del Monte is a building from the period of Holy Roman Empire and it was built
by Federico II of Svevia and it was built near Andria, in south of Italy. It is
a mysterious castle that fascinated a lot of
historians for its mysteries and its secrets that try to guess the
reason that Federico II decided to build it. To describe this castle we can use only one word:
eight, because in its architecture, the number eight is always present (the
octagonal plan, with eight sides and eight towers at the corners, the eight
main rooms in which each of the two floors is divided, the numerous groups of
eight decorations in plant style outside and inside the building, etc.) but we
don’t know the symbolism or the reason of these choice.
octagon, the shape of the castle, on which the plan of the complex and its
elements is based is a strongly symbolic geometric form: it is the intermediate
figure between the square, symbol of the earth, and the circle, which
represents the infinity of the sky, and therefore would mark the passage of one
to another.The choice of the octagon could derive from the Dome of the Rock in
Jerusalem, which Federico II had seen during the Sixth Crusade, or from the
Palatine Chapel of Aachen.
2 – A brief mention of the story of Federico II
II of Svevia, son of Enrico of Hohenstaufen and Costanza of Altavilla,
decided to built the castle.From the
parents he inherited the Empire (Holy Roman Empire) and the Kingdom of Sicily. In
his life he dedicate a lot of time to control and to govern the Kingdom of
Sicily, where the power of Lords was much increased. For reduce the power of
the lord he decided to createa lot of castles
in the south Italy to control everything in the kingdom.
In 29 January of 1240 from Gubbio, Federico II
commissioned at Riccardo of Montefuscolo, the architect, to buy the material
for the start the works of the castle. In the document, that we have from the
time of Federico II, ” lime, stones and anything else necessary”. He
decided to built the castle near the church of Sancta Maria de Monte, which
today is disappeared.
there are several disagreements about the interpretation of the document that
Federico used to start the works of the castle. The historians discuss about
two points that are not yet completely clear, the work start date and the word ” Actractum
“.Many historians for example disagree about the chronology of the work.
While some believe that the document indicate the moment of the beginning of
the construction works, other indicated that in the date the document was
signed the works were already at an advanced stage. The construction, they
claim, had reached the roof level.
are also of semantic nature. Federico II used a Latin word – ‘ACTRACTUM’ -which
has many literary interpretations, as it can correspond to floor, ground
leveling, paving or simply to a more
general indication of building material.
3 – Structural Aspect of the Castel del Monte
Interior of the castle
castle has a octagonal shape with on the top of the sides eight towers
octagonal so it is a reason that the building is linked to the number eight. Inside
the castle we have eight trapezoidal rooms distributed parallel on two floors
and an octagonal inner courtyard that you can’t see outside the castle and it
contain a source of the same shape. Today we cannot see this fountain because
it is disappeared, but we think that it has the same shape of the courtyard because
we have some historical sources that affirm this fact.
information that we know about the fountain is the dimensions, we think it was
great and that it left little space for the passage between it and the wall.
Therefore, the number eight is always present, outside with the shape of the
castle, the court, the fountain and the number of the towers and inside with
the number of the rooms. From the court, a visitor can access inside passing
through three portals corresponding to three windows on the upper floor.
the castle all the rooms have a octagonal shape and so it could create a
problem for the roof because of the shape and for the dimensions. The problem
of covering the rooms is solved by breaking down the initial trapeze into a
central square and two side triangles. The central square is covered by a cross
vault, while the two side triangles are surmounted by two barrel vault segments
for each room. The barrel vaults are built following the progress of the
external walls related to that part of the building. The two types of vault are
access the upper floor can take advantage of the spiral staircases, formed by 44
trapezoidal steps that develop according to an anticlockwise sense. The windows
are another strange things. They are small and long loopholes, which certainly
did not favor the defence with the arrows. This is a strange feature of the
castle, which dismisses the hypothesis that the Castel del Monte is a typical
Exterior of the castle
door is oriented approximately to the east, in direction the sun rises and coinciding
with the spring and autumn equinoxes. The visitator can arrive to the entrance through
two flights of symmetrical stairs, on the sides of the entrance. The main
entrance is decorated with two fluted columns supporting a false architrave on
which a gable of cuspidal shape.
external windows compared to the internal ones are of two types, not always
aligned with each other:
1. single window at the first floor.
2. two-light window for the second floor.
speech for the eastern and western faces (where the two portals are located)
that do not have the single-light window and for the northern façade which
instead presents a three light window (from the side that looks towards Andria)
for the second floor.
inner courtyard the compactness of the walls is attenuated only by the presence
of three entrances in the lower part and three “French windows” in
the upper part. The feeling inside the courtyard is that the entire first floor acts as a
base for the upper floor, lightened by the presence of blind arches.
the floor of the courtyard there is a large cistern for the collection of
rainwater, an aspect held in high esteem in this building so much so that there
were five other cisterns inside the towers; the one below the inner courtyard
is the only one left working.The courtyard, together with its high walls, gives
the impression of being inside a well that in the symbolism of the Middle Ages
del Monte was originally rich in decorations but with the passage of time it
has almost completely disappeared. Various examples of decoration were the
keystone of the ribs that were embellished with mythological creatures and
plant motifs, characteristic of the realism of late Swabian sculpture, of
Romanesque inspiration and the doors that had the porphyry frames.
different materials have been used for the structure, the arrangement of which
is not accidental but is studied for the chromatic effect it has in the
1. The limestone is the predominant material, since all
the architectural structures and some decorative elements are made of this
material. This material gives the building a color that goes from white to
pink, depending on the period of the day when you look at the building;
2. The white marble or light veins, today present only in
rare decorations in the rooms, had to represent in the past the material of
which all the furniture and decorations of the building were made;
3. The coral breccia, which gives an important note of
color to the structure. In the past the effect of the coral breach had to be
more marked, since all the rooms were covered with slabs of this material.
Finally we have rich porphyry frames that decorate the
4 – Interpretations on the destination of Castel
exact function of Castel del Monte is still completely unknown today. The
castle is devoid of typical elements of a medieval construction, such as
ditches for example and is placed in a non-strategic position.
are other elements that confirm this theory: for example, the spiral staircases
in the towers are arranged in an anti-clockwise sense (unlike any other
defensive construction of the time), a situation that would put the occupants
of the castle at a disadvantage were forced to hold the weapon with the left.
the hypothesis of the hunting lodge for the presence of fine ornaments and the
absence of stables and other environments typical of hunting lodges. Another
hypothesis is that the castle was a temple for the sciences and for the
astronomy, for the many strong symbolisms and because the sovereign was a lover
of the sciences.
entire construction is imbued with strong astrological symbols and its location
is designed so that in the days of the solstice and equinox the shadows cast
from the walls have a particular direction. At midday the autumn equinox, for
example, the shadows of the walls perfectly match the length of the inner
courtyard, and exactly a month later they also cover the entire length of the
rooms. Twice a year (April 8th and October 8th, and October at that time was
considered the eighth month of the year), moreover, a ray of sunlight enters
from the window in the south-eastern wall and, through the window that he turns
to the inner courtyard, illuminating a portion of the wall where a bas-relief
was previously carved.
two columns flanking the entrance portal there are two lions crouching, the one
on the right facing the left and vice versa, facing the points of the horizon
where the sun rises in the two solstices in summer and winter. In any case it
is revealed as a grandiose architectural work, a synthesis of refined
mathematical, geometrical and astronomical knowledge.
reasoning was made on the possibility that the castle and its geometrically
perfect rooms were used as a kind of initiation path linked to astronomical
explain the total lack of corridors, it was further assumed that at the level
of the first floor there was once a wooden gallery, now disappeared, on the
side facing the inner courtyard, which would have allowed independent access to
the individual rooms.
recent hypothesis would assign to the construction the function of wellness
center, suitable for the regeneration and care of the body, modeled on the
Arabian hammam. There are several elements of the construction that would lead
in this direction: the multiple and ingenious systems of canalization and
collection of water, the many tanks for storage, the presence of the oldest
bathrooms in history, the particular shape of the whole complex , the
obligatory internal path and the octagonal shape.
thanks to its octagonal shape, with as many octagons placed at the vertices of
the central plan, it is possible to suppose that the building was built to
recall the shape of a crown; this would explain the function of Castel del
Monte, or a further affirmation of imperial power, a monument.
5 – The mysterious beauty of Castel del Monte.
built for a reason that we do not know and the place has always been covered by
a deep secret and many studies, for this reason, have been made of studies to
find a reason for the existence of this building unfortunately without
explained above, there are several hypotheses that have elements favorable to
their confirmation but also negative elements that instead deny them.Thus the
mystery of Castel del Monte becomes even more intense. Everyone is free so he
can give his own idea of what prompted Frederick II to build this castle, but
it could fall into the trivial.
is why people do not have to find a solution to this mystery but to contemplate
the beauty of this place and of the whole environment that surrounds it, that
the mystery that surrounds them makes them even more magnificent.