An ancient and strategic site It was the 1221 when Frederick II visited for the first time the hill on top of which his castle would be built. An ancient site in which traces from different eras are still visible, from the Neolithic huts to the ruins of the Roman Acropolis, up to the ruins of a Church; a strategic location, isolated and centrally located between the Gargano, the Tavoliere, and the Daunia Sub-Apennine. The northern outpost The puer Apuliae became convinced of the need to build a fortress there, which would become the northern outpost of the Swabian castle system in Apulia. However, several years passed before his plan could be accomplished: we must wait the 1233, when Frederick, returning from a crusade, found the time and money required to start work. The old palatium Placed on top of a hill, of the Frederician Palatium with pyramidal base only fragments remain, buried in the North-East. The castle was built around a central square courtyard which, at the third floor level, was instead of octagonal shape. The four residential wings, which constituted the main body of the complex, amounted to three floors. Some lateral towers completed the building, which had no ground floor entrances probably replaced by a system of external escalators. Smoke, fire and flag signals Once a luxurious imperial residence and menacing fortified building, the castle of Lucera was inserted into the important visual communication network set up between one castle and the other to guard the Apulian coasts: by day it availed itself of codified smoke signals and of flag-wavers, while in the darkness of the night fire signals were launched. Oriental ostentation The emperor wanted to give great artistic splendour to his palatium furnishing the thirty-two rooms with refinement and ostentation: gold, silver, precious stones but also many statues imported from the East made the castle of Lucera the most similar to an oriental palace. Saracen maidens And, like a highly respectable oriental palace, the palatium had his Muslim staff and most importantly a pavilion where many Saracen girls lived, which the gossips and the Pope himself associate to a harem. The harem and zoo entourage The Saracens, along with many animals owned by Frederick II – eagles, barn owls, dogs, hawks, owls, bears, peacocks, buzzards, India’s white aras, rare Syrian doves, African ostrich, lions, leopards, lynxes, panthers, monkeys, an elephant and a giraffe – followed him in his constant transfers showing everywhere his magnificence. The Emperor’s clothes When not travelling with him, the Saracen girls were busy in yarn spinning works, preparing for their Lord court and war robes and gualdrappas for his animals. Treasures and fairs The castle of Lucera at the times of the Swabian played also an important economic role: it kept a part of the State Treasury, in the fenced area it hosted a building for one of the Imperial mints and around it one of the most important fairs of the Kingdom took place annually. The House of Science According to an Arab source, Frederick II had undertaken the building of a House of Science inside, the “Dar al-’ ilm”, a sort of cultural foundation open to the scholars of the time. The lioness and the lion of the Angevin citadel With the Angevins the fortress was transformed into a full-fledged autonomous military citadel, becoming a repository of various weapons; the 900 metres-long walls were built, reinforced by 22 towers and made inaccessible by a deep moat at whose ends are the Tower of the Lioness and the Tower of the Lion.
The abandonment Damaged by an earthquake in the 15th century, the Frederician palace was used in the 18th century as a quarry for the construction of the courthouse. Ruined by time and neglect, plundered for centuries to turn it into building material, little remains of the splendour of yesteryear, when the Swabian came here to find peace and serenity and to compose poetry. Sources: “La via dei canti” by Angelo Lucano Larotonda www.treccani.it