home > Monumenti > The Norman-Swabian Castle

The Norman-Swabian Castle

Piazza Federico II di Svevia, 4 - 6010 - 70122
everyday except wednesday from 8.30 to 19.00 saturday night during summer
3,00 € - 1, 50 €
Owner Roger the Norman
Beginning of construction 1131 A.D. beginning construction nucleus
Current use Castle and visited archaeological site and home to some of the Superintendence offices for Architectural Heritage and Landscape
"The castle, a dark symbol of power, sheltered behind walls and detached from everyday life, never really belonged to the people of Bari- rather than feeling protected by it – they felt threatened" (Stefania Mola).
The Norman-Swabian castle stands at the outer rim of the old city, between Corso Antonio De Tullio and Piazza Federico II di Svevia. Its imposing fortress walls are armed with large bastions, and surrounded on three of its four sides by a deep moat (the fourth side, i.e. the northern side, used to border directly with the sea). The castle is encircled by the picturesque gardens of Isabel of Aragon, Duchess of Bari between 1501 and 1524. Isabel of Aragon and Bona Sforza, both of the Aragonese court, were the two duchesses of Bari whose charm managed to mitigate the resentment the citizens of Bari felt towards this symbol of imperial power.
Roger the Norman had the first fortified structure built in 1131, whereas the castle’s current conformation is the result of subsequent modifications and additions carried out during the Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese eras.
The bridge over the south side dry moat leads to the entrance gate decorated with the Bourbon coat of arms, the last holders of the castle (18th-19th century). This gate allows access to the internal courtyard that precedes the original medieval core.
Each corner of the medieval castle is armed with a tower whose name refers to a historical moment, i.e. the "Tower of Minors" (south-west) used to be a juvenile prison (1832 -1931) and is also known as the "Viscontina", recalling the construction work carried out on it by Gaspare Visconti, under the Sforza family; the "Tower of the Traffic Light" or "Marine Tower" (south-east) was where the Navy had once installed a traffic light on the terrace; the "Tower of the Monk" or "Tower of St. Francis" (north-west) allegedly hosted St. Francis who lived during the time of Frederick II; the "Tower of the Wind" (north-east).
On the west side, near the “Tower of Minors”, stands an elegant portal with an ogival arch built by Frederick II. The archivolt ornament featuring an eagle clenching a prey in its claws symbolises the imperial power exercised by the castle owners.
The portal opens onto a vestibule with high cross vaults supported by columns and pilasters adorned with foliate capitals. It extends into a loggia (i.e. a covered gallery) that faces onto the central Renaissance courtyard that is embellished by an Aragonese imperial staircase. The ramp on the left had been built to replace a pre-existing medieval one, while the one on the right was built for access on horseback.
In the 19th century, the castle had been used as a prison and barracks. Today, it houses the Region’s Directorate for Architectural and Landscape Heritage, as well as a Plaster Cast Gallery situated on the ground floor, in two west-wing rooms. The collection includes plaster casts of sculptural ornaments gathered from some of the most important 11th to 17th-century religious and civic buildings in Apulia. Other rooms on the upper floor are utilised as temporary exhibitions, and house a collection of 16th-17th century ceramics and majolica found in situ.
The north side of the courtyard leads to an underground passageway where the remains of dwellings and Byzantine iron and bone object-making systems and facilities can be admired. A mid-10th century church, possibly dedicated to worship Saint Apollinaris, is also found here.
Beginning of construction 1131 A.D. beginning construction nucleus
End of construction XIV century building wall bastion
Owner Roger the Norman
Previous buildings housing structures of the Byzantine era
The original core of the castle consists of a quadrangular trapezoidal fortress with corner and intermediate towers. It was built at the behest of Roger the Norman around 1131 upon pre-existing Byzantine dwellings. It was most probably erected to defend, but, above all, control the city of Bari.
In 1156, the castle was severely damaged by William the Wicked. Some time later, however, Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) had the castle’s surviving fortress walls and internal layout restored (circa 1233-1240). As Frederick II wanted to highlight the castle’s residential and representative appearance, he had the entrance hall and courtyard embellished with foliate capitals (bearing the signatures of Minerrus de Canusia and Melis de Stelliano), a portico erected, and the austere aspect of the towers softened with ornate windows and fretwork oculi. Later on, between the fourth and fifth decades of the 13th century, he had a decorative and symbolic portal built on the west side of the inner core (near the Tower of Minors).
Charles I of Anjou (1226-1285), on the other hand, commissioned master builders Pierre d'Agincourt and Jean de Toul to carry out major refurbishment on the castle that included the construction of a second castle entrance on the north side, overlooking the sea.
King Ferdinand of Aragon attributed the Duchy of Bari to the Sforza family, and donated the castle to them. During the first half of the 16th century, Isabel of Aragon (1470-1524) and her daughter Bona Sforza (1493-1557) had other features added to the castle; namely, the outer sloping rampart walls, and the imperial Renaissance staircase in the inner courtyard. They also had the fortress wall on the north side reinforced, incorporating the former portico (today, the "Swabian Hall").
The two duchesses were firm and highly educated, but, most importantly, they were well-liked by the citizens of Bari. They managed to transform the castle into a prestigious princely residence where scholars and influential men came together. Bona Sforza died in the castle in 1557 after a long absence during which she had followed her husband Sigismund I King of Poland, of the Jagiellon dynasty. Bona Sforza had strong emotional ties to Poland, and, for this reason, the Queen dedicated the chapel overlooking the eastern front of the courtyard, formerly dedicated to St. Francis, to St. Stanislaus. Bona Sforza’s daughter Anna dedicated a funeral monument to her that is located in the apse of St. Nicholas’s Basilica. In the 19th century, the castle was first used as a prison for minors (hence, re-named the "Tower of Minors") and, later, as barracks for the infantry and gendarmerie.
The Franciscan Bullarium recounts that St. Francis passed through the land of Bari upon his return from Palestine in 1220. He is said to have here laid the foundation stone of the monastery later to be known as San Francesco della Scarpa (literally, St. Francis of the Shoe). Francis reportedly met with Frederick II, perhaps to entice him to promote the crusade encouraged by Pope Innocent III. At the end of their meeting, Francis was supposedly "relegated to an entrance hall" and given a makeshift bed for the night. A comely maiden was afterwards offered to Francis. However, when the saint invited her to share his rustic bed, the damsel fled in fear at the sight of coals burning on the mattress. To commemorate the episode, a small chapel was erected in that very same place where the coals had burned. The historian Petroni reports that the following inscription was therewith placed (1635): Hic lascivientem puellam, vel saevientem Hydram, igne domuit Franciscus cinerea exutus, meaning, “In this place, Francis, dressed solely of ashes, defeated the lascivious girl and the horrible serpent with fire.
The florilegium The Little Flowers of St. Francis contains another episode that links Francis to the city of Bari. The story narrates that as Francis and his travel companion, Friar Masseo, were walking between the castle and the coastline, the latter noticed a bag full of coins on the ground, and wanted to pick it up for alms to the poor. Francis opposed him firmly, but the good old Masseo paid no heed. Then, just as he was bending down to pick the bag up, a snake suddenly sprung out before him; Masseo stopped dead in his tracks. To mark the event, the citizens of Bari erected a chapel in the saint’s honour, called San Francesco alla rena (literally, St. Francis on the sea sands).

How do I reach downtown?
airport Airport  

From the international airport Karol Wojtyla in Bari,
Take Viale Enzo Ferrari in the direction of Strada Provinciale 204 / Viale Gabriele d'Annunzio / SP204.
Take Viale Europa and Via Napoli in the direction of Via S. Francesco D'Assisi in Bari.
Take the SS 16.
Exit the SS 16 via Exit 4 towards “Bari Centro-Porto”.
Continue down Via Napoli and then Via San Francesco d'Assisi.
Drive in the direction of Piazza Federico II di Svevia.

motorway Toll road  

Take E843, Viale Giuseppe Tatarella and the underpass Sottopassaggio Giuseppe Filippo in the direction of Via Napoli in Bari.
Continue along Via Napoli and drive in the direction of Piazza Federico II di Svevia.

other Public Transport  

AMTAB bus lines #3, #12, #12/, #21, and #35 stop near the castle.

park Parking lots  

Piazza Massari-Piazza Federico II di Svevia-Piazza Prefettura

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