Castles in Sicily - Sicilyincoming

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If you like castles, Sicily is your place! Because of its location in the Mediterranean, Sicily has been cultivated by several different cultures throughout the ages.  As witness of many years of history and domination, the numerous castles are spread all over Sicily. Over two hundred remains says that they were built to defend from the invaders. Architecture of castles boasts influences from Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Spanish, and French dominance. Born as defensive purpose and a symbol of power, nowadays castles are an attraction for tourists.

Trapani province

Norman Castle of Erice, also known as the Castle of Venus, was built on Mount San Giuliano in the 12th century, right on the remains of an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess. The fortress was surrounded by massive walls and protected by a series of more advanced towers, the "Torri del Balio" ("Bailey Towers"), which used to be connected to the castle by means of a drawbridge. The castle's defensive character is still evident today in the machicolation above the main gate, which is embellished with the coat of arms of Charles V of Spain and a fine two-light mullioned window. From the castle opens a view overlooking the Trapani and the Egadi Islands, the towers, the Pepoli turret, the Church of San Giovanni, the coast towards Bonagia, Monte Cofano and - on a clear day - Ustica.

Palermo province

Carini Castle was constructed by Ruggero II between 1075 and 1090. There is a legend, which has consigned the name of this castle, and it says, that within the walls of this castle on the 4th of December 1563, Laura Lanza and her lover Ludovico Vernagallo were slain by her husband and her father, Don Cesare Lanza. All this was told in a little poem entitled "The Bitter Case of the Baroness of Carini". Over the centuries the castle was renovated several times, especially by the Grua-Talamanca family. On the ground floor was the Salone delle Derrate (Provisions Room), later transformed into a library. On the upper floor, in the Salone delle Feste (Festivity Room), there is fascinating coffered wooden ceiling with characteristic stalactite decorative patterns in Catalan Gothic style. With a splendid view of the coast, Castle of Carini leads to the horseshoe-shaped stairs surrounding the mediaeval fountain of the abbey.

Sea Castle was built near the port of Palermo by Arabs in the 9th century. It is one of most ancient constructions in Palermo. The Castle by the Sea was the favourite residence of Frederick II and for centuries its main task was to serve as a fortified outpost protecting the harbour area. It is in two main parts: the keep, surrounded by a zone of respect, and an extensive archaeological zone with a mixed medley of buildings.  

Palace Steri was built in 1307 by the Chiaramonte family and took its name from Hosterium, i.e. fortified dwelling, a feature clearly visible in its square clean-cut structure. The palace is characterized by an elegant and refined facade ornamented by beautiful windows with ogival arches. At the first floor of this construction there is the The Great Hall, which is famous for the beauty of its wooden ceiling, with its paintings of biblical episodes and tales of chivalry. Today this building is the seat of the Palermo University Chancellor’s Office and just few of its rooms can be visited by tourists.

Castelbuono Castle construction began in 1316, by order of Count Francesco I of Ventimiglia, over the ruins of the ancient Byzantine town of Ypsigro, high on the San Pietro hill. Hence its original name, "Castello del buon aere" ("Castle of good air"), from which the name Castelbuono is derived - literally meaning "good castle". The structure was divided into three floors: the first floor for the servants, with the essential services, the second for the nobility, with the sumptuous Cappella Palatina, and the third for the court and guests. Today, it worth to visit, thanks to its good preservation: underground dungeons and a tunnel that leads to the Church of San Francesco.

Caccamo Castle, apart from being the biggest, is one of the most prestigious and attractive castles in Sicily. It was built in the Norman period at the behest of the Chiaramonte family on a steep rocky spur. Over time, castle has been restructured and transformed that have affected its beauty and magnificence. The castle retains the stables, the auditorium of the theatre, various guard rooms, the court chapel, the keep, the servants' rooms, the prisons with their walls covered in the prisoners' graffiti, the Conspiracy Room, and the impressive Arms Room with its massive pieces of armour. Magnificent landscape, which opens from the terrace, is overlooking the western valley.

Messina province

The Citadel of Messina was built by the Spanish. It was one of the most important fortresses in the Mediterranean. It took six years to build the Citadel, from 1680 to 1686. The pentagonal building, entirely surrounded by water, was further strengthened on the northern and southern sides by projecting, wedge-shaped bastions that made it impregnable. Spared by wars and sieges, this monument of the Bourbon domination, now in a state of sad decline, could do little to save itself from neglect, demolition, and pillage. About 40% of the Citadel remains visible, while considerable parts of it were probably buried. Among the surviving constructions, there are a pair of houses, a series of galleries in the Santo Stefano fort, the Santo Stefano Counterguard, the Opera Carolina, and the Opera San Francesco. The local Regional Museum houses a Corinthian capital, decorated with garlands and heads, and a massive grotesque mask, recently recovered from the San Diego bastion. These artefacts bear witness the grandeur of the Citadel .

Milazzo Castle - the peninsula of Milazzo has always been one of the most important harbours in Sicily. The original structure of the present castle was extended by Frederick II, who in his desire to make the town impregnable constructed a great harbour wall to defend the roadstead, dominating the isthmus. The castle was further reinforced in the 15th cent. by Alphonso of Aragon, who built five powerful truncated-cone-shaped turrets, and by Viceroy Ferrante Gonzaga in the 1600s. It suffered substantial damage in the 18th century, and after devastation in the Bourbon period it became a prison, which it remained until 1960. In the 1980s and '90s extensive repair work was carried out, restoring the Spanish walls and the rooms of the old 20th July barracks.

Montalbano Elicona Castle,
in the Nebrodi Mountains, was part of Frederick II plan to provide Sicily with a system of "strong points" defending the whole territory. It was built between 1302 and 1311. The massive castle shows the successive historical stratifications over the centuries. Today, the splendour of the past can be seen only in part of the external structure, in what is left of a tower, and in a fine chapel. The castle is now used for cultural events and as a theatre workshop.

Scaletta Zanclea Castle is an imposing construction on three floors standing at the top of a hill that stretches down towards the sea. Originally it was built as a military defence, by the Swabian population in 1220. Its construction has certainly showed a great human effort to adapt the structure to the rock that looks unit and solid from the outside. The castle has now become public property, and is used as a multipurpose cultural centre; it also houses the Civic Museum, where there is a collection of ancient weapons and documents.

Catania province

Ursino Castle was built between 1239 and 1250 by the architect Richard of Lentini, by order of Frederick II of Swabia and served as the residence of the Aragonese Royal family in the 14th century. It has 4 circular and semi-circular towers, and today is the seat of the Town Museum. The Ursino Castle in Catania houses such works of art as a representation of The Virgin on a Throne by Antonello de Saliba, dated 1947, and a portrait of S. Cristoforo dated 1637 by Pietro Novelli.

Adrano Castle
was built on the ruins of a Saracen building by the Count Roger who bestowed it upon his nephew Adelaide. The castle was variously altered over the centuries: it was the residence of noble Aragonese families and a prison. In 1958, after its purchase by the local municipal authority, the Museum was founded and the castle, now restored, is once again the town's main attraction.

Paterno Castle is one of the most remarkable monuments left by the Normans. The castle was built in 1072 over an already existing Arab fortress by Roger de Hauteville, later, between 1221 and 1223 the castle became part of Frederick II of Swabia's programme of military construction. The castle has a rectangular plan, on three floors, with a height of 34 m. Originally, it had Ghibelline-style merlons, of which today only remains can be seen. Notable is the colour effect created by the dark shade of the stones and the frames of the Gothic-style mullioned windows, in white limestone.

Aci Castello Castle, built of lava stone, stands on a spur of rock overlooking the sea, few kilometres from Catania. It has been a fortified strong post since Roman times, later, it was conquered by Roger de Hauteville and his Normans in 1072. Destroyed several times, it was rebuilt by King Tancredi in 1189. The castle was later ceded to the bishops of Catania. The castle, from the end of the 13th century until the age of the viceroys, witnessed the struggles that pitted the Aragonese of Sicily against the Angevins of Naples. During the 16th cent. the castle passed through various private hands until becoming a prison under the Bourbons in 1787. Today, largely ruined, it retains a tower and a part of the central structure. The castle houses a small Museum with an interesting collection of minerals and archaeological items.

Siracusa province

Maniace Castle, featuring a Swabian architecture, stands on Ortygia Island, in Syracuse. It was built by the Emperor Frederick II. The fortress has undergone numerous restorations and refurbishments over the centuries, the major caused by the 1693’s earthquake that devastated the entire eastern Sicily. It has maintained its 13th century exterior look with four circular towers. Today, thanks to restoration and consolidation work on the entire belt of fortifications, it is possible to visit exhibitions and enjoy cultural events in the evocative scenario of the Piazzale d'Armi.

Eurialo Castle is a ruined Greek fortress outside the city of Syracuse and it represents one of the greatest proofs of Greek military knowledge transposed into architectural mastery. The creator of the castle was Dionysius the Elder and the main motivation was the defense of the city from the Carthaginians. After only six years, the construction became invincible. Its majesty, that also bears the touch of Archimedes, is said to have never been touched in the heat of battle. Romans made their entrance in the subsequent centuries, followed by the Byzantines that needed protection from the Arabs, which is the reason for the notable changes they made to the original structure. Even if the primary construction was massively modified, following years proved that it had only become a greater and stronger fortress. Regardless of the political changes that had occurred in the past, the castle remained an impressive and highly efficient stronghold. Nowadays the fortress commands a wide view from the steep edge of the Hyblean hills to the island of Ortigia at the heart of Syracuse, out over the sea towards Augusta and the ancient site of Thapsos.

Fort of Vittoria (Augusta) - a small, square construction with a square tower at each corner. It was built by Frederick of Swabia in the second half of the 14th century. Over the centuries, and particularly under the Spanish domination in the 16th century, a number of structural modifications were made. It has conserved part of an ancient Norman tower, and is presently being refurbished to become seat of a Museum and Library.  

Spanish Fort Portopalo is the Swabian/Aragonese construction that rises on the high point of the island. This was reinforced and embellished over the centuries, particularly in the age of Charles V. Its function was to defend the area from the frequent pirate raids. The fort - one of the most important in eastern Sicily - stands square on a level plain of land 20 metres above the sea.

Ragusa province

Donnafugata Castle is an imposing construction immersed in one of the most evocative carob woods in the whole province. It was built by the aristocrats Donnafugatas in the mid-17th century. Enlarged in the 19th century, it is home to antique furnishings, paintings and decorations ranging from the 17th through the early 20th century. Just restored, it is now open to the public. The castle is surrounded by a vast and beautiful garden with exotic plants, a picturesque labyrinth and concealing various follies.

Agrigento province

Racalmuto Castle was built in the days of the barony of Robert Malcovenant, a Frenchman in the service of Roger de Hauteville. Frederick of Aragon later transferred ownership of the castle and the surrounding fief to Frederick II Chiaramonte. Later, the new lords of Racalmuto transformed castle into a truly imposing construction. With its trapezoid plan, its round-based towers, and the arrangement of its main gate and secondary entrances, the castle is without a doubt a characteristic example of military architecture of the Swabian period. At the beginning of the 20th cent. the castle was declared a national monument.

Naro Castle was built in the 14th century by the powerful Chiaramonte family, for which reason it is commonly referred to as the Chiaramontan castle, this irregularly shaped tufa-stone fortress was declared a national monument in 1912. The present structure comprises a massive wall, a circular and a square towers, a 14th century door giving access to a fine salon, and a large cistern that served as a prison.

Favara Castle was built in the 13th century by the Chiaramonte family. It was not a defensive castle as it’s not built on top of a mountain. Maybe it was originally used as residential palace during the hunting season. Some of its walls show coats of arms, some still show remains of frescoes typical of the buildings financed by the Chiaramonte family.

Caltanissetta province

Mussomeli Castle , dating about 1370, was built by Manfred III on the ruins of an ancient Arab tower. It passed through several owners and was finally bought by the Lanzas princes of Butera in 1910, who would carry out considerable restoration works. It has a beautiful room with two two-light windows, known as the Barons’ Hall, as it used to host an Assembly of Barons.

Falconara Castle (Gela) - originally this was a tower granted in 1362 to the Santapau family of Butera that subsequently passed to the Princes of Branciforti, finally becoming the present-day Falconara Castle. In the last two centuries in particular it has been variously modified with a view to enlarging and embellishing it, leading to the result one now sees today - a turreted and battlemented castle.

Enna province

Lombardia Castle is a beautiful example of medieval fortress. It was built by the Swabian Emperors and later enlarged by Frederick III of Aragon. It presents itself, with its pentagonal plan and square towers, rising on the mountain that stands above Enna, a regal fortification divided up by a series of inner yards and walls. The remains of six towers can still be seen, while the Pisan Tower, decorated with flat-top merlons and also known as the Eagles' Tower, has remained intact.

Sperlinga Castle was built around 1082. The castle is on many different levels: the stables, the prisons, and the smithies where the arms were forged were located in caves dug out of the living rock. Today still remained a part of the walls, a two-light window, today considered a national monument, a steep stairway that leads to the tower, several rooms, and the entrance gate, consisting of three doorways protected by a draw-bridge.

Gagliano Castelferrato Castle
- the original layout of the castle is thought to be 11th century. The castle became important when it was chosen by Frederick II as a place where he could find peace and tranquillity. It took over ten years to transform the castle into a luxurious residence. At a later date the lord of the castle was Montaneiro Perio De Sosa, and in 1392 it became the property of Perio Sancio de Colatajuro. Various noble families succeeded each other as owners of the castle until feudalism was finally abolished.

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