Forget about the gorgeous beaches and picturesque yesteryear towns, the charm of Puglia is in its mind blowing castles and towers. Scattered across the region from gorgeous seaside to hinterland hill top are ancient fortresses and watch towers created in the 13th century as defense outposts. In today’s landscape, they are magical reminders of Puglia’s rich history, and almost improbable architectural landmarks and monuments that enchant to no end.
A landscape of historical castles
Puglia’s castles are incredible and so is the history, so here’s the brief back story. By the end of the 12th century, Puglia was part of the Norman-Swabian empire Frederick II (1194 – 1250) of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and ,whose CV includes King of Sicily, King of Germany, King of Italy, Holy Roman Emperor, and King of Jerusalem but our favourite is Stupor Mundi (world wonder), for his enlightened and visionary contributions to history. In his five decade tenure, Frederick left a monumental mark in Italy – founding the Università di Napoli (the oldest public, non sectarian university in the world) and constructing more than 200 castles and fortifications, many of which are in Puglia.
Throughout the region, there are more than 100 castles hidden in the countryside or prominently residing in cities. Many are restored, some are abandoned, and not all are from Norman-Swabian era. Puglia’s magnificent castles, fortresses and towers span the centuries, capturing epic moments of the region’s rich history. From landmarks of Frederick II to the castles of the Angevin, Baroque and Aragon periods, we’ve lined up our favourites.
Castel del Monte (Andria)
Castello del Monte is the castle’s castle, an octagonal monument looming over the verdant valley of Western Murgia. Its incredible and mathematical design leads many to believe it was more than just a hunting residence, but also an astronomical observatory. Fittingly out of this world as it also was the site of the sword Godkiller, locked away in mythical Themyscira until Diana would take in 2017’s Wonder Woman and setting of a fight scene in Matteo Garrone’s epoch-spanning fantasy Tale of Tales.
Castello Normanno -Svevo (Bari)
Originally built in the 12th century, Castello Normanno-Svevo got a facelift from Frederick II. The massive castle, with its imposing square towers, is surrounded by a moat and sits on the Adriatic sea. Fun fat: (supposedly) Frederick II met up with Francis of Assisi here.
Castello Aragonese (Taranto)
Also known as Castel Sant’Angelo (not to be confused with the one in Rome), the 15th century Castello Aragonese in Taranto is situated by the sea and watches over the canal.
Castello Normanno-Svevo (Gioia del Colle)
Another redesign of a 12th century fortress, Frederick II took it upon himself to overhaul Castello Normanno-Svevo following his return from the Ninth Crusade. Legend, or better yet, rumors say that Bianca ’d’Agliano (Biancalancia), long-term mistress of the emperor, was kept here doing one of her illegitimate pregnancies. Apropo that Gioia del Colle means “joy in the hills”.
Castello di Monte Sant’Angelo (Gargano)
Castello di Monte Sant’Angelo has had a lot of reincarnations from its original 9th century founding, and of course, Frederick II had his hand in the redesign as well as hiding his mistress here. With its gorgeous calcareous stonework and design, including intact moat and foot bridge, and beautiful location in the Parco Nazionale di Gargano, this could be the prettiest of all castles.
Castello di Trani (Trani)
The beautifully preserved Castello di Trani was famous for hosting the wedding of Frederick II’s son Manfredi, and even more so for its gorgeous beach location where the Adriatic washes up against its fortification walls.
Fortezza di Lucera (Foggia)
It’s all about that beautiful cylindrical watch tower at Fortezza di Lucera, and its incredible wall. Surrounding the hillside castle, the wall measures 900 meters and includes 13 square towers, two pentagonal bastions, 7 buttresses and two cylindrical corner towers.
Castello Carlo V (Lecce)
A medieval fortress redesigned by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the 1530s, Castello Carlo V is a Leccese landmark and symbol of the city. Both city offices and cultural sites, visitors can explore the interior rooms and enjoy the original decor and ornament. Legend has it that the Orsini del Balzo family kept a white bear in the moat of the castle.
More to explore
Those on the castle hunt, make sure to research Conversano, Sannicandro di Bari, Copertino, Otranto, Oria, Manfredonia, Massafra, Barletta. And the list goes on. . . .