Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Italy: Trani and Castel del Monte

Taking a small break from sight-seeing, we enjoyed the beach and the water
steps from our room at La Belle Trani.
After immersing ourselves in history and archeology at Pompeii and Herculaneum, we were ready for a vacation from tourism. We almost achieved that at Trani, a town on the Adriatic Coast (the eastern side of Italy) about two-and-a-half hours from Pompeii on the western coast. We stayed at a small inn, La Belle Trani, on one of the town's lungomares (seaside boulevards), about a mile's walk from the harbor and the center of town. Our inn was on a tiny peninsula with ocean across the street from the entrance and more ocean in back and a public beach with direct access from the inn.

If you've heard of Trani at all, it may be because of its dessert wine, Moscato di Trani. The town also has a 13th-century fortress, an 11th-century cathedral, and two synagogues attesting to its once-flourishing Jewish community. We saw none of these. We walked the scenic mile between our inn and the town center several times, enjoyed three unexpected (by us, at least) major firework displays, and ate marvelous seafood and drank Italian wines and people-watched to our hearts' content. All without taking photos. I was on vacation.

I took a break from that vacation, however, when we drove into the countryside to see Castel del Monte, built by Frederick II (king of Sicily, Germany and Italy and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire)  in the first half of the 13th century. Supposedly it was intended to be a center for studying the sciences of Europe and the Arab world. Umberto Eco used it as inspiration for riddles in "The Name of the Rose." It's an octagonal fortress with eight octagonal towers. To me it seemed like the realization in stone and mortar of something you might doodle during geometry class. It sits at about 1,800 feet on a hill overlooking vast swaths of fields and forests. Its chambers were once elaborately finished with marble and fine furnishings. There are bits of marble left and some architectural carvings, but after centuries of disuse and pillage, today's tourists are lucky to see that the structure itself survived.

Castel del Monte has two floors, the lower one is shown on the left. Only two of the
eight towers contain stairs. The others hold odd little rooms. What appear to be
archers' slits in the tower walls are actually there to allow in a little light.
Although it looks like a fortress that could be effectively defended, it was
intended to showcase Frederick II's interest in science.

This aerial view was on a poster at the castle. All the
other photos here are mine.

The simple proportions somehow mask the size of the castle.

A view from the floor of the courtyard shows some of the stonework to need repair.

What I thought were archers' slits
on the outside are actually ways
to let light into the castle. This
is one of the two stairways.

Glass was extremely expensive
in the Middle Ages, so windows
tended to be small, even in
something built by a king.

This little man appears to be holding up the ceiling inside the castle, but the groins
above his head are merely decorative. They're missing in some parts of the castle
and it's clear they existed just to give the vaulting a little extra pizzazz. 

The exotic stone in this complex column
gives some idea of how posh the castle
once was.

Vandals or stone thieves demolished
most of the chimneys that once warmed
the large rooms on the top floor.

You can see for miles and miles from Castel del Monte.

On the way to the exit, we encountered local
winemakers and oil producers offering free tastings,
and if you wanted to buy anything, the money
went to a local charity. We got a bottle of
olive oil to take home as a gift.
Small fishing boats at the beach by our inn.

The ramp at right connects the inn La Belle Trani with the public beach. In the distance
is a private lido beach with white umbrellas, but the water and the sand are the same. 

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