Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte, Puglia’s Most Mythical Destination

Perfectly octagonal with an astronomically precise location, see why Castel del Monte is Puglia’s most mythical UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Castel del Monte

In Andria, Puglia stands a mysterious beauty. A perfectly octagonal castle of gleaming coral crushed stone, limestone, and marble was built in 1240. From a distance, it appears to float in the clouds. There’s nothing else around for miles. The closer one gets, the clearer it becomes Castel del Monte rests on a 1,771-foot tall hill.

To visit is to wonder. Why is this seemingly perfect castle here? What would it watch over, and defend? Those eight octagonal towers, what mysteries do they keep?

  • Castel del Monte 13th-century
  • Castel del Monte Tower
  • Castel del Monte hilltop
  • Castle del Monte Vista

Where Castel del Monte is & Visiting

During our trip to Puglia Paolo, I stopped to see this mysterious castle because of its legendary beauty and the mystery surrounding it. At the time we had no real idea why it was built. Imagine our surprise to find out what comes next!

Castel del Monte Uses

How such a beautiful castle was used is a big part of the mystery surrounding it.

Known for the perfection of its layout, the balanced mix of cultural elements from Northern Europe, the Muslim world, and classical antiquity. Yet the mysteries behind the perfect octagonal shape, and precise mathematical, and astronomically aligned location have drawn speculation about the origins of the castle for centuries. Was it a hunting retreat, a citadel, or a symbolic structure shaped to represent a connection between heaven and earth? A defensive fort?

If this castle was used as a hunting retreat, there would be hints of the lush accommodations deserving of its founder Emperor Frederick II who inherited the land from his Mother Constance the Queen of Sicily (1194–98). Yet, it lacks a moat, a kitchen, or any signs of stables outside.


Castel del Monte has an octagonal courtyard surrounded by eight trapezoidal rooms that together form a near-perfect octagonal fortress wall. On each corner stands one of eight towers. So it’s not surprising that another theory originates from the symbolism of the number eight.

The number eight has symbolic value in many cultures. In Islam, eight is the number of angels carrying the throne of Allah. Eight is also thought to be the number of gates of heaven.

In China, the number eight is considered the luckiest of numbers. The more eights the better. Numerologists believe the number eight is associated with compassion, freedom, self-reliance material freedom, and affluence.

Yet this castle resides in Italy, in the countryside? So what does the number eight mean for it?

Are we all overthinking it? Could this castle simply be a stunning defensive fortress? While the eight octagonal towers have slits, they are too narrow and not angled for arches and bows. Plus, a defensive fortress wouldn’t have two opposing doors as this one does.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Despite the mystery, or perhaps because of it, Castel del Monte became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

At the time it was noted as “a successful blend of elements from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient, and north European Cistercian Gothic.” Yet even then, various hypotheses regarding the original use and purpose remained conflicting.

It wasn’t until 2011 that scholars from the University of Bari presented compelling evidence that the Crusades inspired the construction.

Their hypothesis? It was most likely created as a spa modeled after the Arabian hammams aka a Turkish Bath. A type of steam bath or a place of public bathing associated with the Islamic world.

The following curated video explains their hypothesis that Castel del Monte was built as a bathhouse. While it’s in Italian, the images and footage from inside the castle translate into any language.

Promo "Manoscritto Voynich e Castel del Monte"
Video: Scholars Explain the Original Purpose of Castel del Monte UNESCO World Heritage site in Puglia, Italy

In Conclusion

This UNESCO World Heritage sight stands out for its mystery and intrigue but most of all its beauty. When in Puglia, if you have a car and the time, we recommend checking out Castel del Monte. During our visit, I never would have guessed it was a bathhouse! Yet now, knowing more, I look forward to returning to seek out all the hints hidden within those eight towers.

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  1. I know people say Italy is so different from city to city, but my adventures in North Italy have not really convinced me otherwise (except Venice?)

    Haha anyways I think I have to go to the south to really appreciate the nuances in architecture and design. I’m going to Cagliari next weekend!

    1. Hi Pree! The further you go the more obvious the changes get. Trieste is the biggest architectural and cultural difference in the North (to me anyway). I look forward to hearing about your time in Calgliari! Haven’t seen it yet myself. Sardinia and Sicily are amazing to see unique areas. Puglia is too. Oh Puglia! Sending hugs and wishes for an amazing trip!!!

    1. Me too! My brain has trouble with so many quickly build modern structures. I’m grateful for architects like Calatrava taking risks in modern buildings. Do you have a favorite style of architecture Carol?