Castel del Monte (World Heritage)

According to ethnicityology, the impressive fort, built by Emperor Friedrich II from 1240 to 1250, can be seen from afar. The eye-catching octagonal building is one of the most famous castles in the world and combines different stylistic elements from antiquity, Islamic architecture and Gothic. Nothing is known about the original function of the castle. The building arouses much speculation; it is reminiscent of the imperial crown, which is also octagonal, and the Palatine Chapel in Aachen.

Castel del Monte: facts

Official title: Castel del Monte
Cultural monument: Early Gothic castle of the Staufer Emperor Friedrich II with 16 halls, the “Crown of Apulia” made of limestone in the shape of an equilateral octagon
Continent: Europe
Country: Italy, Apulia
Location: Castel del Monte, west of Bari
Appointment: 1996
Meaning: a unique testimony to medieval fortress architecture

Castel del Monte: history

1194-1250 Frederick II
1220 Coronation of Frederick II as emperor in Rome
1228-29 Crusade led by Pope Gregory IX. Banished Emperor Frederick II receives Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth through the Treaty of Acre
1230 by the Peace of Ceprano the ban was lifted and special ecclesiastical rights were granted to the Pope in Sicily
1240 Start of construction on Castel del Monte
1245 Pope Innocent IV declares Frederick II, banned as a heretic, deposed
1268 after the battle of Tagliacozzo, in which the men around Konradin were defeated by those of Charles of Anjou, the castle was used as a prison

The riddle of the emperor

Clearly, symmetrically, logically, this is how the Staufer Emperor Friedrich II wanted his castles and pleasure palaces to be designed. “We have always loved beauty and drank in its fragrance without ceasing,” wrote the monarch, who saw crystalline form and purist aesthetics merge in Castel del Monte.

From ancient times the square symbolized the earth, the circle the cosmos. Two squares result in an octagon, the tips of which in turn fit into a circle, as in the case of the octagon castle in Apulia, the squaring of the circle or the unity of heaven and earth is sought. “A Mediterranean character, more solar than dark and closed,” said the historian Cosimo Damiano Fonseca of the emperor: “His personality, however, is difficult to grasp.” This united a German father, Heinrich VI, Konstanze, the dominant Norman Mother, and an orphaned boyhood in the streets of Palermo, the intersection of Norman, Arabic and Greek cultures.

On his triumphal arch in Capua, the “child of Apulia” expressed imperial majesty: at the very top Christ, including Frederick II, the God-willed Messiah Emperor, then virtues such as justice, prudence and finally the legal scholars he valued. The castles, hunting lodges and pleasure palaces with which he covered his southern Italian kingdom not only served to defend power, but also proclaimed the ubiquity of a ruler who, as “Lex animata”, as the embodiment of the law, saw himself as a demigod. But the message of Castel del Montes remains a mystery to this day.

The octagon that inspired director Jean Jacques Annaud for the library tower for the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” is not a castle because there are no moats, stables and rooms for the crew. For the residence of an emperor who traveled through the country with a harem, bodyguards, poets, minstrels and scientists, two times eight halls seem to offer too little space. Even if one of the eight towers is today dedicated to the falcons loved by the Hohenstaufen, there is no clear indication that the fort was actually intended as a hunting lodge.

No crosses, Madonnas, patrons, but esotericism and the mysticism of numbers of the Kabbalah are the legacies that Frederick II left behind. “Revenge is not known in these holy halls,” sings Priest Sarastro in Mozart’s Masonic opera “The Magic Flute”. The shape and dimensions speak for the fact that Castel del Monte was planned as such a temple, as a church of the empire. The imperial crown is octagonal like the facade and inner courtyard of Castel del Monte. The two times eight halls embody – according to the ancient architect Vitruvius – “the perfect number”. The unit of measurement by which King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem was 0.55 centimeters. The wall facing the courtyard of the Stauferburg is 22 meters, i.e. 40 times as long. The flood lasted 40 days, Moses’ stay on Mount Sinai, the fasting of Christ, the period between resurrection and ascension. “This number is linked to expectation, penance, purification”, so the judgment of the historian Aldo Tavolaro, who immediately asks: “Was the fort dedicated to ‘knights of the spirit’ like philosophers and mathematicians?”

From a distance a flat rectangle, the newcomer has to look up at the defiant wall up close. The unknown master builder – he was an astronomer – deliberately positioned it in a frog’s eye view, because the castle resembles the heavenly clock, the shadows of which announce the change in the signs of the zodiac. The points of sunrise and sunset on both solstices form a rectangle, the diagonals of which intersect in the center of the courtyard and touch the outer edges of the towers in the east and west.

Down-to-earth Romanesque style is overlaid by the early Gothic pointed arches of the Cistercian order, with which the “Antichrist”, who was hostile to the popes, always had the best of relationships. Beyond the ascetic lines, the castle was a true luxury hostel with five baths including running water that flowed from cisterns built into the towers and – from honey yellow to rose red to cool blue – with a color palette of local types of stone, but: Has Friedrich II ever lived in Used to Castel del Monte?

Castel del Monte