Dal Regnum Siciliae alla terra Imperii: Federico II e la rifondazione del castrum di Monselice

Author: Giuliano Romalli

From the Regnum Siciliae to the terra Imperii: Frederick II and the rebuilding of the castrum of Monselice

Throughout the Middle Ages the hill of Monselice represented a favourite emplacement for the control of the Paduan hinterland as well as the traffic among the Venetian lowland, the Po valley and the northern neighbouring regions. Since the Byzantine period, the most southern hill of the Colli Euganei was chosen as a military post, and since the 11th century a populated area also started to flourish at its foothills, which was rapidly encompassed by a curtain wall connected to the defence system of the overlooking stronghold.
The strategic relevance of this site is proved by the repeated stays of Frederick Redbeard as well as by the constant attendance of delegates of the Imperial authority all along the Swabian domination. In 1239 Frederick Redbeard’s grandson, Frederick II, started thorough renovation works of the defence system. These works involved the demolition of the church of St. Giustina, located on the top of the hill, and the erection in its place of an impressive square-based donjon surrounded by a thick curtain wall. From this high fortress, probably reusing defensive walls of the Byzantine age, the emperor had a couple of curtain walls built, so that they descended all along the hill later to be rejoined to the village walls.
Subsequent interventions by Carraresi and Ve­ne­tians altered the original system of defensive concentric walls, however maintaining the keep on top of the hill largely unchanged. The donjon uniquely emerges from a powerful half-pyramidal base, evolving into a two-floors building, each one connected to the other by means of a staircase located into the wall space. No evidence of such design features can be traced in other buildings of the surrounding area, thus corroborating the hypothesis that the structure were designed by an architect trained in the building sites of Frederick II in Southern Italy.