The region of Puglia, located in the south east of Italy, makes up the heel of Italy’s boot and is almost entirely surrounded by two seas – the Adriatic and the Ionian. As you can probably imagine, its important and strategic geographical position made it a highly desirable place to settle as well as control and as a result the region has no shortage of castles that were built and rebuilt to protect the region from its enemies.
Castel del Monte (Andria)
This castle was built in the 13th century by Emperor Frederick II on a hilltop overlooking the town of Andria in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani. Castel del Monte is one of the most interesting castles constructed by Frederick II, who was responsible for many of the castles you’ll find in Puglia. The castle is perfectly constructed to form an octagon with octagonal-shaped towers at each of the corners. Inside the courtyard forms an octagon and on each floor there are eight rooms. Definitely not your typical castle – you won’t find a moat or a drawbridge here and some of the lavish marble decorations that adorned the rooms can still be seen today. This medieval masterpiece became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 and the image of Castel del Monte can be see on the reverse side of the Italian one-cent euro coin.
Castello Aragonese (Taranto)
The Castello Aragonese in Taranto, also known as Castel Sant’Angelo, has an ancient history that has become more and more evident with recent excavations. The earlier structures going back as far as ancient Greek and Byzantine can still be seen today. The “new” castle was rebuilt between 1487 and 1492 by order of the King of Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon. Today, the castle is owned and operated by the Italian Navy and they offer free guided tours (in Italian and English) by Navy personnel every two hours.
Castle of Charles V (Lecce)
This castle, located near Piazza Sant’Oronzo, was first built in the Middle Ages and was later reinforced by Charles V in the 16th century to incorporate a fortified watchtower – Torre Quadrata. Once a strong military defense, the castle which now borders the old and modern towns, was once surrounded by a moat and had two drawbridges – one facing the west while the other facing east. Today, you can visit the castle and be amazed by its long hallways, massive rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows.
Castle of Otranto (Otranto)
Otranto, founded as a Greek town, is an ancient seaside port town located on the Adriatic coast. The castle in the heart of Otranto was originally reinforced by Frederick II and was later rebuilt for Alfonso of Aragon and then, after the historical Saracen attack in 1480, was once again reinforced to include cannon towers. The castle originally had one drawbridge entrance and there is a dry moat which surrounds the entire perimeter of the castle. When visiting the castle, you should climb to the top of the walls for outstanding views overlooking the town and out to the harbor.
Castle of Trani (Trani)
Trani is a seaport located on the Adriatic Sea just north of Bari. You certainly can’t miss the massive Swabian castle known as the Castle of Trani which was built by none other than Frederick II between 1233 and 1249. The castle seems to grow out of the sea showing off its defensive prowess as the waves of the surrounding waters crash up against its mighty walls. The castle is quadrangular with square towers at each corner to defend the castle from threats by land and sea. Surrounding the castle was once a moat that was filled with sea water, however it has since been filled in. Much later, in the early 1800s the castle became a prison and it wasn’t until 1979 that the castle became open to the public to view.