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Known also as “the big castle” or “earth castle”, in order to distinguish it from the Aragonese one (or of the sea) situated on the island looking on to the city, in chronological order, the castle is the second of the four castles that were built in Brindisi, adjoining the most ancient castle partly visible until the seventeenth century.
Initially, it was intended to be built as a fortified residence for Frederick II and his garrisons (Saracen soldiers and Teutonic knights), not to be defended from the external enemies, but against the hostility of the people from Brindisi who still were fond of the Normans, and who did not well accept the Swabians, against whom often were rebelling for the overcharged tax liabilities and for the Swabians' arrogant behaviour towards them. It is also confirmed by the pattern used for the building of the castle, as it was not much pertaining to the schemes used for the other castles of the Emperor, e.g. it was lacking in decorative elements.
After the project proposed in 1226, the following year the building of the castle started for which were used several materials obtained from the ancient walls and from other monuments in ruins in the city, such as a neighbouring Roman amphitheatre and some temples.
Originally, the castle was built on a trapezoidal plan, similar to the Swabian nucleus of the castles of Bari and Trani, in which it was surely determined the presence of a Norman defence system, thing that cannot be confirmed for the Castle in Brindisi. Four very tall towers were placed at the corners of the building that was defended on one side by the sea and on the other three sides by a deep moat. This first nucleus was completed in 1233.
After more than two centuries and when the techniques of war and defense had changed, the Aragoneses needed to build and to strenghten the defences of the Apulian seaports. Moreover, the Turkish threat in southern Italy urged the need to create a better fortification even for the castle of Frederick, not more efficient for an effective defence, also considering the entry in use of the fire-arms.
In 1488 the king of Naples Ferdinand I ordered the enlargement and the castle fortification. He ordered to build new surrounding walls lower than the Swabian towers, and that could entirely incorporate the ground side of the previous nucleus. The Barbican was reinforced by four bulwarks (round towers having a frusto-conical shape) more pertaining to the military architectural standards of that time.
The previous moat was covered by solid vault obtaining, in this way, new and wide rooms, with the capacity to give shelter and to protect all the inhabitants of the city, if necessary. In these underground rooms, the light could enter through small holes that overlooked the new and wide moat excavated in front of the new walls. During these works, a source of drinking water that could quench the thirst of the inhabitants of the castle in case of a long period of siege. After the completion of these works, the complex bacame more flexible, considering the possibility of a better independent defence in case of the sluff of the barbican.
In 1526, Giovan Battista Pignatelli supervised the first intervention to modify the defensive training.
In August 1528, sixteen thousand soldiers of the League invaded the city. The League was set up by French, English, Florentine, Venetian, Milanese soldiers and by troops of pope Clemente VII, and they had be sent to fight Charles V. Two years later, during a new and necessary fortification of the city, the general Ferdinando d’Alarçon launched the building of walls and keeps, and works for the strenghtening of the castles. In the “earth castle” a storey was added to the parapets, and also the building of a covered square for the artillery, the Battery of Levante and a bulwark in order to guarantee a more effective defence in the weak spots resulted in the previous siege.
Since long time, the Spanish had abandoned the Castle that then, with the intervention of Gioacchino Murat, in 1814 and until the early years of the '900, the castle was used and converted into “penitentiary”. That is where were quartering the galley slaves involved in the excavation of the port, reaching in 1879 the number of 800 prisoners.
In 1909, the Navy took possession of the castle using it as the headquarter of the torbedo-boats station and, the following year, also as submarine headquarters. In 1916, it became the most important point of reference for the fleet MAS.
During the Big War, Brindisi became a crucial centre for the Italian naval operations, in this context, the castle emerged as a very important naval base hosting a big unit. During the second world war, from 10th September 1943 to 11th February 1944, the castle was converted in the residence of King Victor Emanuel III, Queen Elena and Marshal Badoglio who disembarked in the port, escaping from Rome, being sure of the absence of German troops. During the whole period in which Brindisi was the ephemeral Capital of Italy, the administrative activity of the government and the control functions were occuring there.
Today, it is still used as the divisional headquarters of the Navy.