From Famous Castles & Palaces of Italy, Illustrated in Colour from Paintings, by Edmund B. d’Auvergne, London: T. Werner Laurie, [undated, 1911]; pp. 103-120.
FAMOUS CASTLES AND PALACES OF ITALY
SOME SWABIAN AND NORMAN CASTLES
IN Apulia, the land which in Horace’s time was half Italian and half Greek, are to be found many noble monuments of the second Frederick, that strange emperor who was half Oriental and half European. It was at LUCERA, a town then ruinous and well-nigh deserted, that he established the Saracens expelled from Sicily upon the suppression of their revolt in 1223. They numbered, according to one account, sixty thousand souls, and were governed by their own Kadi. Secure in the favour of the emperor, they drove away the few Christians of the neighbourhood, even, as some allege, profaning the venerable cathedral. When they began to pull down the sacred edifice itself the bishop complained to Frederick. He replied that he understood that the cathedral had succumbed to old age, but that he would gladly build another for the honour of Holy Church. Retaliate on the dusky settlers, the Christians could not. They were protected by the severest Imperial decrees: “Any Christian that injures a Saracen shall be put to death without trial”; “If a Saracen is found wounded or dead and his assailant cannot be discovered, the people of the district shall afford compensation either in blood or money.” The erstwhile rebels became the devoted subjects of the lord who so signally favoured them. The house of Hohenstaufen 104 had no more faithful followers, no sturdier soldiers than the Saracens of Lucera. In the eyes of the Pope a canker in the heart of Christendom, they proved for many years the bulwark of the emperor’s power in Italy.
THE CASTLE OF LUCERA.
The citadel built for them by Frederick, probably by Italian architects, crowns a hill about a quarter a mile from the modern town. Yellow, massive and rambling in outline, it recalls the work of the Moors in Spain. Roughly speaking, the wall forms a ten-sided polygon, the sides being of very different lengths. Flanking defence is afforded on the north, west and south by fifteen towers, all rectangular, except those at the north-west and south-west angles, which are polygonal. The east side, looking towards the town, being the easiest of approach, is defended at each end by two round towers, one in very good preservation; between them, the wall is flanked by seven mitre-shaped bastions. On this side a very deep and wide ditch follows the outline of the wall. Between the second and third bastion, counting from the north, is the main entrance to the citadel, placed in a re-entering angle; it was reached by a drawbridge, of which one of the piers remains, and beside which a passage was excavated in the escarp or near the side of the ditch. Between the gate and the north-east tower are the traces of another subterranean gallery. At this angle of the enclosure is the keep, a square building now crumbling away to ruin. It was partly built of the stone extracted from Lucera, which at the end of the eighteenth century still presented an appearance of perfect smoothness and regularity; but the walls here, as in other parts of the 105 fortress, have been stripped of their ashlar to a considerable height. They are pierced with loopholes, which seem to have lit a double-vaulted gallery. The interior of the keep was an open court, in which stood a central tower or chamber. Remarkably enough there are no traces of an entrance to the keep, which could only have been penetrated by means of a subterranean passage, communicating no doubt with the one already noticed.
While the wide area enclosed by the outer walls was occupied by the barracks of the Saracen troops, the keep was, we may suppose, the residence of the emperor himself. The site, the whole scheme of the fortress, are highly suggestive of the Alhambra. Here Frederick lorded it as sultan, surrounding himself with the strange and beautiful things of the East. He adorned his palace with statues from Naples, with rich carpets and silks from Syria. He introduced camels from Barbary, and hunted with trained leopards on the slopes of Apulia. Defying still more audaciously the opinion of his age and clime, he formed for himself a harem of beautiful girls, guarded by eunuchs. On 10th November 1239 he wrote from Lodi: “We enjoin you, when required by the Kadi of Lucera and Abu Zughi of Lucera, to supply to our damsels at Lucera and to each of them, a gown trimmed with marten’s fur, two shifts and two veils of linen, and to each of our servants at the same place, a gown, two shifts and two linen veils; . . . according to the regulations of our court.”
It was to Lucera, his father’s favourite palace, that Manfred rode across the kingdom of Naples in November 106 1254, warned by faithful friends that the adherents of the Pope sought his life. Pursuing paths better fitted for goats than horses, avoiding cities and castles, he appeared before the citadel bareheaded, that his father’s faithful servants might see his face. John the Moor, the governor of the fortress, had been bought over by the Pope, and had gone to treat with him. His second-in-command refused to admit the emperor’s son. But the Saracens, not to be betrayed by their leader, burst open the gate and carried Manfred with acclamation into the fortress. There after the fatal field of Benevento, his young wife, Helen of Epirus, took refuge, till, foolishly, she attempted to escape by sea to her native land and so fell into the hands of the Angevins. Not till the last Hohenstaufen perished at Naples did the Muslims of Lucera accept service under the new dynasty. They were ill repaid. Without a word of warning, Charles II. of Anjou, at the instigation of the Pope, suddenly attacked their fortress and put all within it to the sword. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the Saracen colony in Apulia had ceased to exist.
Grand and savage as is the Castle of Lucera, it is far surpassed in beauty and dignity by the CASTEL DEL MONTE, erected by Frederick on the summit of one of the low hills called the Murgie, not far from the town of Andria. Dominating the bare undulating country for many miles around, in its majesty, originality and isolation, it is symbolic of the strange personality of its imperial founder.
A Norman tower, as some will have it, may have existed on the spot, but the actual fabric is clearly no 107 restoration or enlargement, but the creation of a single epoch and a single mind. The plan is said to have been traced by the emperor himself. He showed great interest in the building, and in a letter dated at Gubbio, January 1240, directed the justiciary of the Capitanata to lend the builders all the assistance in his power. There is a legend that one of the messengers sent to report on the progress of the work was ensnared by the charms of a lady at Melfi, and lingered there till summoned back by the emperor. Obliged to give some account of his mission, he described the castle as hardly yet begun and as not worth a visit from his Majesty. Frederick at once sent a guard to bring the master mason before him, but the man in his terror killed himself and his whole family. The emperor then went to Castel del Monte, and, finding that it rose fair and strong from the hill, dragged the lying messenger by the hair of his head to the ramparts, and flung him over with his own hands.
The new castle, thus rudely consecrated in blood, was not designed for purposes of aggression or defence, but as a pleasure palace and country-seat where the founder might pursue that sport of hawking in which he so much delighted. Even now falcons constantly circle above the pile, and Gregorovius tells us how he found three of their eggs — “no doubt of the imperial brood” — in the deserted chambers.
CASTEL DEL MONTE, SICILY.
From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton.
The castle is built of creamy smooth freestone, resembling marble, and hewn and set with the nicest precision. The plan is a perfect octagon, 52 metres across. The walls are on an average 24 metres high, 16·30 long, and 2·40 thick. The angles are occupied 108 by eight hexagonal towers, five of which are quadrangular within, the remaining three round and containing staircases. The towers are level with the summit of the walls to-day and the roof is of flat slabs of stone; in the emperor’s time probably it was bordered by a crenellated parapet. In its purity and simplicity the castle recalls the monuments of Greece and Rome in their most glorious days.
Castel del Monte has fared well at the hands of time, and we see it now practically whole. It is unlikely that any outer wall ever girdled it. The traces of masonry discovered at some distance from the base are the remains, it is thought, of a series of terraces, or great stepped plinth, leading up in lordly breadths to the imperial abode. The wide prospect of mountain, plain and sea was surveyed from the graceful Gothic windows, two of which, one above the other, are to be found in each face of the octagon, except where the portal takes the place of the lower one. The ground-floor windows, seven, therefore, in number, are simple and round arched, and bordered with a band of red breccia. The upper windows were very beautiful. Seven are of two lights, the arches of each opening being trilobate and springing from pilasters of white marble with composite capitals of different designs; the mullions have all gone; above the openings is a small rose window, set in the tympanum, the whole window being enclosed in a round arch springing from two pilasters of red breccia. The eighth window, looking towards the town of Andria, was of three lights, the place of the rose window being taken by a little two-light window. The ornamental details, as in the 109 case of the other windows, are carried out in red breccia.
The portal is not less beautiful. It is designed on the principles of Roman architecture. It is inscribed on a square and a half; the width from the outside of the two pilasters is 6·90 metres, which is equal to the height of the horizontal architrave, while the height of the pediment is half the square. These proportions not only reproduce the principal figure of Roman architecture, which was the square (the Pantheon of Agrippa is inscribed on this figure), but are also those that may be observed in the triumphal arches of classic Rome to which this portal owes its origins. Very notable are the fluted pilasters and Corinthian capitals, lightly carved, one with palm leaves, the other with acanthus and palm leaves; and here again is to be seen the tendency towards the classical, although the palms are distinguished by a mediæval rigidity. It is perceptible again in the cornice and the pediment, in which the corbels, beautiful and diverse, follow the angle of the inclination as in many examples of Roman architecture. The outline of the cornice is a little hard, but of good effect, while the bases of the pilasters are tender and graceful. For the flat arch is substituted the pointed arch, with a radius not far from the centre, whence the arch does not go far upward. Certainly this motive is mediæval, as are also the little columns on which the arch rests and the lions crouched on the capitals, the heraldic beasts of the Hohenstaufen.
“The material used in the construction of this portal is the red breccia of which we have spoken. It is surprising that the mason should have been able to 110 carve the capitals and details in so unpromising a stone; and yet the acanthus and palm leaves that finish in a trefoil are of marvellous delicacy. Perhaps this postal was originally embellished with mosaics in the field of the lunette and with marble bas-reliefs in the pediment. The whole would then have dazzled with colour. And if it is true that the door was of bronze with silver ornamentation, the whole work must have been well worthy of the abode of so great a lord. But there are not documents to prove this. We can only be certain that there was a portcullis running between the columns on each side of the jambs.”1
Within this arch is another of ogival shape, through which you pass into the inner court of the castle, octagonal like the exterior. Three doors in red breccia admit to the rooms on the ground level, seven in number, from which three spiral staircases in three of the towers lead to the eight upper rooms. These all communicate with each other and, as the shape of the castle necessitates, are wider on the outer than the inner side. In the corners of the lower rooms the vaulting rested upon pilasters of breccia, in the upper from three clustered columns of white marble with composite capitals. Most of the rooms have windows looking on the inner court, with round arches, square openings and very wide sills; from within they are approached by broad marble steps which seem to have been continued as a bench all round the wall. The breccia panelling is for the most part gone, and only a fragment remains in one room of a mosaic flooring. The towers are divided into two floors communicating with the 111 larger apartments. The emperor’s own apartment, it is assumed, was that which alone has one door, and which has the large three-light window. There, lapped in the exotic luxury in which he delighted, Frederick could survey the land he loved so well and catch a glimpse of the sea over which he had come, an excommunicated conqueror, from Palestine.
The castle contains no inscriptions commemorating the founder or his dynasty. The relief of an equestrian figure faintly discernible over one of the inner doors is believed to represent Frederick. Perkins called attention to a satyr’s head and to a very pleasing face, in a “superior style of art,” carved above a staircase in one of the towers. Glass has now been put into the windows, and a cistern occupies the centre of the court.
Only an old custodian and his dog, till lately, at all events, tenanted the noble palace-castle which was once thronged with the brilliant train of the gorgeous emperor — Sicilians, Normans, Swabians, Saracens, Greeks and Italians. The hawks alone remain, and are, perhaps, more successful than we humans in finding birds in Italy. How often the emperor came here, how long he stayed, we do not know. The only memories that linger round it are not of his splendour, but of his grandchildren’s wretchedness. Here, before their removal to the Castel dell’ Ovo, the sons of Manfred languished for thirty-two years in captivity, abandoned and forgotten by all except their gaoler, Charles of Anjou. Torn from their mother when the youngest was but four years old, they could have known no other life than a prisoner’s, have only 112 vaguely realised what that freedom was of which they had been despoiled. Let us hope the bird born in a cage does not sigh for liberty. So little cared for were they that the King of Naples wrote in 1298 to the warden of Castel del Monte, “respecting the sons of Manfred, once Prince of Taranto, and Conrad, once Count of Caserta, now imprisoned in the Castle of Santa Maria del Monte, it would not be seemly that they should die of hunger in your hands, waiting on the allowance granted by the court, which in their imprisoned and macerated state should be sufficient for them.” A year later Guglielmo de Ponciac was ordered to provide the captives with suitable clothes and to convey them to Naples. Then the gates of oblivion closed upon them. Their mother, Helen, had died years before, at the age of twenty-nine. Her grave is unknown, and the castle in which she was confined has crumbled away.
Castel del Monte passed into the hands of various families, and seems to have been sacked by the French under Lautrec. The Caraffas took refuge here when the pest was devastating Apulia in 1656. Excepting these fitful appearances, the castle was lost to history. In the year 1875 it was bought by the state for the sum of one thousand pounds and remains to-day not only the finest monument of the ill-fated dynasty of Hohenstaufen but the grandest civil structure that the Middle Ages have left to southern Italy.
The huge brown castle of BARI was also the work of the great emperor. Legend avers that it stands on the site of the Cyclopean tomb of the eponymous hero Bario; tradition has it that here stood the fortress of 113 the Byzantines; history speaks of a Norman tower erected by William I. in 1156. The remains of any such pre-existing structures were incorporated by Giovanni de Cicala and Riccardo da Foggia in the castle-palace they built for Frederick, where he received envoys from the sultans of Egypt and Syria, and trafficked with the gorgeous East.
The castle is in a sad state. The curtains are battered, patched up or hidden by wretched buildings. The beautiful circular windows have been blocked up and in great part destroyed. The noble entrance arch is scarcely recognisable, and the four square corner towers have been cruelly cut down almost to the level of the curtain. The Torre del Semaforo is the best preserved. The great hall had been cut up into small chambers, but through the gloom and rubbish may still be seen and admired the fine central column and the carefully chiselled corbels along the wall. There is a similar hall where convicts are now herded together in the Torre dei Minorenni, beneath which were the stables of Frederick’s Arab horses.
The quadrangle with its broad stairway, where now the prisoners take exercise, was remodelled by Bona Sforza at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Bari had been constituted a duchy by Ferdinand I. of Naples in favour of Lodovico Sforza, afterwards Duke of Milan, and it became the refuge of Isabella d’Aragona, the widow of the unfortunate Gian Galeazzo, whom he supplanted. Protected and indulged by Ferdinand the Catholic and Charles V., she lived the centre of a brilliant little court, modelled on that of Milan. Her train included the gallant Papacoda, whose family possessed 114 the hereditary faculty of captivating the queens and princesses of Naples, and whose good taste was turned to account in the embellishment of the castle. A new bastioned enceinte was built round it, one of the most ancient and important in Italy we have been assured, though it has become hardly recognisable amidst hideous modern buildings. Bona, Isabella’s daughter, married the King of Poland, and the castle of Bari was abandoned to the basest uses.
LAGOPESOLE, in the mountains of the Basilicata, a favourite residence of Frederick and Manfred, has fared rather better. Only a portion of the fabric has been adapted to present-day use and serves as quarters for a detachment of Carabineers. We are astonished to learn from the chroniclers that the castle was founded in the year 743 by a Saracen named Andronicus Cirestes (as surely no Saracen was ever named before or since), who was sent here by no other than Leonidas, King of Sparta! In 1137 the council of Melfi sat here, and a little time after Pope Innocent II. and the Emperor Lothaire III., on their way to besiege Bari, met under the walls. The plan and structure shows the castle to be the work of the great Swabian emperor, though the deadly foe and destroyer of his race dwelt here and seems to have executed extensive repair. The stronghold is seated on a hill dominating the village; it is square with the usual square towers at the angles. The entrance arch is pointed and was formerly defended by a portcullis, the grooves for which remain; it is flanked by two lofty rectangular towers. A vaulted passage leads into the quadrangle, at the opposite end of which is the chapel, formed of a single nave. The 115 apse is excavated in a square tower, corresponding to the gate-house on the opposite side of the castle. A wall divides the quadrangle into two unequal parts. On the smaller stands a stout square tower of two floors, built like the other tower of blocks of hewn stone roughly painted on the outside. From the larger court a doorway, faced with white marble, admitted to the imperial apartments, which unfortunately are almost completely ruined. The windows are of two lights, coarse imitations of those of Castel del Monte. The corbels along the wall appear to have supported a timber roof.
The Castle of SAN NICANDRO, about a score of miles from Bari, owes, on the other hand, little or nothing to Frederick or his son. Careful examination has convinced modern archæologists (such as Professor Haseloff and Captain Bacile di Castiglione) that the building dates from the reign of the later Norman kings, and may therefore be classed with Aderno and other works of that warlike race in Sicily. In 1119 San Nicandro was held by Emma de Hauteville, sister of Roger II., and in 1187 by William de Tot as a knight’s fee, debited with ten soldiers. Upon the Angevin invasion it was given to a Piacentine baron, and then passed rapidly through many hands. In 1289 the lord was Anselmo de Caprona or de Chevreuse, marshal of the kingdom and one of the four intimate counsellors assigned by Charles II. to his son, Charles Martel. Finally in 1415 the castle was given by Giovanna II. to the Chapter of Bari.
The fortress presents some very interesting features. It is an irregular quadrilateral in plan and girt on three 116 sides by an outer wall. The space between the two walls is on two sides occupied by miserable shanties, and the rest of the building is divided into peasants’ lodgings and police barracks. On the north side the baronial wall extends from the inner court to the outer wall, where it is lit by three two-light windows of the fourteenth century. Above these are brackets which may have supported a wooden gallery or bretesche. This front is flanked at the angles by towers of very different sizes. Immediately behind them, from the east and west curtains of the inner ward, project two other towers, one pentagonal, the other square, both presenting their sharpest angle outwards and so set as to form a re-entering angle with the corner towers. Here we have an anticipation of the bastion system introduced centuries after by Sangallo; and the same attention to flanking defence is shown by the position of the south-east tower, and of two other towers, one extending right across the narrow outer ward from wall to wall. In the middle of the eastern inner wall is a fine arched entrance, looking strangely out of place amid these miserable surroundings. Penetrating into the sadly desecrated apartments in the towers and inner ward, curiosity is still rewarded by glimpses of the simple vaulting and stern, solid masonry characteristic of Norman architecture in other and distant lands.
At TERMOLI, a little town on the coast of the Abruzzi, looking towards the Tremiti isles, is another stronghold of the all-conquering race. It is believed to have been built by Count Robert of Loritello about the middle of the eleventh century. Its square, coarsely built tower stands on the platform of an enormous base, 117 like a truncated pyramid, which on one side slopes down to the seashore. At each of the four angles of this platform is a turret of the bartizan type. In this castle Tancred, the hero of Tasso’s epic, held his court in 1156; and his name reminds us of another castle said to have been built by him, a long way off.
THE CASTLE OF LERICI.
FROM A PAINTING BY C. E. DAWSON.
The Castle of LERICI on the beautiful Mediterranean shore, between Spezia and Viareggio, presents several points of resemblance to Termoli. Here again we find the enormous plinth carried far down the sides of a promontory and the great square keep, with another tower just in front of it, apparently a later addition. There is a bartizan at the corner of this supporting tower. The only openings are straight loops. There are traces of decoration on the outer wall of the keep by means of arcade-work in red brick; and on the side towards the harbour the fabric is partly upheld by arches which were no doubt once filled in with turf and mortar. A walled passage runs down zigzag fashion to a postern on the cliff, but the main entrance is from the land-side, where a passage winds from the arched gate overlooked by another bartizan, round the wall of the castle to a deep, arched entrance on the side of the sea. There was probably another gate half-way along this approach. I reached Lerici too late to be admitted to the interior of this picturesque pile nor could I ascertain to exactly what authority its custody belonged. I had walked over the hills from Spezia and glanced at the very similar castle of San Terenzo on the way. As all along this coast, the scenery is of that languidly beautiful type which reminds one of a lovely but delicate woman. It wants the ruddy blush of health. Perhaps it may 118 have been this indefinable suggestion of melancholy that made me think during that walk over the hills much more of Shelley than of the valiant Tancred. Andrea Doria, I told myself, took refuge in this castle when Francis I. ordered him to surrender the command of the fleet to Barbaisieux. The new admiral had orders to seize his predecessor and to conduct him to France. Doria sent word that he could come and fetch him, as he was ill in bed. Barbaisieux sailed by this coast, looked up at those grim walls, and did not dare. And so Doria presently passed into the service of Spain, and Francis I. found himself a prisoner here instead after the battle of Pavia. These things I repeated to myself as I took passage in the waning light by the little steamer for Spezia, and the next moment remembered only that this was the very last journey on which Shelley sailed.
1 Ettore Bernich, “Il Castello del Monte.”