15 March 2011

Castle Hunting: Castello di Trani

We came to Trani because we didn't find a place to stay in another town - it's beautiful here, and we found a terrific seaside castle just a short walk from the central port. It's a blocky, white thing that gleams in the sun and looks much newer than it really is. We took a little walk around it and went in for a minute - much of the interior is "under renovation," so we didn't get many pictures inside.
The castle was built between 1233 and 1249 by Frederick II (1194-1250), the Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily. One of the most powerful of the Medieval kings, Frederick was also - as "King of the Romans" - the ruler of Germany, Italy and Burgundy, though his claim on those lands was somewhat tenuous. In this part of the world his rule was absolute, and he had an enormous impact on the area's development. He built dozens of castles in southern Italy, becoming known as "stupor mundi," or "wonder of the world."
Trani was an important port in the early part of the last millennium, and Frederick expanded it as a major embarkation point during the crusades. Part of the expansion included building a defensive structure to guard against attack - the castle was much more impressive, though, than probably was necessary. It survived in its original shape until the sixteenth century, when it was renovated to house a cannon battery. Interestingly, part of this renovation included lowering the original towers. Apparently, the advent of gunpowder based warfare made high towers a danger to castle defenders. If the towers were damaged enough to fall, they posed a risk to the people inside. Also, it was more difficult to aim cannons from higher points, so lower walls became an advantage.
The original moat was connected with the sea by a series of locks that regulated its depth and allowed it to be drained at low tide or filled at high tide. It was an oddity when it was constructed, and no longer is part of the structure. A drawbridge originally connected the courtyard with the surrounding land, but it was replaced in the 19th century when the building was turned into a prison. The clock, also, was added, and the flooding system was done away with because it made it easier for prisoners to escape. These days, the rock beach below the walls isn't especially inviting, but it makes a beautiful tumbling, rain sound when the waves wash over it.
The contrasting white, geometric blocks and seawater create a strange kind of dichotomy between solidity and liquid that is especially striking in the extreme sunlight. Close to noon, it was difficult to rest the eyes on any of the surfaces.
There is really only one vantage point on land from which to view the castle - the rear walls are hemmed in very closely by buildings and an ugly, trash-filled gulch. There is a breakwater, though, that can be reached from the port. It offers a beautiful view of both the castle and the town cathedral, which was built just before the defenses. We stood in the wind and watched some people fish in the Adriatic.

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