May 2000 – A Student-centred Research on the military architect Evangelista Menga


Who is this Menga? A preacher (Evangelista), a saint? The architect who planned our school? Why is our school called that way? How many pupils here at school have at least once asked themselves that question? Well, we have tried to know something about it, but the answer given by parents, teachers and classmates (the ones who always know everything) more or less of the kind ” E. Menga was the architect who planned the Castle of Copertino ” has had the effect of arousing our curiosity still more, without satisfying our need to know. The result: we tucked ( so they say) our sleeves and… back to work! We left therefore for a “journey in the past “, and not only, to the search of ” Evangelista Menga “. And since there we were (in the past) we also thought of giving a glance to the many aspects of the life in that period. What have we found? If you want to know it, follow us! After a period of reflections, comparisons and arguments we have characterized and defined the following tracks of research.

Problem: how and where to find useful documents? We began to look up the domestic libraries, the library of our school and also the Internet looking for the sources. Then glancing through books, booklets, pamphlets, we divided up into groups, we filed and consulted the lot, in order to search and annotate on our notebooks the news that interested us. We would never have imagined that engaging in a historical search meant to get into a sort of maze, always holding very present in our minds our interests as a wire of Arianna in order not to waste our efforts, while we explored many and many distances. As a matter of fact after consulting the witnesses of the local authors, stimulated by the numerous doubts, by the issues left unsolved, some conflicting conclusions, above all on the figure of Evangelista Menga we decided to deepen our search.

Guided by the bibliographical indications and with the collaboration of our teachers we succeeded in getting ourselves sources coming from the Archives (Naples – Lecce – The Matrix Church of Copertino), from libraries (Lecce – Naples – Nardò – ISCAG). We took our first steps in order to know the Castles of Barletta directly, Mola di Bari, and even Malta, places where allegedly the military engineer E.Menga worked. How many job experiences we made in the course of this search! Drawings from life, photos, sketches on the customs of the 17th century, images and artistic chinaware with the guide and the collaboration of the pupils of the Institute of Art of Lecce. We also read and wrote a lot, who would ever said that! Everything with great enthusiasm for the new development of the job and the pleasure to work with our mates and achieve worthy results.


The project ‘Evangelista Menga’, started already in the past year, is a wide ‘work in progress’ that has interested two classes: 3rd A and 3rd C and various subjects with lots of activities. Among these the fundamental one from which the others then gushed, has no doubt been the task of the search. The job has been started with an initial encounter between the two classes involved, in the course of which with the contribution of everyone several tracks of search have been characterized, formulated at first as follows:

  1. Who was Evangelista Menga?
  2. When and where was he born?
  3. Why was our school registered under his name?
  4. How and where could we find the material necessary to answer these questions?

We all assumed the engagement to search at home or near libraries of relatives and witnesses of the local history. Once in possession of the bibliographical material, we pupils have begun to read the witnesses in order to find information, arranging that in grids and schemes according to the topic, then summing up and comparing them, if they came from various witnesses in order to try confirmation of the reached news or, to the contrary, to find conflicting opinions.

In this way we began to find out news that not only regarded Menga, but also the history of our Copertino: therefore we wanted to increase the field of the search in order to know also the cultural and social context in which Menga lived, thus the scope of the search has become larger towards the cultural aspects and the popular customs of the past.

With Mrs. Alemanno, our Music teacher, we searched and analyzed sacred and profane music of the Renaissance, the most famous authors and madrigalist groups. Moreover from our sources we took notes about news on the social classes, the trades, the popular beliefs, synthetizing what seemed more particular and interesting to us.

In the meantime, under the guide of Mrs. Sciuscio, our Art teacher, we started a search activity on the clothes of the age, in the course of which beyond acquiring the news on the meaning and the social role of clothes we tried to draw the most representative dresses of the period. Such activity has shown a concrete development because, near the Institute of Art in Lecce, our sketches were carved on clay cables and we took an active role in this interesting job.

In order to better delineate the portrait of Menga under a professional point of view, beyond observing the Castle of Copertino we went to the places where he worked: Barletta, Mola di Bari and, even, Malta. Here we visited the castles and the fortifications attributed to Menga, we collected evidence by taking photos and we drew sketches so as to facilitate the job of calling to mind in class, under the guide of Mr Ianne, the Art teacher in this way: we selected the pictures that we thought more meaningful and reproduced them on the F4 sheet , by means of the technique of the china design.

The job carried out in the course of this year has surely been ambitious for two striking reasons: it demanded much concentration and we did not have any original documentary sources on the military architect and his works, even though we could get news from recent local history witnesses.

With the aid of the bibliographical indications drawn from the earliest works consulted we could trace back to sources and gradually more ancient testimonies, whose finding has not always been easy. In fact we have had to address our search to various libraries and archives of Naples, Bari, Rome, Lecce, Nardò, of the Matrix Church of Copertino and we often had to deal with such practical problems as the distance, unavailability of the premises on account of current repairs and other, but we can assert that our search was fruitful, because it gave us the chance to get in contact with ancient and precious sources, like the works of Girolamo Bosio, the notarial deeds of the notary public of Copertino Antonio Russo and the document coming from the national library of Malta, proving the compensation received by Evangelista Menga as an acknowledgment, on behalf of the Order of the Knights, for job carried out in the island.

Often, in the course of our tasks, we were faced up to contrasting opinions and testimonies and therefore also in this case there was the need to go on in order to try to understand which, among the many, was the most believable hypothesis. We can eventually assert that the activity was really demanding, however it came up as an interesting experience, because it let us realize which is the method through which scholars carry out their historical searches, which difficulties they meet and in which ways they try to get over them and also we understood that despite researchers’ efforts it is not always possible to obtain from the past the answers to all our questions.


In the course of our search, the biography of Evangelista Menga that we sketched, although it still remains partially vague, underwent several variations, thanks to the job on the sources.

After we read the works of local scholars (1) who first took some interest in Evangelista Menga, we were convinced that our military architect was born in Copertino at the beginning of the 16th century, therefore as they asserted, probably on the base of the testimony of Girolamo Marciano (2).

Later on we could consult several documents such as the notarial deeds of the notary public Antonio Russo, who was Menga’s contemporary, near the Archives of State of Lecce; (3) the allocation to our architect of an annuity which acknowledged for the services rendered during the ‘siège’ of Malta, coming from the National Library of Valletta (4); the precious source from Giacomo Bosio, historian of the besiege of Malta, whose work (5) was published at the beginning of the 17th century.

From the analysis of this documents, confirmed also by Mario Cazzato (6), we learned that Evangelista Menga came from the Diocese of Brindisi, exactly from Francavilla Fontana and that his alleged birth was to be placed not in the earliest years of the 16th century, but around 1490. This date emerges from evidence concerning Menga’s family, documented by the notarial deeds already mentioned, since around 1560 Menga was the grandfather of four adult grandsons. However we could not find any piece of news on his family of origin, either on his studies or at least on his training.

As to Menga’s training Cazzato (6) assumes that ” the powerful ramparted fencing, locking up the three sides of the Norman-Swabian nucleus of the castle of Bari”, for which the participation of Menga, allegated instead in a nineteenth-century local biography cannot be demonstrated, has constituted however “one of the sources of Menga’s training, especially as to the adoption of bastions heavily built in escarpments and to the modality of matching the old and the new structures”.

(1) Bacile of Castiglione – Arditi – De Giorgi – Re – Calasso – D’Ayala – Casotti – Foscarini – Villani – ( see the sources on the floppy-disk)

(2) Girolamo Marciano ( see sources)

(3) Notarial deeds near the archives of State

(4) Lucio Maiorano

(5) Giacomo Bosio ( documents regarding the Diocese and the annuity)

(6) Mario Cazzato: Report on the bibliographical tradition of Menga for CRSEC LE/38

We know for certain that starting from 1532 Menga’s work as military engineer at the services of the emperor Charles even if for the dating of some works there is no shared agreement as to the sources.

Menga’s contribution to the restructure of the Castle of Barletta dates back to 1532 (7)(8) (9), although his contribution is highly controversial since in the documentation concerning the castle the military architect Evangelista Menga is not mentioned at all.

Around 1535 he might have taken part to the military expedition against Goletta and Tunisi, following emperor Charles, and subsequently the emperor himself presumably entrusted him with the fortification of Goletta (10) (11).

Around the years 1537 – 40 he was engaged in the works of fortification of the Castle (12) of Mola di Bari (13). In 1540 Alfonso Castriota charged him to fortify the castle (14) of Copertino (15).

However, his reputation of military architect was already known and widespread. As a matter of fact in 1540 the mayor of Galatina, Altobello Vernaleone, had entrusted him with the construction of the walls of the city.

After that date and until 1560, when Menga left for Malta, (16) nothing more was to be heard on his works. A remarkable exception might be the news brought back by Mario Cazzato on a participation of Menga as ” ingegnero ” in the building up of the city of Molfetta, news taken from a document of 1556 and issued as late as 1975, which was to be left unnoticed or ignored by other scholars.

(7) Barletta, geographic notes + photo

(8) Castle of Barletta: news + photo

(9) Sources: a Letter + Cassi Ramelli – De Vita –Bacile of Castiglione – Arditi – Foscari – Villani – Re – Calasso

(10) General Leone Andrea Maggioratti

(11) ” ” ” “

(12) Castle + photo

(13) Mola di Bari: geographic notes + photo

(14) Section regarding the Castle – photo – sources

(15) Copertino: section + photo

(16) Notarial deeds – the Archives of State of Lecce

No doubt that in 1565 Evangelista Menga was in Malta, (1) where he had a prominent role in organizing the defense of the island. According to various testimonies, such as the document of 1567 (2) and the Istoria by Bosio, (3) Menga brilliantly distinguished himself as the head of the “ordinary engineers of the religion”, that is to say at the service of the Order of the Knights of Malta and its works of fortification not only stopped the enemy onslaught for approximately three months, but they concurred with the defenders to hunt the Turks and to save the island from the occupation.

Despite all that, his name is almost unknown to the Maltese and some scholars seem to ignore his Italian nationality: in fact Hughes (4) defines him “ E. Menga Maltese military…..” even if he is acknowledged as master of Girolamo Cassar, as already witnessed by Bosio (5).

Menga remained in Malta until 1567 (6), then he was given a life annuity by the Great Master of the Order Jean Parisot De la Vallette, he eventually returned to his native land, Copertino. Here he lived in a house ” near Saint Nicolai ” (7), which should roughly correspond, according to Cazzato, to 56-62 Saint Giuseppe Street.

In consequence of our searches, we can assert that the part better documented, and therefore more famous on the life and the activity of E. Menga is just the period that goes from 1560 to 1567, thanks to the works of the historians (8), the Turkish besiege of Malta and thanks also to the notarial deeds (9) that allowed us to define not only the country of origin of E. Menga, but also to date some of his movements and to reconstruct his family.(10)

These notarial deeds, correctly analyzed and interpreted, enabled professor Cosi (11) to answer another question, already put by Bacile of Castiglione: the year of Menga’s death, that should be placed as early (and not before) as 1571, as opposed to the year assumed by other researchers. (12)

In the last phases of our search on Evangelista Menga we came to know about the attribution to our architect of some works of which testimony in the traditional bibliography is not to be found. Some scholars in fact assume that he took part in the construction of the Castle of Parabita, the Castelletto of Melendugno and, above all, of the Masseria Torre (13) that is located between Copertino and Nardò.

At the conclusion of our work we can say that the portait of Menga is no doubt more familiar, but several are still the questions that we keep asking ourselves. First of all: why are Menga’s works, with the exception of those in Malta, hardly ever or never documented? How come there are no detailed and precise testimonies on him from his contemporaries ?

For the time being the answer that we like best is the one given by Bacile of Castiglione (14) who introduces Menga as a busy, skilled man, but modest and bashful.

  • (1) Malta: connections with the section ” the Maltese islands ” + photo
  • (2) Document (photo + landscape)
  • (3) Bosio (photo + extracts of the document)
  • (4) Hughes ” The building of Malta ” London 1556 in Salvatore Re ” E. Menga from Copertino”
  • (5) Bosio (connection on extract)
  • (6) Act of the Knights of Order AOM 431 volume 267 National Library of Malta (Photo + extract)
  • (7) Cazzato ” report ” – notarial deeds in the Archives of State
  • (8) Bosio, Braudel, Hughes, op.cit.
  • (9) Acts of the notary public Russo
  • (10) Family Tree
  • (11) Cosi ” the notary public and the pandette “
  • (12) Vacca
  • (13) Verdesca, Cazzato, Costantini




The oldest documents on the origins of Copertino are the following:

  • – a manuscript preserved in the provincial library of Lecce (17th century), according to which the birth of the town would date back as early as the 6th century B.C. in consequence of the incursions of the Goths
  • – a manuscript of the Archives of the episcopal curia of Nardo, according to which the town originated in the 5th century and would have taken its name from an ancient forest, Amentino, become then Convertino.
  • – There exists also a third hypothesis, presumably the best: Copertino would arise in the 10th century by the union of several country-houses which got together after the destructions operated by the Moors.
  • – In the Middle Ages the site of Copertino, being along an ancient isthmic road with east-westward direction, from Saint Cataldo to the Ionic coast and the confluence of other street tracings, represented an obliged natural centre of exchanges.
  • – Moreover in the Longobardian and Byzantine Age (between the end of the 8th century and the beginnings of the 9th) the site of Copertino had one of the Byzantine ” castellia ” (the fortified takeovers) scattered along the border to defend the town against the Longobards; such fortified places ( Saint Nicholas Street, now Saint Joseph Street) were a fortified landmark for the rural centres of the territory (country-houses), where the local people used to take shelter in case of danger.


In the 11th century Robert Guiscard, a Norman conqueror, obtained from the Pope the title of Duke of Apulia and Calabria after his predecessors had helped the southern feudal overlords in their wars and had driven away the Byzantines from the southern regions. Then Copertino also underwent the Norman domination and the Count of Copertino, Goffredo, in 1088 probably built the main church S. Maria ad Nives.

In the Norman Age some of the oldest parts of the Castle were certainly built too.


With the Swabians Copertino was a fief and a large estate belonging to Spinello dei Falconi and, according to the legend (for some scholars not historically assessed) to Manfredi, natural son of Federico II; Manfredi, prince of Taranto and Count of Copertino would restore and complete the construction of the main church and would build the foundations of the old tower of the Castle.


After the domination of the Swabians (1268) and with the arrival of the Angevins Copertino was given as a county to Gualtieris d’ Enghien from Brienne, duke of Athens and Count of Lecce. One of his descendants, in the 14th century, the Countess Maria of Enghien, got involved because of her husband Raimondo del Balzo Orsini in the fights between Angevins and Durazzeschi for the possession of the principality of Taranto. When her husband died she defended alone her possessions against the king Ladislao di Durazzo. The king was not able to defeat her and so decided to marry Maria who became the Queen of Naples at the beginning of the 15th century.


In 1443 southern Italy was ruled by the Aragones and Isabella di Chiaromonte, the daughter of the Count of Copertino Tristano di Chiaromonte, the son-in-law of Maria of Enghien, became the Queen of Naples because she married Ferrante of Aragon. While also the County of Copertino got involved in the long fights (15th century) between the Angevins and the Aragones, at the end of which the latter won thanks to the help of Castriota Skandeberg of Albania, to whom the County of Copertino was given as a reward in 1498.


Under the empire of Charles V (17th century) the Castriotas fortified the town and the castle, thanks to the work of the military architect Evangelista Menga. Subsequently the fief of Copertino was handed over to other noble families and finally (19th century) to the Granito of Belmonte, the last owners of the castle.

With the Unit of Italy Copertino was to make part of the new State.

Di Sandro

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