Castel del Monte – Castle on the hill

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Do you remember the novel „Name of the rose“ and the plot in Aedificum labyrinths? The idea for his Aedificum Umberto Eco found in the Castel del Monte layout, in the Italian province of Puglia. Instead of magnificent monastery library and the librarian, dark secrets , the fight between good and evil, in the Castle on the hill you will find a unique mix of elements from different cultures merged into a medieval castle.

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To all appearances Castel del Monte stands out from other medieval fortresses, without external moat and bridge, its purpose was never military – its owner built it for enjoyment. Frederick II, crowned at the age of two, spent the most of his life in Sicily – he was able to write in six languages and he was well acquainted with the mathematics, astronomy and science. He founded the University of Naples and was a great patron of science and art. His contemporaries called him Stupor Mundi (wonder in the world).

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While in Germany he encouraged feudalism, in Italy he has ruled as an absolute, often fighting with the Papal States. Catholic Church excommunicated him twice, on charges of blasphemy and paganism. He also knew Arabic script and Islamic and Jewish culture very well.

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The mystery of number 8

Everything Frederick II saw on his travels from Germany to the crusades he wove in the Castel del Monte, on a rocky mountain top that towers over the surrounding villages of Andria Community. There are some speculations that inspiration for octagonal castel groundplan was the Dome on the rock (octagonal mosque in Jerusalem) and the unique hydraulic bathing installations as well as toilet facilities are also based on the oriental origin.

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Some towers have storage tanks for collecting rainwater which flows into tank in the rock beneath the courtyard. 25-meter high walls are made of large dressed limestone blocks, and eight octagonal towers are just 1 meter over and placed in each of the eight corners. On the two floors inside the walls there are eight equal sized chambers. The courtyard, in typical Gothic style, has 56 meters in diameter and is also octagonal.

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Castel del Monte, completed in 1240, became Frederick’s government residence, until his death in 1250. After that to the mid-15th century, the castle was under the rule of Anjou and has changed its functions until it fell into oblivion: from the military base and prison to shelter for plague infected. Over the centuries, the marble wall parts and columns were stolen, as well as mosaics and wall decorations.

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In 1876. the Italian government bought up Castel del Monte, and its present appearance is due to the extensive restoration that began in 1928. Castel del Monte is added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996.

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 Info box:

At the Castel del Monte foothill you’ll find a huge parking lot and you’ll have to leave your car there. While you buy a ticket on a ticket stand, a bus that will take you to the top in few minutes will wait for you, or you can simply walk that part. The entrance ticket costs 3 euros and the bus ride is not charged. If your pet is with you, beware of the „native“ dogs who are benign and you will notice many water and food bowls for them. Dogs are allowed on the bus, but unfortunately can not approach the castle. However, it was a nice surprise when we met the girl-volunteer who explained us that dogs are not allowed near the castle, but there is a stand in the shade and she will be happy to watch out our dog there. Dog sitter fee is optional and works on voluntary contributions principle, as volunteers work with stray dogs  shelter.

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