Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle, Sannicandro di Bari

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The Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle is a medieval building located in Sannicandro di Bari, Southern Italy.


It is situated in the town’s historic area, surrounded by distinctive buildings with outside staircases and a moat that was filled in and made into a street in 1836. It is made up of two unique components that were constructed by the Hohenstaufens and the Byzantines in different eras and fitted together. It was built in 916 at the instigation of the Byzantine general Niccol Piccingli, who had commissioned the building of a fortress to protect Apulia from the Saracens.

It was north of the little township of Sannicandro, which had grown barely a century and a half earlier near the fringe of the ancient fortress Mezardo’s remains. The original Byzantine core of the castle is a strong stone brick wall that extends along the trapezoidal plan and is dotted with six four-sided towers at its four vertices and the intersection of its two bases.

After a three-year siege, the Norman Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, captured Bari in 1071, and Sannicandro was made a barony and a component of the County of Montescaglioso. At this stage, Norman architecture had been totally rebuilt to the Sannicandro Castle. On top of the Byzantine ruins, the four corner towers were rebuilt, and they were joined to the four central towers by a solid curtain. To protect and isolate the castle, a large moat and drawbridge were constructed alongside the main tower. The baronial palace was constructed behind the north curtain, and the Normans themselves constructed the rescue tunnel that leads to the church of St. John outside the walls. After the holy relics of St. Nicholas were finally transported to Bari in 1087, a chapel honoring the saint was constructed inside the castle.

Following Count Guido da Venosa’s brief tenure as baron between 1131 and 1134, William De Tot, the last Norman baron, controlled the fief of Sannicandro between 1150 and 1170.

There is little proof of the events that occurred during Hohenstaufen’s rule in southern Italy. Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen’s policy of consolidating power and his intolerance of the barons imply that the house of Sannicandro was not given to any feudal lord during that time.

The Houhenstaufen emperor finished the original Byzantine edifice in 1242 and built the exterior portion to turn it into a fortified residence fortress. In reality, a new moat ringed the manor’s perimeter, which was enclosed by an outer wall that was 1.58 meters wide. To make room for the construction of the vast baronial palace, which has three wide mullioned windows and is flanked and protected by two enormous towers, the north central Norman tower was dismantled. Inaccessible and dark falconry niches were built into the wall close to one of the towers, as the emperor had instructed in his dissertation “De arte venandi cum avibus.” Finally, a rescue tunnel was constructed, reaching Bitetto in the wide open countryside.

The castle had nine towers while the Hohenstaufens were in charge.

The beginning of the Angevin era marked a turning point in the nation’s history. According to legend, Prince Charles I of Anjou, who was detained in Sicily, prayed to St. Nicholas of Bari for protection and freedom. Charles II of Anjou wished to reward the shrine of the saint to whose intervention he credited its salvation with large earnings and the greatest presents after being set free and ascending to the throne in Naples. Thus, a period of relative stability started in 1304, when the fief of Sannicandro was transferred to the Basilica of Saint Nicholas of Bari with the agreement of the Angevin rulers.

Prior-Baron never lived at the castle during those times because they were based at the Royal Court of Naples. Consequently, it served as Barony’s agricultural administration headquarters, and a grain and oil mill was installed in part of the ground floor rooms.

Prior to the issuance of King Joseph Bonaparte’s law that ended the feudal system in 1806, the authority of the Prior Barons of the Chapter of St. Nicholas of Bari lasted for five centuries.

The Chapter of the Real Chapter of Saint Nicholas, therefore, entered the conflict in the capacity of a straightforward user of real estate, and the feud was governed by common private property.

Featured image: wikimedia

Norman Castle, Terlizzi

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