The Castle of Gioia del Colle is the most remarkable monument of the town and one of the most beautiful of the Apulian region. It was built in Byzantine era, during the time of Norman Count Riccardo Siniscalco d’Altavilla (12th century). Destroyed by William of Sicily, it was rebuilt in 1230 by Emperor Frederick II after his return from the Crusades. The building acquired its current shape after the restoration works of Pantaleo (1907-1909) and De Vita (1969-1974).
What catches the eye of the visitor on the exterior are the imposing vestments with ashlar stones, the two towers that survived from the original fours ( the Norman Donjon “De Rossi”, with 28.40 metres of elevation and the “Empress Tower”, about 24.10 metres high, with its wonderful oculus and single-lancet window), the south and west entrances, characterized by radial ashlar arches and by the elegant embrasures, the curtains streaked by an extraordinary variety of refined openings.
Internally, on the ground floor, soon after we cross the majestic western hall, we walk into the wide and harmonious court, upon which overlooks the monumental oven, with access to the Empress’ prison. This prison is a theatre of gloomy but suggestive legend, according to which Frederick II locked up in this room Bianca Lancia, accusing her of infidelity, and the beloved woman gave birth to Manfred, sacrificing herself. A little further on there is access to the south entrance with the imposing straight arch door and the spaces of the south and west curtains.
In 1497 the Court was theatre of the triumphal receptions paid to Isabella del Balzo Orsini , Queen of Naples, from the Slavonian populations which established themselves in Gioia del Colle, during the second half of the 5th century.
An elegant staircase (with remarkable diamond shapes portaying zoomorphic scenes) provides access to the upper floor’s rooms: the fascinating Throne room, announced by the triumphal arch and characterized by Arabic decorative elements and by the motif of facing falcons (here, in December 1250, the corpse of Frederick II was temporarily left, in transit from Foggia to Palermo); the Reinassance Cemetery’s room, illuminated by the amazing three-light window; the Reinassance room, that you can get into by the original door of Donjon , with the harmonious 15th century vault; the room of Gineceo, with the access ladder inside of the Empress Tower. Also interesting are the little bathroom, that was a rarity in the lordly and royal mansions, and the big support shelves of the wooden lofts that had been destroyed. In these rooms Pier Paolo Pasolini shot some scenes of the film “Vangelo secondo Matteo”.
The spaces situated on the east side host the National Archaeological Museum, which collects the findings discovered around the archaeological area of Monte Sannace: geometric vases, vases with red figures and of Gnatia, little statuettes and rattles, weapons and bronze-made objects and household utensils.
“Monte Sannace” Archaeological Park
Inhabited since ancient times, the region of Peucetia corresponds to the central part of modern day Apulia, to the Murge plateau’s area, essentially the current province of Bari. It arises between Daunia e Messapia and, like the adjacent Salento, is characterized by very early contacts with the oriental world, since Eneolithic times: for example, in Altamura we can find the same bones testified in Troia. According to the legend, the “ethnos” would have been originated by Peucezio, brother of Enotro and son of the Arcadian Licaione: tradition has certainly registered the precocious relations between Peucetians and the Greek world. At the same period belongs the development of the big Peucetian residential areas, where there is proof of a great richness, as witnessed by the grave goods. This richness, prerogative of the ruling classes, is certainly derived by trade with the Greek colonies.
A common trait among the entire Peucetian civilization is its sharp decline during the Roman Empire: after being conquered most of the centres disappear, and this phenomenon does not coincide with the development of new Roman centres, which mostly became/ remained railway stations along the road that then became “Via Traiana”. The centre of Monte Sannace is a significant witness of this fate: populated since the beginning of the 7th century B.C. and flourishing during all the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., it was totally abandoned at the end of the 3rd century, after the Punic Wars, without recovering in Roman times. Monte Sannace has the biggest Peucetian residential area known, and it has been excavated starting from the years 50’ of ‘900. However, the site was already known since the 19th century and strongly impoverished by clandestine excavations.
The site is suggestively located in open country, 5 km from Gioia del Colle, towards Putignano-Egnatia, along the path known as “Cavallerizza”, which crosses all the archaeological area. The residential area is anonymous, it can be probably identified with the city of Thuriae, to which the sources refer as the city of “Messapia”. The whole residential zone is surrounded by concentric walls, almost still visible. The first one surrounds the acropolis and dates back to the second half of the 4th century B.C. . The second, coeval, is provided with a door and contains neighborhoods alongside the valley; it reveals, furthermore, greek building techniques. The third and the fourth walls date back to the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. : one strengthens the acropolis, the other encloses the whole residential area, surrounding a surface much bigger than the real dimensions of the city at the time: inside the walls non-urbanized areas were left destined to the reception of the population from the countries and animals in case of war, and of cultivations in case of long sieges.
Very interesting is the funerary tradition. The necropolis are all extra-urban and accommodate graves from 7th century B.C., with even more ancient materials, like Greek pottery of the half 8th century B.C. . Nevertheless, in accordance with the Apulian funerary system, examples of burials within the city, the habitations’ backyards or in the spaces between them for the adults, under the houses’ pavements for the children, are not to be missed.
The Mother Church of Saint Mary Major
The Mother Church was built outside the walls of the city by Riccardo Siniscalco in the late 11th century and it was named after S. Peter. Religious functions were celebrated in latin, in opposition to the Greek liturgy of Saint Sophia’s Church (the current S. Andrew’s Church).
Since the beginning it was “Civica Ricettizia” and then “Collegiata”, to later assume the title of “Collegiata Insigne” in 1540.
The first known archpriest was Don Cataldo in 1906. The whole church was made of worked stone , divided in three naves and on each side of the major altar there were two high bell towers with two bells each. On the inside there were the pipe organ, the pulpit, the bishop’s chair, various graves and private chapels.
In 1764 the church and all its monuments were destroyed by fire, as a consequence of a popular uprising led by Giannantonio Monte against the symbols of baronial power. Nevertheless, it was soon rebuilt by the architect Pasquale Margolfo, assuming its current forms. Surviving the destruction were: an ancient sarcophagus, later adapted to a laver, that can be visited in sacristy; two half-relief lions, one for each side of the front door; an “ecce homo”, sculpted during the 15th century by Giovanni de Rocha, today walled up to the left of the 3rd right altar, entering the church.
In 1845 the Santissimo’s Chapel, owned by the Purgatory’s confraternity , which officiated there, was annexed to the Mother Church; the Chapel was successively named Chapel of “Maria Bambina”.
In 1857 the church was damaged again by a violent earthquake. The reconstruction works ended in 1893 and were financed by the fellow citizen Pasquale Montanaro. In 1942, however, the 18th century bell tower also fell down; then reconstructed with reinforced concrete, it was provided with electrically operated bells.
During the final works for the foundations’ arrangement, it was found that almost all of the underground was used as a burial site in ancient times. The crypt probably dates back to the time of the Norman Cathedral’s foundation. Unfortunately, fearing for a degradation of the foundation’s perimeter walls, that could have compromise the stability of the entire church, the crypt was closed, after having transferred the buried remains to the cemetery’s ossuary.
Inside the Mother Church it is possible to admire the “Madonna with the child” by Stefano da Putignano, placed in the external aedicule to the entry’s right (another Virgin with the child by the same sculptor is placed in Road Catapano, 15).
For centuries now the church has been named after Saint Mary Major and it keeps alive the civic tradition of Saint Philip Neri, to which are attributed miracles that have taken place during earthquakes and famines of the past centuries.