Pulling off the boat, our first impressions were that the city of Bari is not one of Italy’s most attractive. In fact, driving in from the port we wondered what we had got ourselves into the dark, oppressive high rise tower blocks and rubbish-strewn streets made quite a contrast to the charming towns and seaside villages we had just come from in Greece.
But in a ‘never judge a book by its cover’ type of positive outlook we agreed to not make any judgements on the country until at least the end of the day …….
Hitting the road, we headed 55km inland towards the barren Alta Murgia National Park, home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is Castel del Monte.
Built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century, you might recognise the castle from the Italian coin.
As its name suggests, it is located atop a hill, giving it one of those wow type views of the surrounding landscape.
Frederick II had been involved in the Crusades, and this castle was imbued with symbolism, being a blend of Classical, Islamic and contemporary European features.
This was a time when the Islamic world was a lot more technologically advanced than Europe.
It’s said that some features in this castle only the Muslims were capable of designing, things like the advanced sewerage system…..
The castle is also notable for its unusually precise geometric shapes: it forms a large octagon, with each corner protected by an octagonal tower, and the central courtyard is of course also an octagon.
The roof of Aachen Cathedral, where Holy Roman Emperors were crowned ,has an octagonal roof.
The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem’s most important Muslim shrine is octagonal
So it’s thought that Castel del Monte was designed to embrace the octagon as a symbol of peace between the Christian and Muslim faiths ….
You can’t help but walk all the way around the castle to view all of its eight towers. I can confirm they’re exactly alike…….