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The castles of Puglia
Nothing represents the unique history of Puglia quite like its many castles. Against the background of many different beautiful locations, from sprawling coastlines to snow-tipped mountains, these monuments are living embodiments of Puglia’s rich past.
So, why the many castles? Until 1861, when the different kingdoms of Italy unified into the Kingdom of Italy (led by Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia) many cities were stuck in battles for power.
Parts of Italy also lay at risk of invasion from its surrounding waters. In 1594, this led to the opening of the Castello Aragonese of Taranto. This gorgeous castle is built on a tiny island which is connected to the city centre by a bridge. It was originally used to repel Turkish assault. Similarly, Castello di Trani in Trani was built by Fredrick II of Swabia to protect the Kingdom of Sicily. The castle, which is located on the harbourside, guarded the open seaport against invaders arriving from the vast Gulf of Manfredonia.
Some castles are more well-known for events that happened after their construction. Bari’s epic Castello Svevo di Bari, it is said, is where Emperor Frederick II met St. Francis of Assisi in 1221. The impressive Castle of Taranto was later converted into a prison which is best known in the modern day for having hosted French generals Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and Jean-Baptiste Felix de Manscourt du Rozoy.
Puglians throughout history have always known how to build an impressive castle. You may struggle to find a more stunning castle in its day than the now-derelict Fortezza di Lucera in Lucera. The Swabian castle had 13 square towers, two pentagonal bastions, 7 buttresses and two cylindrical corner towers.
Speaking of beauty, partly what Puglia does best, Castello di Monte Sant’Angelo (Gargano) is set in the beautiful backdrop of the Parco Nazionale di Gargano. However, there is beauty in the unusual too. With its bizarre architecture, Castel del Monte is a good example of mixing several styles. Originally built as a citadel and hunting lodge, the UNESCO World Heritage site took inspiration from Greco-Roman architecture.
Some castles also derive from noble families that used to rule the region. Castello Monaci has a very Puglian history, having been built to house the noble Monaci family. The site itself was based on a former monastery which monks used as a place of meditation and refuge. The castle was originally destroyed by Turkish settlers and later rebuilt by a noble French family.
The incredible Castello Di Bovino, located in the hills of Bovina, was only ever built as a private residence, which goes a long way to display how noble families at that time displayed their wealth. Castel Sant’Angelo is another example of a castle built for personal purposes, originally intending to be a mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family - and it was. However, the castle later became a prison and, nowadays, a museum calls the castle home.
It would be unfair to look over many centuries of Puglian history without mentioning too Brindisi’s medieval Castello Oria, the 13th century Swabian Castello Svevo, the Byzantine Castello Normanno Svevo di Mesagne and Lecce’s Middle Ages-era Castello Carlo Quinto.