Castel del Monte: a place of many eights

A year ago we went to Puglia in Italy and drove for 2 hours to visit this place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Turned out we turned up on a culture day and got in for free.  Yippee.  That made up for having to park 1/2 a mile away and get on a free bus stuffed with Italian teenage schoolchildren.

There has been a lot of restoration, the place is a shell, a lot of the outer stone has been completely replaced (and the height of the banks altered [updated – see comments]), but there is something rather indulgent about this type of Italian castle.  Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, who commissioned it, wasn’t going for a real fortified castle, but rather a bit of academic indulgence (perhaps to show off about how clever and well versed he was)

Reason to visit: if you like ‘mystical’ stuff and maybe if you’re Dan Brown and are looking for the next theme for a book.

All about eights

The entire structure is octagonal.

There are eight towers, each with eight walls.

And while there are only two floors to visit, on each there are eight rooms.

The internal courtyard is also an octagon.


The number 8 has secular, religious and mythological meaning.

For example:

  • the figure 8—or “lazy eight” is used in maths to represent infinity;
  • there are eight compass points; and
  • eight is the union of divine infinity and human finiteness.

Some link the eight sides of Castel del Monte to the Holy Grail, the Pyramids, the Fibonacci number series, ratios of musical intervals, the temple of Solomon, the queen of Sheba, the traditional image of Jerusalem as an octagonal city and even an astrological interpretation.

Wonder what Dan Brown would make of it…

When visited: Spring 2011


Castel out of 5: ***

5 thoughts on “Castel del Monte: a place of many eights

    1. Really?

      I was reading this (and think I read something at the actual Castel (but that might be my bad translation)).

      “Architect Quagliati conducted the works since 1928: he provided to clear away all the resultant material banked against the outdoor walls till an height between two and two and a half metres, which completely hid the basement and misrepresented the relationship between the monument and the surrounding. He provided, moreover, to tear down the external structures considered not coeval and to reconstruct the external staircase. At the same time he substituted the deteriorated ashlars with others more or less alike, quarried from the neighbouring pits.”

  1. In fact, the basement was hidden by rubble in past time; as a restoration work, they cleared away this material, thus restoring the original hight of the medieval building.

    1. Ah ha, just like the uncovering of all the crumbling Abbeys in England to create clearer views by the Victorians et al. I’ve updated the post. Thank you! Always best to have at-home Italian knowledge.

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