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Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte literally means a "Castle on the Mountain". This Italian castle is unusual, very mysterious and it is considered to be perfect in terms of design. It was built in the Middle Ages by Frederick II Hohenstauf. The building's original function is not known even today, but according to a theory it was supposed to be a huge astronomical calendar since it was built on a regular octagon. It also has eight octagonal towers and eight trapezoidal rooms around an octagonal courtyard on each of the two floors. It is commonly known that the octagon is a symbol connecting the square and the circle, i.e. symbols of the earth and the sky. In 1996 the castle was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

History of the castle

Castel del Monte, situated 15 km to the south of Andria, was built by Frederick II Hohenstauf, a German king and Roman emperor, a fascinating and very mysterious person. He was considered very liberal and sceptic of religious issues, and very well-mannered. He spoke as many as six languages and set up a state university in Naples in 1224. This is the most popular castle in Italy. It is estimated that its construction started in the fifth decade of the 13th century. It is worth mentioning that Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV. He lost his throne at first in Germany in 1245 and then in Italy in 1249. It is not known even today why this castle was built. At first it likely served as a shelter for royal family members who went hunting there. It was speculated that it had served as a hunting lodge. Game obtained during hunting was an important addition to food in the Middle Ages, in particular in winter. Most certainly, every hunt ended with a wonderful feast. When Frederick II died of a sudden attack of a bowel disease in 1250, the castle changed its function for the first time and became a prison. In 1266 Frederick II's grandsons, Enrico, Federico, and Azzolino were taken to Castel del Monte, they had been imprisoned behind its dark walls for over thirty years. Later, the castle also served as a shelter for people who were afraid of a plague that had broken out in the country then and were looking for a safe place for themselves and their families. By the end of the 17th century the castle fell into ruin. It was not until 1876 when the state took care of Castel del Monte. It stands where a stronghold used to be; however, nothing has remained of it. Nearby lies the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.

What can you see there?

Castel del Monte is an amazing work in terms of architectural precision. It was built on a regular octagon, with bastions in the corners and the main entrance in the east. T does not have any fortifications, a moat, or the embankment, which suggests that it was not constructed for defensive purposes. When speaking of the castle, number eight is mentioned many times. Most likely, it was important when the castle was being built. It symbolises infinity and also means a connection between God and man. There are eight connecting rooms on each of the two castle's floors. Castel del Monte's walls are twenty-five metre high, and each of the eight corner towers is twenty-six metre high (26 m = 2+6 = 8). Writers, scholars, historians and travellers are not able to solve the riddle of Castel del Monte's function even today. Why was it built? Was it Frederick II Hohenstauf's whim? It is interesting that Frederick II had never seen his castle. The emperor loved travelling so it is speculated the building is similar to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, erected in the centre of almost a square, 3 metre high platform, which you enter from four sides climbing eight steps. It is also similar to the Palace Chapel in Aachen Cathedral or the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Outside Castel del Monte, in every corner is one tower, and in three corners are characteristic spiral staircases leading upstairs. The octagon is a symbol connecting the square and the circle, i.e. symbols of the earth and the sky.

Apparently, the castle looks best from the bird’s-eye view and it is worth seeing it from that position. Then it resembles not a regular building, but a beautiful, perfect, mathematically thought-out structure. Because of that there are many crazy theories about the castle’s alleged purpose, for example, a UFO landing place. Some link the castle’s dimensions and arrangements to the dimensions of the Pyramids of Cheops. There are many theories. With its odd location, Castel del Monte is visible from a far distance. The surroundings where it was built were dull, with no woods around it; the castle stands on flat and low land. A perfect symmetry, in the centre is an octagonal courtyard, eight huge stone rooms on each floor, eight huge windows, all this gives a bit of a mystery to the castle and attracts tourists who can buy charts for a small fee to learn, for example, about the link between the castle's dimensions and stars and the zodiac signs.

You can visit Castel del Monte throughout the year

By Pamela Augulewicz