venerdì 29 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his castles: the Castle of Gioia del Colle

"Many many years ago, in a land between the sea and hills, there were a castle, a jealous king and a beautiful princess penned in a tower". 

How many tales may begin in this way. But the story of Bianca Lancia, the woman loved by Frederick II and mother of three of his children, isn't a fairy tale. A happy ending neither, but it represents one of the darkest and the most dramatic events that tradition links to the Stupor mundi. There aren't certain sources, but a chronicle of that time, the father of Bonaventura from Lama, tells this. Bianca Lancia, the emperor's young lover, lived in the castle of Gioia del Colle, pregnant with Frederick's son, Manfredi, when an accusation of betrayal questioned the paternity of the baby. The emperor, mad with jealousy, ordered to close the woman in a tower of the castle until she gave birth to the child. When he was born, the resemblance with the sovereign freed Bianca from any doubts. But the affront and the stain on her honour were unbearable. The woman made bring a dagger and cut her breast; then, she put it on a tray, where she laid down little Manfredi too and sent them to Frederick. Eventually, alone, she killed herself.

In reality things went differently, also because after Manfredi Bianca gave to Frederick another daughter, Violante. The imprisonment and the suicide of the noble woman are just a  black legend, from  which the castle of Gioia del Colle  arises enveloped in a curtain of Gothic fog. Brought back to its original splendour from restoration works along the XX century, the castle dominates right in the middle of the historical centre of the little town of Apulia. From a net of little streets you end out in the square where one of the two towers stands out, the Torre del Rossi. The façade and all the outer wall are covered by an elegant stonework, a decorative element which is typical of Frederick's buildings, imported from the Holy Land at the time of the fifth Crusade. You can find other features form the Orient, so much appreciated by the emperor, in the decorations inside. Crossed the Gothic portal, you enter the wide trapezoid-shaped atrium. 

From here you can see the other tower of the castle: the tower of the Empress. The name, as you can imagine, comes from Bianca Lancia's event, who, married on her deathbed by Frederick II, was in fact the empress, even for a very short period. It's important that the first place that you meet, just crossed the hall with a monumental wood-fired oven, was the jail of the castle. You need to go downstairs and to enter in a dark square room. Here it’s where the tradition says that Bianca was imprisoned. It's surprising, for a prison of that time, the presence of a comfort that just kings and princes could allow themselves: a stone toilet, once connected with a sewer system, is still perfectly preserved in a niche in the wall. Just this object makes one think that really noble people were imprisoned there. But something else refers to the character of Bianca. On one of the stones of the wall there are two half spherical bulges but their function is still unknown.  They are "Bianca's breast", sculptured in the stone to remember the sufferings of the empress.

If you want to dive in the atmosphere of a Medieval court, then you must leave the tower and reach the "throne room". It's a rectangular place, on the background there is a marble throne covered with bas reliefs  about the theme of the falcon; in the centre of the room a big fire place has its big display, richly decorated too. Marble benches along the walls  and a wide pointed arch that separated the space of the sovereign and high dignitaries from that of the beggars who waited on the benches.

Finally, it's worthy to visit the castle of Gioia del Colle to admire the collection of the National Archaeological Museum that is hosted in its rooms. Established in 1977, the museum collects evidences of the near site of Pauceti on Monte Sannace.

For information about visits: the Castle of Gioia del Colle

martedì 26 luglio 2016

sabato 23 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his castles: the Castle of Trani

After Andria and Barletta it’s the turn of Trani. Here too, there’s a castle made built by Frederick II, perhaps one of the most relevant, seen its importance from a strategic point of view, but also because you can appreciate its original structure.

This time I’ve not been guided, but I showed the beauties of Trani to an American friend, a monk (you’ll understand later why this detail is necessary) who was in Apulia for a wedding. You know, we seized the moment.

Unlike the castle of Barletta, which has been built on a Norman building, that one of Trani was thought and made built by Frederick II. It’s located in the roadstead of Trani, that is to say, in a lower area compared to street level, on a bedrock directly over the sea. It may seem strange, but this position was optimal to protect the castle, if you consider that the seabed is also quite low, and it could become a danger for ships, which risked to run ashore. Practically, the environment naturally protected the building.

Looking at it from a distance, it seems that the castle greetings the Cathedral, with which it shares the view on the sea of Trani. As you approach, along the promenade that separates the two buildings, you start having the doubt to still be in Apulia, as oriental the image in front of you is. Besides, we’re talking about a castle of Frederick II, and don’t forget that the emperor had a weakness for Arab culture. Then, add the sea that skims the walls and we can say that we are in a landscape worthy of "One Thousand and One Nights".

martedì 19 luglio 2016

Federico II e i suoi castelli: il Castello di Trani

Dopo Andria e Barletta è arrivato il momento di Trani. Anche qui c’è un castello voluto da Federico II, forse uno dei più rilevanti, considerata la sua importanza dal punto di vista strategico, ma soprattutto perché è possibile apprezzarne la struttura originaria.
Questa volta non sono stata guidata, piuttosto sono stata io a mostrare le bellezze di Trani a un amico americano, un frate (si capirà in seguito il perché è necessario questo dettaglio) in visita in Puglia per un matrimonio. Come dire, abbiamo colto la palla al balzo.

A differenza del castello di Barletta, che nacque su un impianto normanno, quello di Trani venne concepito e fatto costruire da Federico II. Si trova nella rada di Trani, cioè in una zona più bassa rispetto al piano stradale, su un basamento roccioso direttamente sul mare. Per quanto strano possa sembrare, questa posizione era ottimale per difendere il castello, se si considera che il fondale marino è anche piuttosto basso, diventando un pericolo per le navi che rischiavano di arenarsi. In pratica l’ambiente circostante  proteggeva naturalmente l’edificio.

A guardarlo da lontano sembra che il castello saluti la Cattedrale con la quale condivide il panorama marittimo tranese. Mentre ti avvicini, percorrendo la passeggiata vista mare che separa le due costruzioni, si fa strada il dubbio di essere ancora in Puglia, tanto è orientaleggiante l’immagine davanti a te. D’altronde si sta parlando di un castello di Federico II e non dimentichiamoci che l’imperatore aveva un debole per la cultura araba. Aggiungici poi il mare che ne lambisce le mura e possiamo dire che siamo in un paesaggio degno di “Le mille e una notte”.

lunedì 18 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his Castles: the Castle of Barletta

Now, it’s the turn of the castle of Barletta, another of the famous forts of Frederick II that were part of castle network, which we talked about in the previous post.  For this visit I had the good company and guide of a friend from Barletta, a guy who transmitted to me the love for his town while he was accompanying me to the discovery of the historic centre.  Seeing a place through the eyes of those who live it and appreciate it, in my opinion, is the best way to discover it.

Back to the castle, nowadays it's the focal point of the life of Barletta, especially during summer.  Just think of that fact that it faces the sea and during the hot season a walk along the promenade is a 

Leaving back the streets of the historical centre and overstepping the bell tower of the Cathedral, the vision of the fortress opens in front of you, solid and impressive, one of those buildings that just looking at them make you feel protected from everything.  As a buttress  to this power , there is the delicacy of the park that surrounds it. The green of the plants and the blinding sun of July highlight the clear stone which the castle is made of . A beautiful postcard that gives you back the  charge, which inevitably the heat takes a bit away.  

giovedì 14 luglio 2016

Federico II e i suoi castelli: il Castello di Barletta

È giunta la volta del castello di Barletta, un'altra delle famose fortezze di Federico II che facevano parte della rete castellare di cui abbiamo parlato nel post precedente. Per questa visita ho avuto l’ottima compagnia e guida di un amico barlettano, un ragazzo che mi ha trasmesso tutto l' amore per la sua città mentre mi portava alla scoperta del centro storico. Vedere un posto attraverso gli occhi di chi lo vive e lo apprezza, a parer mio, è il modo migliore per scoprirlo.

Tornando al castello, oggi è il punto nevralgico della vita barlettana, soprattutto durante l’estate. Basti pensare che si affaccia sul mare e durante la stagione calda una passeggiata sul lungomare è una regola.

Lasciandosi alle spalle le strade del centro storico e oltrepassando il campanile del Duomo, si apre la visione di questa fortezza, massiccia e imponente, una di quelle costruzioni che solo a guardarle ti fa sentire protetto da tutto. A fare da contrafforte a questa potenza c’è la delicatezza  del parco che lo circonda. Il verde delle piante e il sole accecante di luglio mettono in risalto la pietra chiara di cui è costruito il castello. Una bellissima cartolina che ti ridona la carica che il caldo inevitabilmente porta un po’ via.   

martedì 12 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his castles: Castel del Monte

If there’s a historic period that I prefer, it’s the one of Middle Ages, in particular linked with Apulian history, when it was governed by the very famous Frederick II, also known as the Stupor Mundi  or the Puer Apuliae. No surprise especially for this last nickname, as it seems that Frederick fell in love with Apulia when he visited it in 1221 ( and how could we blame him?) and saw this land rich in woods and rivers. Considering that the region was and still is  in a strategic position, it was not a surprise that in 1223 the sovereign moved the capital of his kingdom, the Kingdom of Sicily, from Palermo to Foggia. Let’s say it, this interesting man did a lot for Apulia: that was one of the most prosperous period of this territory. He stimulated the agri-food production with the spread of massarie regie, trade and communication inside the kingdom thank to a castle network. Here, castles, perhaps the thing of that period that has reached us that arouse most of fascination and interest, wrapped as they are in that aura they have inherited from their lord. Frederick II was a really interesting man: he loved science, mathematics, he knew six languages, he appreciated Arab culture with which he had the opportunity to confront and for which he had not little problems with the pope, he loved hunt with hawk and astronomy. All these “hobbies” have made someone think that some of his castles weren’t build exactly for defensive purposes, but there was an extra reason that isn’t clear yet. Without any doubts, the most mysterious one is Castel del Monte, isolated, perched on its hill. I think that anyone has in his/her mind the image of this castle, taken now a bit as the symbol of Apulia. But what makes it so particular?

mercoledì 6 luglio 2016

Federico II e i suoi castelli: Castel del Monte

Se c’è un periodo storico che preferisco , quello è il Medioevo, in particolare associato alla storia della Puglia, quando questa era governata dal celeberrimo Federico II di Svevia, conosciuto anche come Stupor Mundi o Puer Apuliae. Non c’ è da stupirsi soprattutto per quest’ultimo soprannome, infatti Federico pare si innamorò della Puglia quando la visitò nel 1221 (e come dargli torto?) e vide questa terra ricca di boschi e fiumi. Considerando che la regione era ed è tuttora posta in una posizione strategica, non meraviglia che nel 1223 il sovrano spostò la capitale del suo regno, il Regno di Sicilia, da Palermo a Foggia. Diciamolo, quest’uomo così interessante fece tanto per la Puglia: quello fu uno dei periodi più floridi per questo territorio. Incentivò la produzione agro-alimentare con la diffusione di massarie regie , il commercio e la comunicazione all’interno del regno grazie a una rete castellare. Ecco, i castelli, forse la cosa che è arrivata fino a noi di quel periodo a destare più fascino e interesse, avvolti come sono da quell’aura che hanno ereditato dal loro padrone. Federico II era un uomo decisamente interessante: amava la scienza, la matematica, conosceva sei lingue, apprezzava la cultura araba con cui aveva avuto modo di confrontarsi e per la quale aveva affrontato non pochi problemi con il papa, adorava la caccia col falcone e l’astronomia. Tutti questi “hobby” hanno fatto pensare che alcuni dei suoi castelli non fossero stati costruiti esattamente a scopo difensivo, ma che ci fosse una ragione in più, che ancora non ci si spiega bene.
Il più misterioso è indubbiamente Castel del Monte, isolato, arroccato in cima alla sua collina. Penso che chiunque abbia l’immagine di questo castello in mente, preso ormai un po’ come simbolo della Puglia. Ma cosa lo rende così particolare?

sabato 2 luglio 2016

A bit of refeshment in Palermo: The Botanical Garden

This summer, suddenly blown up, is making us gasp here in Apulia. Sometimes a bit of  wind blows and  it seems to give you a bit of relief, until you realize you have welcomed with open arms a rush of warm air.