Night location: Cisternino, Italy
This morning we decided to drive 1.5 hours north to the fascinating Castel del Monte. The majority of the drive was on the highway that ran beside the Adriatic coast. When we were about 15 kilometers away on a smaller country road, we could see the distinctive shape of the fortress perched high on a hill, dominating the surrounding olive groves.
Castel del Monte was built in 1240 by Frederick II who at one time was ruler over all of Sicily, Italy, Germany and even Jerusalem during the crusades as the Holy Roman Emperor. He reportedly was a passionate poet, philosopher, astronomer and mathematician but his rationale for building this octagonal castle remain mysterious. Our favourite theory is that in the mid 13th century the octagon represented the unity of the circle and the square, of God-perfection (the infinite) and human-perfection (the finite). The castle may therefore have been built as a celebration of the relationship between humanity and God.
The castle has eight octagonal towers and its interconnecting rooms are trapezoidal all looking out onto a central octagonal atrium. It was unclear how functional these rooms would have been as they were all replicated eight times over, but the stone decorative features were a blend of the Romanesque, Gothic, Classical and Islamic artistic styles.
We enjoyed a drink in the fanciest tourismo restaurant that we have ever seen before returning south to Ostuni. One of the features of these hilltop towns is that your eye is immediately drawn to the impressive cathedral dome and bell tower. We walked through the relaxed yet impressive Piazza della Liberta and wound our way up to the Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta. Built in the 15th century, the facade is an unusual mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles with a pretty rose window as its main feature. From here we wandered back through the winding laneways and then enjoyed some freshly made focaccia.
Another swim was in order when we returned to our Masseria and then feeling suitably relaxed we set out in the evening to Locorotondo for sunset and then dinner. This is by far our favourite town in the region as it is pristinely beautiful but also feels very real.
On our way to the restaurant that we had seen yesterday, Amber saw what at first glance appeared to be someone's front room but was in fact a tiny art shop. We selected a beautifully painted ceramic tile that has been framed to add to our gallery at home.
The man who had welcomed us in was the husband of the artist and had to make a guess at the price of the tile. Just as we were about to pay his wife bustled in and proceeded to explain something in Italian. It became apparent once she started mixing a paste together that she wanted to finish the artwork off by puttying the tile into the frame and attaching her signed certificate to the back with glue. By the end of the process they both shook our hands, offered us cake and wished us a happy holiday!
Our dinner was the best of the trip, in every way. We were seated outside in a narrow laneway that fed onto the main church square. Sunday night Mass started with the celebratory chime of bells at 8pm so we were able to hear the beautiful music as we ate our meal.