The Castle in the modern age
Between the end of ‘500 and early’ 600, as most of the fortifications of the area, the castle of Lecce headed for a slow decline. Since 1690 the castle was the seat of the court of the Royal Audience, and in the eighteenth century there are records of its use as a venue for civil rooms while the salon was proposed to use it for theater. Since 1870, for over a century, the castle saw the presence of the military who had in its structure the headquarters of the 5th Military District. During this period the castle underwent major transformations. In 1872 it was finally bridged the gap and the area once occupied by this complex of buildings was built a theater: the Teatro San Carlino, the Politeama Greek and Apollo Theatre. The southern side, however, was occupied in 1898 by the Market Hall with the roof removed liberty in the eighties and in 1928 by a monumental fountain that recalled the arrival in town of the water of the Sele.
Charles V Castle
When Charles V became Emperor, he promoted the renovation of the manor in 1539. In 1553 when the Viceroy Pietro from Toledo died(whose coat of arms is still visible on the ceiling of the Maria d’Henghien first-floor room) all the restoration activity was completed. Both the castle and the town’s defensive system were reinforced in order to satisfy the new military necessities. The castle in particular became the symbol of Charles V’s power and one of the strongest fortresses of the Kingdom.
The renovation project was committed to Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya, “the Official Military
The medieval castle
It was built during the Norman period as the residence of the Counts of Lecce and is located on the eastern part of the city close to the ancient city walls.
As revealed from the archaeological digs, the medieval castle was only the quadrangular central part of today’s fortress between the two still existing towers “Magistra and Mozza”. Other documents say that there might be another circular tower and a ravelin close to the main entrance of the fortress.
There were 3 presumed entrances but only one is now clearly visible thanks to the discovery of a draw bridge under the St. Barbara chapel.
The castle was surrounded by a deep moat linked on its eastern side to a larger one that surrounded the whole town.
The cut tower
The Cut Tower has the typical medieval architectural style, especially inside the Magistra tower with its cross vaults supported by some ogives. Under every single ogive there are some gothic capitals enriched with acanthus leaves and allegorical figures that resemble those in the Abbey in Cerrate and in the St. Caterina from Alessandria in Galatina.
Going ahead on the left, passing through a decorated entrance door of the renaissance period, there is a large room enriched with the Toledo-Osorio coat of arms, to whom Don Pedro de Toledo ‘s son belonged. He was the governor of the District when the castle was renovated.
This large, room known as the “throne room”, was the boardroom of the castle; there might have been some beautiful frescos and tapestries on the walls that do not exist anymore. The only elements of that period still visible today are the capitals representing the local traditions during the renaissance time.
A sequence of rooms of the renaissance period take you to the medieval tower. The oldest elements of the room are the decorative and architectural elements of the groin vaults and its ogive and the columns enriched by Corinthian capitals. On the wall that faces the courtyard you can spot a niche and some steps of a spiral staircase that leads to the upper floor. On the right on the wall you can notice “The tables of the law” belonging to 1600 when the Court of the Kingdom was moved into the castle. Below the tower in a basement compartment there is the chapel dedicated to the Madonna from Constantinople.
The compartment was a huge cistern to collect water recycled as a container filled with soil and several archaeological finds (ceramics, animal bones and metal objects) which gave a lot of information about the history of the castle during the medieval time.
The walls are filled with graffiti and low reliefs left by prisoners; among them are two Jewish inscriptions, birds, animals, ladders, crosses, human figures and some coats of arms of the families whose members were pent up there.
The northern part of the courtyard contains with a porch built in two different periods and located on a lower planking level. The medieval part consists of two ogival arches, an external battlements and a barrel vault; on the contrary the renaissance part contains the semi circular arches and the groin vaults.
The ground level of the courtyard was raised several times through the centuries. Removing the more recent raised levels, some others, belonging to the XVI century were brought to light; which were part of the courtyard of the Medieval time. The archaeological site disclosed a well close to the modern one linked to a calcareous basalt floor which was the medieval “puteum”.
Saint Barbara chapel and sacristy
The chapel named St. Barbara today, was originally dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculation and only one altar in it was dedicated to St. Barbara(1660) who was the procuress of the artillerymen. On the main façade, above a triangular tympanum there is the coat of arms of Loffredo.
The Chapel was not built by Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya because it was completed only in 1571 and religious services were held until the first decade of the XX century. Under the Chapel there was the coffin of Tommaso Romano, the Terra D’Otranto administrator who died in 1857. He was buried under the Chapel because of the will of the Leccese community. The Chapel was discontinued as a church at the beginning of the XX century.
The digging activity inside the chapel, brought to light some other very interesting medieval elements in addition to the above mentioned coffin.
The Underground Galleries
The dig and cleaning activities carried out in some areas of the 16th century gave us a lot of useful information on the medieval moat. Indeed the castle was surrounded by a deep moat as part of its defensive system during the middle ages; it was built on the rocky bank and most of the stone used to build the fortress was taken from it. Both the south-eastern corner and the north-eastern one of the castle were linked to the city walls(its meeting point is still visible from the eastern side of the southern gallery under the cut tower). The archaeological digs have brought to light the southern gallery and the eastern one. During the renovation and enlargement activities of the castle in the 16th century the medieval moat was enlarged and covered with barrel vaults and consequently converted into an underground gallery, used for military purposes.
A short guide to Castle of Charles V
Order to create value and greater knowledge of the structure , in terms of historical , archaeological and architectural heritage , in collaboration with the publishing house Salento Capone Editore, the RTI has been made and published a short and informative guide of the castle , prepared in Italian and English , made to accompany tourists in the visit and in the knowledge of the structure .
The guide offers a tour itinerary to follow in the Castle box with depth on the various sections historical – archaeological and architectural . They were also added some depth sections on historical figures who lived in the castle or otherwise involved in its implementation in the different eras .
The Castle of Charles V – traces, memories, characters
The Castle of Charles V is one of the most important examples of military architecture in Apulia and Aragon connotes always , with its imposing size and the circuit of the walls along the route of which is grafted , the urban landscape of the city of Lecce .
The castle is actually much more ancient and archaeological investigations that were held for a decade by the University of Salento in collaboration with the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage confirmed that the monument is the end result of a complex sequence of construction phases starting at least the mid-thirteenth century .