.271245

Castel del Monte Map

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