The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Castel del Monte was built in the latter half of the 12th century by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. At this time his realm stretched across much of southern Italy, and he was also responsible for the Castello Normanno-Svevo in Bari, the region’s biggest city, as well as a series of hunting lodges across his domain.
Sitting on a remote hillock among endless undulating plains, Castel del Monte is regarded as a masterpiece of medieval architecture, taking its influences from both Classical and Islamic building styles. Perfectly octagonal in shape, it is constructed around a courtyard and boasts a series of octagonal towers. Internally, it comprises two stories containing eight rooms in each, and although the rich furnishings and much of the decoration are long gone, the marble moldings around the great entrance doorway and the lack of fortifications suggest that the castle may have been a private residence rather than for military purposes. With the demise of the Sicilian empire, the castle was abandoned, and by the 16th century had fallen into disrepair; over the centuries it has been used variously as a prison, a refuge from plague and a hang out for bandits. Today it stands empty and proud, a monument to the political and cultural flowering that saw southern Italy come to prominence in the Middle Ages.
The castle is located in Andria, near Bari. From here, follow the SS170 for 11 miles (18 km). The site is open daily. From April through September, it is open from 10:15 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., and from October through March it is open from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission costs €5 for adults, €2.50 for students and is free for those under 18.