Castello Normanno-Svevo (Sannicandro di Bari)
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Coordinates: The ‘’’Norman-Swabian Castle’’’ of Sannicandro di Bari is located in the medieval part of town, between the characteristics houses with external staircases, surrounded by the ancient Swabian moat, filled and turned into a street in 1836. It is composed of two distinct parts, put into each other, built in separate periods by the Byzantines and the Swabians. Its construction dates back to 916, the initiative of the Byzantine general Niccolo Piccingli, who had ordered the construction of a fortress for the defence of Apulia by the Saracens. It was located north of the small township of Sannicandro that, just in a century and a half, developed at the edge of the ruins of the ancient castle Mezardo. The original core of the castle, of Byzantine origin, consists of a sturdy brick wall of stone that runs along the trapezoidal layout, equipped with six four-sided towers distributed in the four vertices and the midpoint of the two bases of the trapezoid.
In 1071, after three years of siege, Bari fell into the hands of the Norman Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, and Sannicandro was proclaimed Barony and part of the County of Montescaglioso. The Castle of Sannicandro was at this point completely restored with Norman architecture. The four corner towers were rebuilt on the Byzantine ruins and connected by a solid curtain to four central towers. Eastward a wide moat and a drawbridge were built alongside the main tower, isolating and protecting the castle. The baronial palace was built behind the north curtain, with a rescue tunnel leading to the church of S. John outside the walls, built by the Normans themselves. When, finally, in 1087, the sacred relics of St. Nicholas arrived in Bari, in the Castle was built a chapel dedicated to the saint.
The last Norman Baron was William De Tot, who ruled the fief of Sannicandro presumably between 1150 and 1170, after a brief period, between 1131 and 1134, during which the barony was held by Count Guido da Venosa.
News about the events that took place during the years of Swabian domination is lacking. The policy of centralization of power begun by Emperor Frederick II and his intolerance towards the barons suggest that in that period the house of Sannicandro was not granted to any feudal lord.
In 1242 the fort of Byzantine origin was completed by the Swabian emperor, who added the outside section in order to transform it into a fortified residential castle. An outer wall, 1.58 meters wide, surrounded, in fact, the perimeter of the manor, which was protected by a new moat. The north central Norman tower was demolished to allow the building of the great baronial palace, with three great mullioned windows, flanked and guarded by two massive towers. Into the wall, next to one of the towers, were hidden spaces for falconry, inaccessible and devoid of light, as the emperor had prescribed in the treatise "De arte venandi cum avibus". It was finally built a rescue underground tunnel which came out in the open countryside to Bitetto.
During the years of Swabian domination the castle consisted of nine towers.
The advent of the Angevin domination was decisive for the history of the country. It is said that Prince Charles I of Anjou, imprisoned in Sicily, had asked the protection of St. Nicholas of Bari, who, appearing, would have secured his release. Obtained its freedom and returned with the royal title in Naples, Charles II of Anjou wanted to remunerate the shrine of the saint, whose intercession he attributed its salvation, with broad incomes and the richest gifts. In 1304, by permission of the Angevin kings, the fief of Sannicandro passed, therefore, to the Basilica of Saint Nicholas of Bari and began a period of relative stability.
In those years, the castle was never occupied by Prior-Baron because they resided at the Royal Court of Naples. Was therefore used as a seat for the farm administration of the Barony and in some ground floor rooms were planted a grain mill and an oil mill.
The authority of the Prior-Barons of the Chapter of St. Nicholas of Bari lasted five centuries, until 1806, when it was published in the law of King Joseph Bonaparte that abolished the feudal system.
The feud was, therefore, subject to a common private property and the Chapter of the Real Chapter of Saint Nicholas came in the role of a simple user of real property.
The castle, which during the years of Nicholean administration had maintained its original lines, between 1806 and 1875 was brutally ruined. In fact, it emerged the problem of filling the void produced by the loss of feudal rights, and finding new sources of revenue for the maintenance of the Basilica of San Nicola and the Chapter. Therefore, the outer ring was opened with more doors and gates to obtain windows to be used as workshops, houses, barns and shops that provide income to the Nicholas Chapter. The gap was bridged, the underground tunnel blocked, the mullioned windows were defaced and turned into balconies. In 1951, the title passed by from the Prior of St. Nicholas of Bari to the Archbishop of Bari, and, with a public act of the 12 December 1967, the Municipality of Sannicandro di Bari, in the person of Mayor Prof. Nicola Casamassima, bought the castle for the paltry sum of 10,500,000 lire.
After a series of renovations, the castle is enjoyable in its splendour, for all those who wish to visit.