Exploring the Heel of Italy’s Boot: Trani and Castel del Monte

DSC00466Although some tour books claim that the best sights in Puglia (Apulia) lie between Lecce in the south and Bari in the northern middle, Kate and I enjoyed two beautiful spots northwest of Bari: Trani and Castel del Monte. Angelo drove us there Thursday—Trani in the morning; a long, leisurely lunch in the middle of the day (as is the custom in Puglia); and amazing Castel del Monte in the afternoon. I almost told you that this was my favorite day, but that’s simply not true—all of the days in Puglia and Basilicata were my favorites, rain or shine.

DSC00481Trani lies on the coast of the Adriatic Sea just 25 miles northwest of Bari and is primarily known for its spectacular cathedral, Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino. The Romanesque-style cathedral sits majestically on a spit of land that juts into the blue, blue sea—exquisite! The cathedral honors St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, who drowned in Bari in 1094 and was canonized five years later. It was constructed on top of two seventh-century churches, which can still be seen, between 1099 and 1143, and the 194-foot bell tower was added from 1230 to 1239. Next to the cathedral sits a lovely castle (at least from the outside), one of many in Puglia. It was built by Frederick II, who also built Castel del Monte.

While I found the cathedral breathtaking, the real draw of Trani for me was, of course, the sea. I love the sea, and this port with its blue-painted fishing boats and many pleasure boats, was beautiful, especially with the cathedral rising high above the north end. I also enjoyed wandering through the tiny medieval streets between the basilica and the port.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

After a spectacular lunch Angelo drove us to the marvelous, unusual, and mysterious Castel del Monte, Puglia’s second most visited attraction (after the trulli). UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site, calling it “a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture.” The castle sits seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a 1,770-foot-high hill in a region known as Le Murge, and we could see it from miles away. Built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (who was from Swabia—now part of southern Germany) from 1229 to 1240, Castel del Monte is featured on the back of the Italian version of the one-cent euro coin.

DSC00513No other castle in the world looks like this one, and Frederick II, who loved mathematics, seems to have been obsessed here with the number eight. The castle has eight octagonal towers supporting the eight outer walls, an octagonal inner courtyard, and two stories consisting of eight trapezoidal rooms. The emperor built 200 castles after his return from the Crusades but only one octagonal castle. Castel del Monte has no kitchen, chapel, stable, storerooms, moat, or drawbridge, so while some scholars believe that the castle was used as a fortress, others doubt that, despite its location. Some speculate that it may have been used as a school, others think it was a hunting lodge, and still others believe that it was an astronomical observatory. Angelo also told us that the mottled red marble (a kind of coralline breccia) used on the exterior door is unusual, and no one has ever discovered its source.

View from the castle

View from the castle

I found the inside of Castel del Monte less interesting than the exterior, except that seven of the eight rooms on each floor have two doors so that people can pass easily from room to room, but the eighth room has only one door. Furthermore, the upstairs room with only one door does not sit atop the downstairs room with one door, so the purpose of these rooms is unknown.

Here’s my advice for Trani and Castel del Monte. GO! You can see them both in a single day. If I had to choose just one, I’d choose Castel del Monte, but I would have hated to miss Trani and that beautiful cathedral. Puglia offers so many mysteries—and such a wealth of riches.

Ciao!

Other posts in this series: Matera and Basilicata, Trullo Country, Hill
Towns of the Valle d’Itria
, Easternmost Spot in Italy, Lecce, Simple and Delicious Food

DSC00473

DSC00474

Cathedral bell tower

Cathedral bell tower

Side of the cathedral (photo by K. McKenna)

Side of the cathedral (photo by K. McKenna)

The sea at Trani - the spur of the Italian boot, the Gargano Peninsula, is in the distance.

The sea at Trani – the spur of the Italian boot, the Gargano Peninsula, is in the distance.

Frederick II's castle in Trani

Frederick II’s castle in Trani

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

Marble surrounding the main door

Marble surrounding the main door

DSC00515

View from the castle

View from the castle

DSC00520

DSC00787

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Italy travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s