Italy is not a country short on castles! As a matter of fact, the government has even announced a castle ‘giveaway’ program for young entrepreneurs to turn into touristic projects. However, there are a few major sights that are a must-see, and we have chosen the top-5 southern Italian castles that cannot be missed:
- Castel dell’Ovo (‘The Egg Castle’), Naples
This castle stands on the land of one of the oldest settlements of Ancient Greece. In the 1st Century B.C, the Romans built the magnificent villa Castellum Lucullanum on this land, which was then transformed into a royal fortress in the 5th century A.D. It will come as no surprise that there are several myths and legends surrounding the history of this castle.
Why is it called the Egg Castle? According to legend by Virgil, a famous Roman poet, a magical egg was placed in the foundation of the castle. The future of Naples depended on this egg – as long as it stays safe and hidden underground, the city too would be safe and prosperous!
It is also believed that the castle is full of ghosts. During the Aragon, Angevin and Bourbon rule, the castle served as a prison for rebels, and naturally many of them died there. Some say, you can still hear the chains clunking in the night!
- Castel del Monte, Andria
Castel del Monte is probably one of the most recognizable castles in the world, and certainly the most outstanding castle in the south of Italy! Constructed in the 13th Century, it is often called the crown of Apulia.
The perfect octagon shape of the castle differentiates it from the ‘typical’ Italian castles. Moreover, technically, to be called a castle, a building has to have: ramparts, a Graff and a drawing-bridge. All of which are missing from the Castle del Monte. Historians are still debating the purpose of the castle. Even though its thought to be a hunting house of the Emperor, there do not appear to have ever been a house barn, and the interior looks far too elegant for a simple hunting house.
The entire look and construction is unique; some rooms have 2-3 doors to the internal yard, and some have just one. The sun lights the first floor rooms twice a day and the ground floor is sunlit only in the summer. Based on this abnormal architectural layout, some historians suggest that the castle could serve as a complicated astronomic device. They say that the top part of the castle can be used as a giant sun-dial, whereas the bottom part could be a solar calendar. This castle is a definite must-see! The view from the hill where it stands is stunning too!
- Castello Aragonese, Ischia
The Aragon castle stands on a tiny lava island a couple of hundred meters from the island of Ischia in the Campania region. The lava island, surrounded with water, gives the illusion that the castles is floating in the beautiful bay of Naples like a ship. Built in the 5th century B.C, it is one of the oldest castles, but only became prolific in the 15th century when Ischia was the center of cultural and religious activity during the Aragon rule. The castle was fortified with higher walls, and a stone bridge was built to connect the lava island to Ischia. Today the castle looks as gorgeous as it did centuries ago, and is a popular location for weddings and family celebrations.
As for the territory of the castle, there is a well-preserved monastery building, a partly ruined cathedral where you can see the wall paintings of the 11-12th Centuries, and a somewhat eerie cemetery. You can also visit a small, but well-equipped torture museum if you dare!
- Castello Normanno-Svevo, Bari
Constructed throughout 12-13th Centuries, this castle in Bari is considered one of the most interesting fortification buildings in Italy. The castle as you see it now was built under the order of Emperor Federico II (who also built Castel del Monte in Andria). Known for his fortification expertise, the emperor had some very original ideas. For example, the bridge in this particular castle doesn’t lead into the fortress, but has a dead end into the wall. The gate was placed to the side, making this construction more difficult to conquer the castle.
Today the castle features a large art gallery that often organizes exhibitions and various cultural events. The archeologic work is being maintained in some parts of the castle as well.
- Castel Nuovo, Naples
In the 13th Century, Palermo was the capital city of the Kingdom of Naples (Sicily). The new King, Carl Angevin, ordered the construction of his new residence in Naples – Castel Nuovo (meaning ‘the new castle’). After it was built, he not only moved there permanently, but also changed the capital from Palermo to Naples. Therefore, the origin of Castel Nuovo is a significant part of Italian history.
During the rule of Carl Angevin, the castle became the center of cultural life of the kingdom. Famous artists and writers, such as Petrarka, Giotto and Boccaccio – were guests at the castle. The residence went through many political events and changes throughout its history. In the beginning of the 20th Century it was acknowledged as historical heritage and turned into a museum. Today, its impossible to visit Naples and not check out this amazing castle – an icon of the southern Italy!