The treasure of Frederick The castle of Melfi was the symbol of imperial power and the cultural wealth of Frederick II. Within its walls, in 1231, were drawn up the Constitutions Melfi. Frederick used the castle also as royal treasury, as a deposit of sums collected in Basilicata, and also as a prison, where the Saracen Othman di Lucera was imprisoned. In 1232 Frederick II hosted the Marquis of Monferrato and his niece Bianca Lancia, the only woman he had ever loved. In 1241, two cardinals and many French and German bishops were detained in the fortress, who were to participate in the Council banned by Pope Gregory IX to depose the Swabian. In Melfi, finally, part of the history of the emperor’s heirs was fulfilled in the few years of survival of the dynasty.
Temporal and spiritual power The castle was built thanks to Guglielmo D’Altavilla in 1042, when Melfi was chosen by the Normans as a political and administrative centre. Here occurred six Papal councils between 1059 and 1221 and in 1089 the first crusade towards Jerusalem was proclaimed. Weighting down with its bulk on the village below, the castle was an effective instrument of coercion, also psychological, on the local population, clearly marking the opposition to the remaining urban core, in turn pivoted on the cathedral, symbol of ecclesiastical power. Later, with the establishment of the Regnum Siciliae by Ruggero II, the castle became the instrument to ensure the monarchy not only an efficient and organic military, but also political control of the internal centrifugal forces, as well as on the wealth-maker sectors and social classes. A similar role was played by the fortress of Melfi with the Swabians: in the “Statutum de reparatione castrorum” of 1241-1246, the Lucanian castle is counted among Frederick’s castra (and not among the domus). The feoffment With the downfall of the Swabians and the arrival of the new Angevins rulers, the castle of Melfi underwent massive expansions and renovations, as well as being elected by Charles II of Anjou official residence of his wife, Mary of Hungary. It was still subject to change in the sixteenth century under the rule of Aragon and became the property of the Acciaiuolis first, then the Marzanos, Caracciolos and finally the Dorias until 1950, the latter changing the central body to make it a stately palace. The inviolable towers Currently the castle has a perimeter wall fence with eight towers called: the Entrance Tower, or the Banner Tower or Cypress Tower, The Secretaria Tower or The Terrace Tower, The Lion Bastion Tower, The Emperor Tower or The Seven Winds Tower, the Unnamed Tower, of which only ruins remain, The North-East Tower or Torrita Parvula, the Prisons Tower or Marcangione’s, the Church Tower, the Clock Tower. The building immediately appears as a homogeneous style building, the result of numerous architectural interventions carried out by its royal inhabitants over the centuries. On the northern side, its dark mass formed by local volcanic rock exudes a strong sense of inviolability; the castle presents itself as an immense and powerful city ramparts and towers, the result of centuries stratification changing its primitive Norman installation – rectangular in plan with four square towers – into a powerful defense system, consisting of a rampart, a moat on three sides and a fortified wall of ten square and polygonal towers.
The guardian of Rapolla’s Sarcophagus Owned by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, some of its rooms now house the National Museum of Melfi, which exhibits numerous archaeological finds from the surrounding areas. In the Clock Tower is preserved the famous Sarcophagus of Rapolla (named after the location where it was found in 1856), one of the most important examples of Asian art school of the second century AD. Source: S. Mola, Il Castello di Melfi Copyright ©2002 Stefania Mola , from www.stupormundi.it