Perched on a hilltop at an altitude of 540 meters, the medieval castle Castel del Monte proudly overlooks the comune of Andria in the Apulia region of Italy. Built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century, this unique fortress features an octagonal design, making it an architectural marvel of its time. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Castel del Monte is among the best-preserved medieval castles in Southern Italy.
History and Curious Facts
Constructed near Santa Maria di Monte Castro in 1237, Castel del Monte was part of a network of strategically placed defensive castles and residences commissioned by Frederick II. However, its design deviates from typical castles, as it lacks essential defensive features like ditches, a drawbridge, and a basement. Instead, it boasts large, marble-covered rooms indicative of a luxurious royal residence.
While the architect-builder remains unknown, the castle was built over the ruins of a preceding fortress, originally Norman and later of the Longobards. It has survived bombardment by the French in 1528, and in 1249, it hosted the wedding of King Frederick II’s daughter, Violante.
Architecture and Design
Castel del Monte’s octagonal shape signifies the intermediate figure between a square, symbolizing earth, and a circle, representing the infinite sky. Its structure consists of two storeys, each with eight interconnected chambers. From its towers, one can access the roof terrace, which offers panoramic views that served as a strategic advantage during the Middle Ages.
Though the castle’s original decorations have been lost to looters and vandals, its doors still feature colored marble. Castel del Monte was constructed using limestone, white marble, and coral breccia, giving the walls a unique chromatic effect. Furthermore, the castle had an advanced plumbing system for its time, utilizing rainwater for toilets and bathrooms.
UNESCO World Heritage and Cultural Significance
UNESCO acknowledged Castel del Monte as a “unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture” and a harmonious blend of elements from classical antiquity, Islamic Orient, and north European Cistercian Gothic. The castle is not only a World Heritage Site but also a symbol of pride for local inhabitants who recognize its historical and architectural importance.
Today, Castel del Monte is depicted on the reverse of the Italian 1 euro cent coin, while also featuring in the online game “Forge of Empires,” where it provides points and attack bonuses for players.
Visiting Castel del Monte
Castel del Monte is open to visitors from April 1 to September 30, between 10:15 AM and 7:45 PM, and from October 1 to March 28, between 9:00 AM and 6:30 PM. Ticket prices range from €7 for full price, with reduced rates for those aged 18-25 and free entry for under-18s and over-65s. Free entry is also available on the first Sunday of every month.
To reach the castle, visitors can take a train to Andria and then a bus from Andria to Castel del Monte (operating from April 1 to November 1). Alternatively, by car, one can take the A14 or A16 motorways and exit at Andria-Barletta, then drive along the SS 170 for an additional 18 km.
Castel del Monte, with its enigmatic past and unparalleled architecture, has captured the imaginations of visitors for centuries. As a testament to human ingenuity and the intersection of various architectural styles, this majestic fortress continues to serve as a symbol of pride and wonder for the people of Apulia and beyond. Whether you’re drawn to its mysterious history, fascinated by its unique geometric design, or simply want to enjoy the stunning panoramic views from its terraces, Castel del Monte offers a captivating experience that transcends time and stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Southern Italy.