Castel del Monte in Italy, detailed description

The Mysterious Castle of Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte (The Castle on the Hill) is a castle in the South of Italy, 16 km from the town of Andria, Puglia. An outstanding building from the time of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Castel del Monte is considered one of the most famous medieval castles in the world. The castle was built between 1240 and 1250.

And in order to better understand the peculiarities of the castle’s architecture or its true purpose, and perhaps even to try to find clues to some of the mysteries with which Castel del Monte is generously shrouded, we should also pay attention to the immediate owner of the castle, whose personality seems as colorful as it is controversial.

There is much to tell about this man, whose ambition and cruelty knew no bounds, but a single mention of his turbulent life gives a very clear and vivid idea of his ambiguous character and temperament. For example, having never had deep religious feelings and putting off taking part in another Crusade, this man still managed to do the seemingly impossible; to be excommunicated and, despite the papal anathema, to win the Crusade and restore Jerusalem to Christendom. We are talking about none other than Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of Germany, king of Sicily and Jerusalem.

But on the other hand we can say a lot of positive things about him.Friedrich was one of the most educated people of his time, knew Greek, Arabic and Latin. In Italy Frederick founded many schools, in 1224 the University of Naples, where taught not only Christians, but also Arabs and Jews, which shows the religious tolerance, which was characteristic of the whole policy of Frederick II. Friedrich took a deep interest in medicine and zoology. He introduced compulsory teaching of anatomy for medics and encouraged its study on cadavers. At his suggestion the works of Avicenna and Aristotle’s “History of Animals” were translated into Latin. Friedrich is credited with a work on falconry. At Frederick’s court mathematical contests were arranged in which Fibonacci took part.

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According to legends, Frederick did not die in 1250, but went into hiding in order to one day appear, reform the church, and establish a kingdom of universal peace and prosperity. In the second half of the 13th century in Italy and Germany there appeared impostors who claimed to be Emperor Frederick II

Castle Castel del Monte is a regular octagon. The construction of the castle has the following feature – two sides of the tower are joined to one side of the main octagon. The main entrance of the castle faces east.

Castel del Monte is often called the most famous castle in the world, but it is not a castle in the exact sense of the word. It lacks a moat, rampart and drawbridge. There are also no premises for supplies, stables and a separate kitchen. Unusual is the entrance to the castle which is designed as a portal of a Gothic temple. The functional purpose of the castle is a mystery. It was previously thought to have been conceived as a hunting lodge for the emperor, but the interior was, in the opinion of some scholars, too richly decorated and furnished for a “hunting lodge”.

The Castel del Monte is a two-story structure with a flat roof. On the outside, the building is a regular octagon with a side of 16.5 m. There is also an octagonal tower at each corner.

The interior rooms are 16 regular trapezoids, eight on each floor.The octagon is a symbolic figure, a transitional state between the square, the symbol of the earth, and the circle, the symbol of heaven. The corners of the octagon are encircled by towers also with eight faces, similar to those built by the Templars.

Eight trapezoidal rooms of the first floor are identical to eight rooms of the second floor, the turrets have counterclockwise winding stairs (though in other constructions of that time all the stairs were built clockwise).

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In the courtyard there was an octagonal fountain or pool carved from a single piece of marble. By design, the fountain symbolized the Holy Grail and served for the “Lord’s Tears” rite, i.e. the rite of “baptism in wisdom” practiced by the Templars. Beneath the fountain was a huge cistern for collecting rainwater, and water from five other cisterns under five of the eight towers also flowed into it. The cisterns were combined into a hydraulic system and used for sewage. It is one of the oldest surviving examples of a medieval sewer system.

The interior details continue the theme of the eight towers: 8 four-leaf flowers on the right cornice of the tympanum of the portal and 8 of the same on the left; 8 leaves on the capitals of all the columns; 8 leaves on the key of the vault. In the various rooms there are ornaments of 8 sunflower leaves, 8 acanthus or fig leaves.

The number 8 is special. It is a symbol of infinity and a mediator between heaven and earth. For a long time Castel del Monte was abandoned. In the 18th century acts of vandalism were committed during which the marble columns were taken. In 1876 the castle was taken over by the state and 52 years later restoration work began. The castle has been a World Heritage Site since 1996 and is considered a masterpiece of medieval military architecture. The famous Italian writer Umberto Eco, in his novel The Name of the Rose, described the place of events in the image of Castel del Monte.

The beginning of the construction of the castle falls on 1240, and the end of the work is dated 1250, that is, by a strange (and perhaps purely coincidental) coincidence the completion of Castel del Monte coincided with the year of death of Frederick II. Which, even leaving aside the feigned mystery, inevitably suggests a certain symbolism, because after the death of the emperor soon disappeared and the entire house of Hohenstaufen.

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And one of the most striking reminders of the great dynasty of Germanic kings and Holy Roman Emperors is Castel del Monte, which has risen steadily over the Puglia plain for almost 800 years.

Castel del Monte

The castle is a very unusual building; no one knows what it was used for, because it had no moat, no stables, no kitchen and no other living quarters.

The castle was located in Puglia, near the town of Andria. Allegedly, it was built on the site of a ruined fortress. True, its traces have not been found. In 1240, King Frederick II gave the order to build a castle on the site of the fortress. The construction lasted exactly ten years. After the construction the governor died unexpectedly. From that moment on all the mysteries began. To this day, no one knows who built the castle, and how it was used in people’s lives. It is known that Frederick was friends with the leader of the Teutonic Order. Some documents say that even the emperor himself was a member of the order and was one of the masters. The structure has no practical significance, it was built under the influence of the Templars. Practical minds are unlikely to understand its essence; it is better to think philosophically here.

If you look closely at the structure, you can pay attention to the octagons located on the floors of the castle. The octagon is in an intermediate position between the square, which is the sign of the earth, and the circle, which represents the sky. Such buildings have always been built by the Templars. There are eight trapeze-shaped rooms on the first and second floors. The towers can be accessed by spiral staircases twisting counterclockwise. This is in contrast to all the other buildings of past centuries, in which the staircases twisted in a clockwise direction. All the rooms of the castle are labyrinth-like, it is not clear which one you will end up in next. Surprisingly enough, the castle has no living quarters, all around empty bare rooms.

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Inside the castle, in the courtyard is an octagonal pool carved from an entire piece of marble. It was used for the secret rite of the “Tear of God” performed by members of the Templar Order. Under the basin was a system of cisterns for rainwater. It is one of the first examples of an ancient sewage system that has survived to this day. The entire interior is simply filled with objects resembling figure-eights. Even in the stucco on the walls there are many references to the number eight. Why exactly “eight”? The thing is that this figure symbolizes infinity and connects heaven and earth.

If you consider the castle mystically, it was used as a secret temple, as a place, helping to get in contact with the heavenly powers. Even the entrance to the structure was on the side of the rising sun. Judging by all its architecture and disposition, the sun plays a major role. At noon, it casts a shadow in such a way that the outline completely repeats the proportions of the castle. During the summer solstice, a rectangular shadow is cast so that the castle is exactly in the middle. Two lions are perched on the entrance pillars, looking directly at the sunrise points.

If to consider the practical side of the use of the castle, everything is simple. Scientists have found out that Frederick II was very fond of falconry. He even wrote a whole book about these birds with his own drawings. It is likely that Castel del Monte was used as a hunting castle or for important events.

Our time of Castel del Monte

For many years the castle did not belong to any state. In 1876, however, it was bought by the state on whose territory it had been located all along. It was restored and twenty years later included in the list of World Heritage Sites. Nowadays, the castle has become a tourist attraction, attracting tourists with its unusual shape and mystical history.

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