Frederick II, of German and Norman descent and accidentally born in Jesi, always considered his real homeland to be Italy. He was fond of the mild climate, the warmth of the people and their way of life. Although he had an itinerant Court that travelled to the different corners of the Empire, he chose to have an official residence in Puglia, and had the Imperial Palace erected in Foggia. To this day the region still bears the traces of Frederick’s open and tolerant, highly spiritual and jovial culture. When you arrive at the heart of Puglia Imperiale, you feel, as if by magic, the same “vital breath” that enchanted the Puer Apuliae, or Son of Apulia, and cannot wait to savour its beauties, smells and flavours in the rose-coloured stone alleys of the villages, in the castles and cathedrals, nature reserves or in the subterranean grottos steeped in history, with the warmth and love for daydreaming of the local people.
The itinerary, ideally accompanied by the same Emperor, leads us to the cultural, artistic, environmental and religious excellences of these areas. Delving into history starts with Porta di S. Andrea, also known as “The Arch of Frederick II”, at the entrance of Andria, referred to as a “faithful” town on a plaque inscribed in 1230: “Andria fidelis nostris affixa medullis”. This town is inextricably linked to imperial exploits. Andria is where Frederick announced the birth of his second son, Corrado, in 1228 and where, in the crypt of the majestic Cathedral S. Maria Assunta (12th – 15th century), are preserved the clothes of two of the three Empresses, wives of the “stupor mundi” (Wonder of the World): Iolanda of Brienne, who died at sixteen after giving birth to Corrado, and Isabella of England, who also died during childbirth in Foggia.
The Castel del Monte stands in a solitary position a few kilometres outside the town of Andria and is famous worldwide for its unmistakable octagonal form, outstanding in its formal perfection and harmonious blending of cultural elements from northern Europe, the Muslim world and classical antiquity. For Frederick II, castles were the principal means of expressing the power of the state, and he is in fact the first person to have conceived and constructed a “network of castles” to rule the land. Castel del Monte, the most representative and emblematic of these castles, is the greatest treasure of Puglia Imperiale: a mansion that the Emperor probably never visited but his incumbent presence is imagined by the public there more than at any other due to its symbolic suggestiveness. At Castel del Monte, a splendid building made a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1996, one can admire the entire surrounding area. A dominating landscape visible from the castle’s imposing double and triple lancet windows stretches all the way to Gargano.
In the opposite direction, a “sea of stone” opens out in front of the beholder: the Murge. In this area one can admire a boundless mystical and lunar countryside foretelling the presence of the Emperor, who loved to roam the area during the few periods of peace and rest granted him between carrying out his government functions, and delighted in the noble art of falconry hunting. This area is now the Parco Nazionale dell’Alta Murgia, the very first rural park in Italy, and also comprises the municipalities of Andria, Corato, Minervino and Spinazzola. We are in the kingdom of the lesser kestrel, so dear to the nature-loving Emperor, in a context of particular environmental importance where the signs of man’s stratifications are tangible in an elaborate system of cattle-tracks, low in secco walls, farms and sheep farms dominated from above by the Rocca del Garagnone, one of Frederick’s ancient castles, now ruined and that time has blended in with the rock, bestowing the hill with a striking nature.
The abundant farms, currently<