ITINERARY in the “castellated system” of Puglia that, wanted by the Norman king Roger II, was then perfected and strengthened by Frederick II of Swabia and Charles I of Anjou: a fascinating journey through the functions, real and symbolic, of the millennial constructions.
The Normans (men of the North) were a Germanic population originating from Scandinavia and Denmark. In the first decades of the eleventh century, their bold expedition left the territories of Northern Europe and went through the seas, in southern Italy, under the command of Roberto and Ruggero d’Hauteville (in Italian, then, d’Altavilla) , succeeding in defeating the Byzantine troops and taking possession of Puglia (1035). Thus the Normans began the settlement and the wars of conquest throughout the South. After a thirty-year war against the Arabs they completed their conquest in 1092 with the conquest of Sicily. All of southern Italy was thus unified under the power of Roger II, the first king of Sicily. It is important to remember that his daughter and heir Constance of Altavilla will marry the son of Frederick Barbarossa and will be the mother of the great Frederick II of Swabia.
The fortification by the Normans mainly responded to the need of the individual leaders to make stable and guarantee the personal dominion over the places conquered. Thus the conquerors strengthened the military and control function of the main preexisting castra, choosing them as administrative and residential headquarters, encircling them with very solid walls.
In the original nucleus of the castles of Bari, Barletta, Trani as well as in the fortified buildings of Rutigliano, Noicattaro, Bisceglie the signs of the Norman castle system are still recognizable today.
The Norman dynasty left positive and singularly lit tracks in our south for those times. The merit of having been able to organize in a single state entity and to pacifically coexist populations very different from one another in history, religion, nationality, legislation, must be recognized to his kings. Customs and traditions of all the governed peoples were respected, in a spirit of great tolerance, even religious. At the Norman court “everyone could freely pray and invoke the god he believed in”.
FEDERICO II DI SVEVIA
At the end of the 12th century, the German dynasty of Swabia succeeded the Norman dynasty.
The reign of Federico II gave further confirmation of the important role of the capital of the city of Bari and the entire region of Puglia.
It is in Puglia, in fact, that Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), king of Sicily and Jerusalem, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but without an official residence for himself and his itinerant court, wished to return to the rare moments of rest. A man of German and Norman blood, born in Jesi, he considered Italy his whole homeland throughout his life.
Officially crowned emperor on November 22nd 1220, he worked to be fair with all his subjects and to promote their well-being with appropriate measures.
Through the legislation of Capua reorganized the State inherited from the Normans, strengthening the elements of centralism and control over the autonomist forces.
History recalls it as the Puer Apuliae for the assiduous attendance of our region that it had during its tormented and enlightened reign: linked to it by the mild climate, the warmth of the people and the habits of life.
In Puglia he had a series of residences of varying size, style and destination, often in the same places already chosen by his Norman ancestors.
He believed, in fact, that the last word on the castellar structures was, always and in any case, the sovereign.
The realization of this vast building plan, intensified on his return from the Crusade in the Holy Land in 1229, will transform Apulia into a land of castles in a few years, reaching a total of 39 manors and imperial residences. Many, even if only one fifth of the more than 200 castles he had built throughout Italy. This irrepressible passion, which earned him even the critique of one of his most faithful – Tommaso – Giustiziere di Gaeta, who was convinced that there was “only one truly impregnable fortress: the love of the subjects”, wrote to him “It would have been much more worthy of Your Majesty if the first works erected by you had been a tribute to the One to whom you owe your very existence “.
The castles, in the Federician conception, were not thought of only as a defensive function. In fact, the emperor always preferred to erect or rebuild palaces, purely secular or of warlike interest, with greater sense of art than his forefathers’ Normans did: so, the castles of Gioia del Colle, Brindisi, Oria arose , of Lucera and Castel del Monte.
They guaranteed above all the hierarchical maintenance between cives and potestas, that is the royal power over subjects, exercising rather the instruments of control than of consent. And Frederick had identified in the castle the main instrument capable of expressing the strength of the state and its ability to impose it on the citizens. But not only: it was in these castles that the culture of the Federic entourage developed. In fact, they hosted the court and gathered the masters and scientists with whom the emperor lingered in learned conversations. Vulgar verses flourished here, splendid parties were held, receiving illustrious guests, ambassadors and great dignitaries. To organize the construction activity within the kingdom, the emperor had the “Statutum De Reparatione Castrorum” drawn up, reached through Angevin sources, whose redaction dates back to the years 1241-1246.
The whole region is still affected by the culture of Federica, open and tolerant, rich in spirituality and cordiality: an unmistakable spirit that is felt especially in castles, in the mansions, in the fortresses, in the cathedrals built or re-adapted by Frederick II for a thousand purposes: from meditation hunting, government meetings, scientific dissertations, libations.