Castel del Monte, Castle of the Mountain in English, is a medieval castle in the Apulia region of Italy. Aside from surviving until this day for centuries, there is another aspect of the castle that makes it highly unique. Unlike many medieval castles in Europe, Castel del Monte has an octagonal shape.
The castle was built in the 13th century by King Frederick II. Frederick had inherited the land from his mother Constance I before he built the castle. However, it is not completely clear why Frederick wanted the castle on this hill. While some sources say that it was for defensive purposes, some sources believe that it was a simple hunting lodge at the beginning.
What we know for certain is that Frederick was an avid supporter of science, mathematics, and astronomy. He frequently invited scholars from all nations of different races and religions to benefit from their knowledge. Moreover, he also liked building castles in southern Italy as a sign of the kingdom’s power and architectural prowess.
Arguably, Castel del Monte is Frederick’s most interesting castle. He gathered his scholars to build a castle that represented the specifics of European and Arabic architectures perfectly in harmony. Many believe that the castle’s shape represents the universe and the world’s place in it.
Similar to the purpose of the castle, there are mysteries surrounding the shape of the castle’s purpose as well. Why did this king who lived in the 13th century want to build a castle although he had not seen anything like it before? What did he want to show through this unique design? Nobody has certain answers which makes the castle even more interesting.
The castle has 8 rooms and 8 towers that perfectly align with the 8 exterior corners. Before robbers plundered them, the rooms had many paintings, mosaics, and tapestries. While the marble Frederick used is still in some of the rooms, they do not have the shiny look they once had.
Castel del Monte served as a lot of different things for Frederick and Italy. Once it was the personal work/rest space of Frederick where he continued his studies with peace and quiet. Afterward, it was used as a defensive castle with guards on the towers looking out for any threats. The castle even served as a prison for a while too.
With its unique shape and the mysteries around it, Castel del Monte is truly a medieval icon of Italy. Frederick II had certain ideas about the castle’s purpose and its shape but nobody is quite sure about their true nature. Nonetheless, the castle has managed to remain as authentic as it could and even found itself a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1996.