The southern region of Puglia still remains in my view one of the most underrated in Italy and yet it’s full of surprises and has many hidden gems just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed!
You would probably instantly associate it with those curious and hobbit-like dwellings with a conical roof like trulli or endless fields of ancient olive trees dominating the landscape. But venture to a little town near Bari, called Andria and standing isolated on a remote hilltop, you’ll come across one of the most unique and striking UNESCO listed castles, Castel del Monte.
The enigmatic and octagonal shaped castle was built in the 13th century by Frederick II and its geometric design with each of its eight corners sporting an octagonal tower was considered pretty unique at the time and it still remains one of the best preserved medieval castles in southern Italy.
The shape of Castel del Monte, however, doesn’t make it look like a castle and as you explore it inside you’ll see no sign of ditches, a drawbridge and no basement and many historians claim that more than a strategically placed defensive castle, it was in fact used by Frederick as a very grand and extraordinarily sophisticated hunting lodge.
Not only was the shape remarkable in the 13th century, but Castel del Monte also has an advanced plumbing system, which used rain water for the toilets and bathrooms of the fortress. It was in 1996 that UNESCO included it in its list of World Heritage Sites, as they recognised the fortress as a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture and a successful blend of elements from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient and north European Gothic.
When you are next visiting Puglia, I’d highly recommend making a detour for this fascinating castle, but it’s best reached by car because of its isolated location which definitely adds to its charm!