THE CASTELLO SVEVO (NORMAN-SWABIAN CASTLE)
The Castello Svevo of Bari, with its imposing and austere bulk, rises on the extreme edge of the old town, where once acted as the pivot of the ancient city walls.
Bari, Castello Svevo (author: Carlo Dani – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77189036)
The castle of Bari contains at least two more castles, as in a Chinese box game. In fact, archaeological evidence has shown the presence of Roman defensive structures, on whose remains a Byzantine Kastron and other dwellings were built. On this site, Roger II of Sicily ordered Saracen workers to erect the castle in 1130. The inhabitants of Bari have never loved this place, such a clear symbol of royal power and, in fact, it has been demolished by the population over the centuries several times. When the Swabians arrived and in line with the encastellation policy promoted by Frederick II in the first half of the 13th century, the Norman fortification was resumed, having being heavily damaged during the previous century popular uprisings. The imposing quadrilateral, with its trapezoidal plan, equipped with ashlared angular towers, was refined by single-lancet and mullioned windows and a wonderful Gothic and Frederick II’s style portal, carved with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, mythological motifs and clearly heraldic symbols inspired by imperial iconography. On the keystone, an eagle stands out and catches a small lion in its talons, a recurrent symbol in Frederick’s II architecture.
Also the vestibule, which can be accessed passing through the portal, dates back to the same age and aesthetic style. This area is covered with cross vaults, supported by columns and pilasters with finely sculpted capitals: a stone world, in which Gothic and Frederick II’s naturalism coexists with Islamic echoes. It is known that among the workers employed by the emperor there were many Arab artists, artisans and stonemasons. Just in the castle of Bari, a man called Ismael, who left his signature on one of the capitals, worked with the stonemasons Finarro di Canosa and Mele da Stignano, documenting the cultural melting pot promoted by the king.
The Angevins succeeded to the Swabians and decided to restore the northern part of the castle and the official rooms; nevertheless, the new lords have never stayed in this place, which was abandoned until the arrival of Isabella Sforza and her daughter Bona in 1524. They were the real ladies of the castle and made it a luxury Renaissance dwelling, surrounded by new city walls.
Inside the castle, arcades, stairs, state rooms, and frescoes embellished the austere fortress. After Bona Sforza’s death, the castle of Bari has no longer experienced glory times, but fell into ruin.
The Castello Svevo is not only a building of great historical and architectural value, but within its old walls there is the echo of the stories related to a legendary meeting between Saint Francis and Frederick II. The episode that tells how Emperor Frederick II subjected the poor man of Assisi to the lust of the flesh just in the rooms of the castle of Bari is not supported by any evidence.