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The Aragonese in Puglia
The Aragonese Castle, also known as Castello Aragonese Taranto or Castel Sant'Angelo, is a historic fortress in Taranto, which marks the boundary between the old town and the new town. The castle was built by Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini in 1492, after being commissioned by influential monarch King Ferdinand I of Naples.
The land on which the castle is built dates back to Greek occupation around 4th-century BC. The Normans built the first castle on the site but the Byzantines, at risk of attack from the Saracens and Venetians, developed the basis for the current fortification.
Preliminary work included building a canal around the structure. This allowed for boats to pass easily to the castle but more importantly, it created a moated defence to isolate the fortification from the sea.
Fearing an attack from the wide expanse of the Ionian waters, the King requested the original castle be modernised to accommodate the increased use of cannons in battle. Therefore, the previous shape of the castle, with its four tall towers, gave way to a more round design to protect the castle from modern artillery.
Four short and wide circular towers were introduced in a quadrilateral, with four overlapping firing positions. The towers were christened with religious names: St. Cristoforo, St. Lorenzo, dell’Annunziata and della Bandiera. The project close to completion, Taranto almost finally had a castle worthy of withstanding any assault.
Three extra towers were then added to protect the inner perimeter of the structure. The King also ordered two exits, each with a drawbridge, connecting the old town and the new Taranto, then a rural area with a small population.
One year before completion, a triangular-shaped ravelin outlook was added between the San Cristofalo and della Bandiera towers to provide further defensive protection. The castle was then deemed finished in 1492 and a plaque was engraved with the Aragonese coat of arms to commemorate the completion.
Inside, the castle retained the same elements built by the Normans, formed of many short, wide internal walkways and spherically-shaped hallways. In the 16th century, the renaissance chapel of San Leonardo was added.
However, confidence in the castle’s military significance did not last long. In 1594, the fortress withstood an Ottoman assault, but the onset of artillery modernisation saw the castle instead being used for gun storage and as an artillery platform.
In the early 18th century, under the rule of the House of Habsburg, the castle was converted into a prison. Shortly thereafter, it reverted back to its original use as a military fortress. In this period, the castle famously imprisoned Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a French general and the father of the famous author of The Count of Monte-Cristo, during the French Revolution.
In the late 19th century, one of the towers, San Angelo, was demolished in favour of the new Ponte Girevole bridge. Later, another two towers were removed in order to expand the canal. Since then, the Italian Navy has taken over the castle, which is used as its primary seat.
Tourists can visit the castle for free and view many of the castle’s archaeological finds, as well as embark on a journey through the history of Taranto.