Aragonese Castle of Taranto (Italy)
The Castle of Taranto, called Castel S. Angelo, is located near an ancient natural depression of the rock bank above which stands the ancient village of the city and consists basically in an Aragonese reconstruction of a previous Norman-Swabian-Angevin fortress built in the same point but having very different characteristics.
The medieval castle in fact had numerous tall and thin towers and was built over a previous Byzantine fortification which had its foundations resting on structures dating back to the Greek period (IV-III century a.c.). The improvement of artillery in the fifteenth century, made the medieval castles obsolete because their thin walls could no longer resist against the cannons of attackers nor allow their use by the defenders.
The conquest of Otranto by the Turks in 1480 clearly demonstrated that this type of fortification was now inadequate. The king of Naples, Ferdinando d 'Aragona, therefore decided to reinforce the coastal defenses of the kingdom. In this context, between 1487 and 1492, the Castle of Taranto was rebuilt following perhaps the specific project of the great Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio. The new castle had a vaguely reminiscent shape that of a scorpion with five round towers located at the corners of the building. These towers lower and wider than the previous ones, received the name of S. Cristoforo, San Lorenzo and Sant 'Angelo for the three facing the current waterway, while the two opposite the ancient village were called Annunziata and Bandiera.
Towers and walls were the same height, 21 meters, and almost the same thickness, about 8 meters; all the towers had a diameter of 18 meters except San Cristoforo which was 10 meters wider. Towards the Great Sea, in agreement with the probable project of Francesco di Giorgio, a triangular strut was added in 1491 (a true prototype of the 16th century bastion, mistakenly called a ravelin), to reinforce the southern curtain and improve the defense capacity flanking the access to the moat that was expanded to connect the Great Sea with the Mar Piccolo. The fortifications of the fifteenth century they had high aesthetic qualities but a rather ephemeral military validity due to the rapid progress of the artillery. The Spaniards, who succeeded the Aragonese in 1502, expanded the summit platforms to facilitate the movement and use of artillery.
They also filled many of the intramural tunnels and the upper casemates of the towers with earth to reinforce them and to obtain positions for the artillery on the top of the towers. Despite the Spanish interventions, the fortress lost progressively military validity and after having played a fundamental role, in many battles, rejecting in particular the Turkish assault in 1594, it ended up being used as a prison and as a barracks. This different use led to the fragmentation of the interior rooms with the closure of passages and corridors. In addition to this, the increased residential needs combined with the low cost of plaster and cement, have led to the massive use of these materials to cover walls and floors in order to improve the hygienic conditions. The castle, however, remained substantially intact except for the tower of S. Angelo, demolished in 1883 to make room for the revolving bridge.
Since 2003, the Navy, custodian of the castle since 1883, has begun the systematic restoration of the interior of the fortress with the aim of bringing it back to the Aragonese configuration and identifying the previous Greek, Byzantine, Norman, Swabian-Angevin structures. The internal restoration, carried out by the personnel of the Navy, under the supervision of the local Superintendence of Architectural assets, consists essentially in the removal of plaster and cement to bring to light the original surfaces of walls and floors in the reopening of corridors, rooms and passages, to re-establish, moreover, the permeability of the castle and restore the functionality of the various defensive elements. During these activities large quantities of land were excavated in collaboration with the University of Bari, under the supervision of the Superintendence of Archaeological Heritage, leading to the discovery of numerous finds from different periods that span almost three thousand years of history.