Castle of Melfi

The castle of Melfi in Basilicata is a monument owned by the Italian State and one of the most important medieval castles in Southern Italy. Its construction, at least the components still visible, dates back to Norman times and has undergone significant changes over time, especially in Angevin and Aragon time. The origin of the castle of Melfi dating back to the late 11th century by the Normans, built in a strategic location that serves as a gateway betweenCampania and Apulia. Its placement was essential to defend itself from external attacks and as a refuge for the Allies. The structure was a place of “historic” events during the Norman period. In Melfi, seat of the County of Apulia, there were five ecumenical councils, organized by five different Popes between 1059 and 1137. In the summer of 1059, Pope Nicholas II lived in the fortress and was the center of important events: in June was concluded there the Treaty of Melfi, then, from August 3 to August 25, was celebrated the First Council of Melfi, and finally was recognized the lands conquered by the Normans with the Concordat of Melfi. The Pope named Robert Guiscard Duke of Apulia and Calabria. The town of Melfi went through a brilliant period of history: on that occasion was promoted to the capital of the Duchy of Apulia and Calabria. Robert Guiscard, to marry Sikelgaita of Salerno, sent there in exile his first wife, Alberada of Buonalbergo. In the Castle other synods were organized: Pope Alexander II from August 1067 chaired the Council of Melfi II, received the Lombard prince of Salerno,Gisulf II, and the brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger I of Sicily. During the Council of Melfi III, in 1089, Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade, then Paschal II in 1101 called the Council of Melfi IV and finally Innocent II in 1137 celebrated the Council of Melfi V, last of the series. There was also a Council of Melfi in 1130 not recognized by the Church, because organized by the Antipope Anacletus II, who established the Kingdom of Sicily.

The Swabian period – With the arrival of the Swabians, Frederick II gave great importance to the castle of Melfi, and made some modifications. In 1231, the manor was the site of the promulgation of the Constitutions of Melfi, code of laws of the Kingdom of Sicily, to which Frederick II personally took part in the writing together with people like his notary Pier delle Vigne and the philosopher and mathematician Michael Scot. The structure was also a deposit for taxes collected in Basilicata and prison, where were held prisoners like the Saracen Lucera Othman, which was released later after the payment of 50 ounces of gold. In 1232, Frederick II hosted in the castle the Marquis of Monferrato and niece Bianca Lancia, who became his wife and with whom he had his son Manfred. In 1241, the Swabian king imprisoned in the building two cardinals and several French and German bishops, who should have been part of a papal council for his dismissal.

The Angevin period and subsequent periods – With the decadence of the Swabian and the arrival of new Angevin rulers, the castle of Melfi underwent massive renovations and expansions, as well as being elected by Charles II of Anjou official residence of his wife, Mary of Hungary, in 1284. It was still subject to changes in the 16th century under the Aragon government and became the property of Acciaiuoli first, then of the Marzano, Caracciolo and finally, Doria, to which belonged until 1950. The castle had to undergo two violent earthquakes in 1851 and 1930 but, unlike the other Melfi monuments that were severely damaged, the castle came out almost unscathed. Today, the building houses the National Museum of Melfese, opened in 1976.The castle of Melfi, having witnessed several construction phases over time, has a multi-style architectural form, although it still looks purely medieval. It is composed of ten towers of which seven rectangular and three pentagonal:

  • Tower entrance
  • Tower of the banner or of the Cypress
  • Tower of the Secretaria or of the Terrace
  • Tower of the Bulwark of the Lion
  • Tower Emperor or of the Seven Winds
  • Unnamed Tower, only the ruins remain
  • North East Tower or Torrita Parvula
  • Tower of the Jail or of Marcangione
  • Church Tower
  • Clocktower

The castle of Melfi has four entrances, of which only one is still usable. The first, situated in the northeast near the Tower parvula, was directly connected with the country and is now walled up; the second, also walled and located near the church tower, opens to the courtyard; the third to the south west, close to the bulwark of the Lion, was the main entrance during Angevin age and allowed to reach the moat and the city. The fourth, the only active, was opened by the Doria and serves as access to the country via a bridge, a drawbridge in ancient times. The interior, though transformed by Doria, between the 16th and 18th century in a baronial palace, still retains some structural features in Norman-Swabian style. After crossing the bridge is visible a portal that contains an 18th century inscription that honors the deeds of Charles V and Andrea Doria. Then entering the courtyard,is possible to access the stables and the yards of the “lairage” and “the Mortorio”, all Angevin works created between 1278 and 1281 at the behest of Charles II of Anjou. Always in Angevin style are the “Throne Room” (which houses the museum), built on the north side, below the “Hall of Armigeri.” Worth mentioning also the “Hall of the bowl,” where were proclaimed the Constitutions of Melfi.

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