One of the things I find so intriguing about southern Italy, particularly Lucania, are the castelli that Federico II left as part of his legacy. These are not necessarily castles that he built but that he certainly improved upon and have the stamp of his unique personality. Federico II (1194 – 1250) was a German prince who was born in the main piazza in Jesi in Marche, who when he was older ruled most of the current southern half of Italy in the 13th century. He was vilified by the papacy but is considered by many as a visionary well ahead of his time.
His love for the area near the Basento River valley, part of his favorite hunting grounds, had him spending a good deal of time in this beautiful countryside. The area has been enhanced by at least three castelli, which we have had the enjoyment to visit. These include the castelli at Melfi and Lagopesole in northern Basilicata and Castel di Monte in Puglia near the Basilicata border.
The castle at Melfi has Norman roots but was improved upon by Frederico and from here he issued his Constitutiones Augustales in 1231, creating a bureaucracy of paid officials and reinforcing control over his ever-expanding territory. This castello is now a regional museum with artifacts from the area documenting the extensive Greek inhabitation.
Castel Lagopesole sits on a hill and is visible from miles away with a small town below. The double courtyard layout is interesting though you are only able to tour about half of the castello.
Castel di Monte sits by itself on a ridge in the uplands of Puglia, creating a picturesque setting that can be seen from all approaches. There is nothing around this castle, no town, just some trees and rocky ground. Looking out from the castle walls you can just imagine Frederico riding back from a hunting foray with his royal party. You can tour the entire castello which has been restored.
If you have the pleasure of visiting this area and are at all a fan of castles as I am, you will not want to miss these unique medieval structures.