We have long wanted to bring us in Castel Fiorentino, a fortified village near Torremaggiore in the province of Foggia, the place where the great emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, stupor mundi, died 13 December 1250 at the age of 56 years.
In Castel Fiorentino died stupor mundi
In fact the ancient city, once strategic for overlooking the plain of the Mountains of Daunia on one side and on the Gargano promontory on the other, as well as on the course of the river Fortore then navigable, there are only a few ruins. But – as explained by the well-trained Giuseppe dell’Oglio, tour guide of San Severo that accompanies us on a visit to this ghost town – recently the site has been the focus of attention of archaeologists and historians.
And recent excavations conducted by the University of Bari and the Ecole Française of Rome, have highlighted elements that suggest Fiorentino as an important forum, a real town with a cathedral, an urban area and the “Palatium” of Emperor. It stood on a hill called of the Sterparone and, as continues to illustrate us Giuseppe, surely it was a “frontier town”, of those built by the Byzantines in the early eleventh century to defend their territories from the Lombards to the north and south by the Arabs.
The first architectural element in which you encounter is the tower below which were found daunia tombs: this shows that the place was frequented and inhabited since ancient times. Then, on the right, coming in from the real country and their own. Today you can see the foundations of the houses and churches which once formed the Fiorentino citadel boasted twelve churches, the Cathedral with a single nave and one apse, named after the patron saint of the Lombard people Archangel Michael and the “Palatium”.
Walking through the remains of the walls of houses and shops in what once must have been a maze of tangled streets and is now hidden by tall grass and weeds, you imagine the movement that there had to be a thousand years ago when Fiorentino was a thriving Norman town. Normans also designed the castle, a motte well protect and separated from the city by a defensive wall, which later Frederick II had to turn in his “Palatium”, where he spent the time to hunt and rest.
It’s thrilling beyond the walls of the domus, a majestic building with a form of imperfect rectangle 29 meters long and 17 meters wide, divided into two large rooms, with walls decorated with beautiful square stones and a terracotta floor, with two fireplaces. Probably the palace had one or two upper floors and was surrounded by a wide moat.
But why Frederick II died in this place? Like life, even the death of Puer Apuliae, another emperor’s name, is shrouded in an aura of mystery. It is said that in early December 1250, Frederick II during a hunting trip in the countryside of the Capitanata, was seized with a violent attack of dysentery. His serious condition did not allow him to return to the palace of Foggia and was decided to hospitalize in Castel Fiorentino, the nearest imperial residence.
Some time before it was foretold that he would die “Apud portam ferream, ne lo loco che abet lo nome de flore”, (ie at the iron door of the place that has the name of “flower”) and for this reason he was held always at a distance from Florence. But then the “flower” of the prediction was right in his beloved Puglia, in his Fiorentino Domus where his bed had been placed against a side iron door, just as was anticipated in astrologer’s prophecy of the court Michele Scoto. The fate of the village followed that of his emperor: only five years after the death of Frederick II October 26 1255 it was attacked and destroyed by the troops of Pope Alexander IV, under the command of Count Ruggero Sanseverino, because it had remained faithful to the Swabians. Among the items removed from the gone destroyed domus there is a large marble slab, used as an altar plan in the Cathedral of Lucera, which is said to be the Frederick canteen.
Meanwhile, on the walls of the ruins of the magnificent palace bask in the warm sun, despite the season because we are in November, small lizards from iridescent and even two ladybugs stop their flight on the golden stones. Unique forms of life in this ghost town where the wind ruffles the tall and disorderly grass that pounded smells of spring, while all around there is a great silence.
Then we consider again within the Frederick domus and here almost hear whispering the soft voices of those who lived. But even the most hectic of who after he has decreed the end … A real mystery because here nothing has been reanimated and both ended in oblivion. One of many that revolve around the figure of Frederick, which some swear is never dead. Surely he never extinguished his fame and his memory: witness of this the fresh flowers, which are always present at the foot of the porphyry tomb of Frederick, located in Cathedral in Palermo, as provided in his will. In Puglia, much beloved land by the emperor, were instead buried Frederick II bowels. They were placed in Foggia Cathedral destroyed by an earthquake on March 20 1731. Of these there is no trace. Swallowed up by the earth: one last surge against the man who was considered the Antichrist?
As we go on, on the bridge that crosses the Canale della Bufala we see a great gray heron. It seems there he aspects us, then soars as we passed, gliding and pausing a little farther as if he wanted to pay tribute to those first in his De arte venandi cum avibus (On art of hunting with birds), has wanted to give not only information about falconry but writing a real treaty of ornithology, based on direct observation of nature. Saluting the stately heron we give our last farewell to the emperor.