“They could have built more walls!”

Sunday is for cyclists in and around Castel del Monte. Thousands of cyclists. It appears to be the cycling capital of the world. I’ve never seen so much lycra.

And they crowd every available and unavailable, space. Nowhere is safe from the light scrunch of tyres on gravel or the SNEAK ATTACK on marble slabs.

“Outa my way!”

Fortunately they are not allowed inside the castle, which is a very good thing given how tempting the narrow spiral staircase would no doubt be. It is where we went today.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 15:50 (it left early) so we had an entire morning free. Rather than hang around Bari (a place that Mirinda has steadily grown to dislike enormously) it was considered a much better idea to find someone who could guide us up to and around the Castel del Monte, a UNESCO Heritage site near the town of Andria.

We weren’t sure he was going to turn up at 09:30 outside the apartment building especially given the long, convoluted phone call Mirinda had to make yesterday. Still, we packed and were outside the building and there he was, surprise, surprise.

I hadn’t left the keys so I went back upstairs to drop them off. Had the guide not turned up, we were going to hang around the apartment with our bags for half a day. The plan, however, was that the guide was going to drop us (and our stuff) at the airport at the end of our tour.

It was a perfect plan. And it went like clock work. Absolutely nothing went wrong. While that’s brilliant for our holiday, it doesn’t make for the most interesting of blog posts. Still…

Another blue day in southern Italy

Castel del Monte was built sometime in the 13th century. It was designed by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, a legendary fellow who built a lot of castles throughout southern Italy and knew mathematical geniuses and had a ridiculous amount of money. He also married four women, had heaps of kids then went and died at the age of 56 in 1250. (Andreas made a big thing of the fact that Castel del Monte has exactly 56 walls.)

The castle was not finished in Fred’s lifetime though he may have been married in it when it was only half built. It’s not a defensive castle but could have been used as a hunting lodge given the forests (selva) all around and the large amounts of game running free back then. Clearly not now. Though there are quite a few cyclists running free between the trees.

Our guide, Andreas, was very knowledgeable (he had to pass an exam), and, along with his driver friend, took us on a literal as well as historical drive through the countryside up to the castle. The driver pointed out our first view of the edifice, sitting high on a hill, just over 500 metres above sea level. It was very impressive though not as impressive as the view when we arrived.

According to Andreas, the castle has undergone a certain amount of restoration because it has been the victim of material robbing over the centuries, still, essentially it’s the same structure and some of the original outer material is still in place.

Something that is still there is the extraordinary amount of maths. The symbolic use of numbers, the mathematics of Fibonacci and the mysteries of the universe, all co-exist in Fred’s amazing eight sided castle.

Actually, a lot of visitors go to great lengths to try and capture the octagonal opening. Most of them manage to locate the centre of the central courtyard (it’s a drain cover) but others just go for any spot they can find.

Of course, I wouldn’t want anything as symmetrical as the place is supposed to be (though the walls are all different lengths) so I just tried to get all sides in and smoodged the photo up one end a bit.

We climbed up one tower where Andreas took us through the rooms which may (or may not) have been one big elaborate Turkish bath complex. The benches along the walls, the sunken floor, the drainage system…it could all have been just an upper level indoor sauna. Though I have to admit I didn’t quite believe that the big window ledge was a throne.

Andreas showed us a video reconstruction of how the place may have looked and it would have been pretty amazing. I’m not sure how (or why) a main bedroom with a foot of water in it would have been something the king would want but what would I now?

Whatever the glories of the past were, they are unknown now because there’s not many records left regarding the castle. As well as an incomplete wedding venue and a hunting lodge, it was also used as a prison for a while and a secret hideout for an American troop during WWII. Another claim to fame is the fact that it is featured on the obverse of the 1 cent piece.

Andreas pointing out something to Mirinda in a tower

In all we spent a lovely couple of hours roaming all over the castle before finding our driver and heading for the airport for our flight.

Then, everything went really smoothly at Bari airport. Not a single problem and, as I said, the flight left early and we arrived at Gatwick 25 minutes before the scheduled arrival time. Mirinda couldn’t remember a less eventful flight.

At the airport, Carol had sent us Emil, a Bulgarian taxi driver who regaled Mirinda with tales of his home, hunting wild game and his kids, all the way home.

We then went and collected the puppies before settling in for the night.

What a great week away it was.

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