Emperor Castle (Italy)
Tuscany See list of castles in Italia
The Emperor's Castle, also known as the Fortress of S.Barbara or Castello Svevo, can be considered the most important architectural evidence of the XI-XIII centuries in the city of Prato. Its peculiarity, and main anomaly, is that in practice we are talking about a stupendous example of the Svevo manor, the only one in central-northern Italy! Its perfect geographical location would have been in Southern Italy alongside masterpieces of fortified architecture such as Castel Del Monte or Lagopesole. The construction began in 1248 at the behest of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, as part of a project aimed at putting under military control the main communications routes that led from the south of the country to Germany, in particular the road that leads from the Montepiano led through the Bisenzio valley to the heart of Tuscany.
The castle is the work of the architect Riccardo da Lentini, 'magister' at the head of skilled workers brought specifically from Puglia, and was erected on the land that already housed a minor fortification, donated to the emperor by a Ghibellina Pratese family.
The building has a square plan, with four towers at the corners and another four, two of which are spur-shaped and two inherited from the previous fort (and originally much higher than now), at the center of each side of the wall curtain. The crowning of the walls and towers is made with the characteristic Ghibelline dovetail merlons. The towers of the pre-existing fortification incorporated in the fortress have affected the geometric result of the plant, not as perfect as in the other Swabian castles of southern Italy, but not the symbolism of the octagon (there are eight towers in any case).
The main entrance, a portal with sestacute arch, is embellished - and here we note how the Swabian style was influenced by the local architectural taste - with decorative elements dicromi obtained by alternating bands of white and green marble; the two lions carved on the sides of the door give the castle the iconography of the imperial house. Also worthy of note is the study for the positioning of the slots, in order to allow both the 'face' and the 'flanking' roll. The image of the castle as a whole appears to be a perfect fusion between form and military function. The interior is practically empty, with no trace (except for some capitals carved on the walls) of the unfinished original buildings (designed to develop on two straight planes of semi-columns and be the seat of the Imperial Vicar in Tuscany) arranged, as classic solution in Federiciana geometric architecture, on four symmetrical wings to the courtyard. These buildings refer to the openings (which at first sight may seem loopholes but in reality more suitable to give light than for military purposes) present in the walls. The interior was however occupied by temporary structures in wood and masonry to house the garrison. Until the recent restorations, 1975, the interior was occupied by modern buildings, the castle was in fact used for a long time as a prison. Even along the outer walls some buildings had been built, fortunately today completely removed (we can still note the traces on the main front to the left of the entrance).