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Agrigento
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Acireale
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CASTLES IN SICILY

Fortresses, castles and palazzi across Sicily are imposing symbols of wealth and authority. While providing with precious artistic and architectural specimens, they enable the visitor to explore and experience the glorious history of our splendid Island.

Palermo

The castle in San Nicola l’Arena, a charming fishing village, was built in the 1400s at the behest of the Crispo family, meant to serve as a coastal lookout post. Its circular tower is enriched with an upper terrace. Inside, three circular salons are connected by a staircase. Three smaller towers, outside, are connected by a terrace. Some small apartments are situated under the terraces. The castle has three impressive secret tunnels: the first leads to a neighboring Norman tower dating from around the 13th century, the second to a castle located in Trabia, the third to the local countryside.

The ruins of the Roccella Castle, named after a river flowing nearby, were part of a fortification situated on the Campofelice plateau between the Madonie mountains and the coast. It retains a number of 14th century pointed windows, the main doorway, a large rectangular room and several small rooms in the dungeons.

In Misilmeri, atop a cliff lie the ruins of an ancient castle consisting of a polygonal tower, some cross-vaults supported by angular columns, and sections of the outer walls. Not much is known about its early history. The ancient construction probably served as a lookout post during the Arab rule. This area witnessed an important battle between Arabs and Normans, the latter ultimately winning. The castle, originally bestowed by Roger of Hautville on his admiral George of Antioch, subsequently passed to the Palermo Diocese and the Chiaramonte family, who partly restructured the building. Its decline probably started in the 19th century.

The Ventimiglia Castle in Castelbuono, set on St. Peter hill, was built in 1316. Laid out on a quadrangular plan, it has conserved five angular towers, the defensive walls with smaller towers, fine ceilings with ghibelline battlements and a loggia with columns. It comprises three floors: the first accommodates the servants’ quarters; on the second are the owner apartments and a Palatin Chapel dedicated to St. Anne guarding a reliquary of the Saint; the third was reserved for the owner’s guests’ and the court. The castle dungeons comprise the prisons, a torture chamber and a secret tunnel leading to the church of S. Francesco. The castle belonged to the Ventimiglia family as far as the early 1900s, when it was bought by the people living in its surroundings who eventually donated it to the town.

The Zisa Castle in Palermo derives its name from the Arabic “Aziz” meaning “splendid”. Its construction, in the 12th century, was ordered by William I and was later completed by William II. It was the summer residence of the Royal family. Inside there are several rooms and the remarkable Fountain Hall. On the front of the castle are two rampant lions, an entrance with three archs, the central one supported by four columns with capitals; it has an imposing 15th century façade with a tower, called Torre Pisana or Santa Ninfa, where a Treasure Chamber was discovered. It is considered one of the most magnificent Arab-Norman buildings existing and has recently been turned into a Museum of Islam gathering pieces and material about the Arabs in Sicily.

Palazzo Chiaramonte or Steri, in Palermo, was built in 1307 and only retains some remnants of the original three-floor building, mainly consisting of a large hall with beautiful paintings. The first floor of the palace is presently closed. Once the seat of the city tribunal, the castle currently houses the university presidency.

The sumptuous Norman Palace, today the seat of the Regional Government, dates back to the Arab rule in Sicily in the 9th century. Only a part of the Palace maintained its original state. Inside, there are several worth-seeing attractions: the beautiful Palatin Chapel, brilliant gold mosaics, a painted Arab ceiling, the Throne Room of Roger’s Room evoking the glory of the Norman kingdom. Unfortunately, it is closed to the public.

The Palazzo Comitini in Palermo was built by the Prince Comitini towards the close of the 18th century. Its front features notable stuccoes and marble columns. Enclosed within the walls are two fine courtyards divided by a loggia and a 17th century mixtilinear fountain. The interior has sumptuous halls and sitting rooms – such as the Martorana Salon, the seat of the City Council – and is enriched with numerous paintings of contemporary authors.

In the old Salsa quarter, is the baroque Palazzo of Princes of Butera, bought by the noble Girolamo Branciforti di Martini in 1692 and the residence of the Princes of Butera in the beginning of the 1700s; several restorations and refurbishments are recorded in this century. It was highly injured during the second world war. A special mention must go to the Salone Rosso (the Red Salon) guarding a precious painting depicting an assembly of the Sicilian Parlament in 1812 that decreed the end of the feudal system on the Island.

The Palazzo Natoli is a splendid baroque building dating from the second half of the 18th century, built by Marquis Vincenzo Natoli. It was willed to the city after a long restoration that had brought it back to its original splendor. It preserves worth-seeing architectonic works and precious pieces of art, such as frescoes by the praised painter Gioacchino Martorana.

The La Cuba Castle, laid out on a rectangular plan, was built at William II’s behest in 1180 at the heart of the Royal park. It was the residence of the Royal Family until the 16th century. It is referred to in one of Boccaccio’s Decameron tales and it served as a lazaret during the 1575’s plague.

Villa Valguarnera, unfortunately closed to public, was built in the early 1700s at the heart of a beautiful park, overlooking the sea.

The Castle of Giuliana, near Palermo, overlooks the Sosio volcanic valley. Under the Norman rule it belonged to Monreale’s Archbishop; it was restructured under Frederick II of Swabia and passed to the monastery of SS. Trinity in the 17th century. Beautiful terraces lead to the floor that accommodated the owner’s family. It belonged to several dynasties of aristocrats and presently houses the Town Library.

The Torre dell’Orsa in Cinisi has a long history. The earliest information on this construction goes back to 1343, when Ludovic of Sicily granted it to Corrado Castelli. Historical documents also attest to the presence of a tuna-fishery nearby, in the second half of the 16th century. As far as the close of the 19th century, the tower was the property of the Monastery of St. Martin, then it was acquired by privates.

The Castle of Caccamo was built by the Normans and later successively refurbished by Manfred I, Giaimo de Prades and Henriquez Cabrera. Currently belonging to the Regione Sicilia (Sicilian Region), it retains an ancient stable, a theatre, the dungeons and a gun room with many prized armours.

The neighboring city of Bagheria is home to interesting noble villas and castles dating back to the 1600s and 1700s. Among these is Villa Palagonia, dated 1715, built by Ferdinando Francesco Gravina, Prince of Palagonia and Magistrate of Palermo. Much renowned are the grotesque masks that decorate the walls, built by Gravina’s omonymous grandson.

In the area of Rocca Basumba, in the Belice Valley is another interesting fortress. The village there located was ceded in 1812 to Ferdinand III of Bourbon who there built the Royal Palace – served as his Sicilian residence – surrounded by mostly feudal estates.

Villa Niscemi in Palermo, a former lookout tower, belonged to the Princes of Carini in the 1600s and later to Giuseppe Valguarnera. It has conserved some fine salons and a richly furnished ball-hall.

The Palazzo Aiutami Cristo is named after the aristocrat Guglielmo Aiutami Cristo, Baron of Misilmeri and Calatafimi, who built it in 1400. It remained incomplete due to the excessively expensive project and to the death of the successive owner in 1501. In the 17th century it was continued and enriched with halls and frescoes, eventually gaining a baroque look. Today it is unfortunately in a miserable condition.

Enna

Nearby Sperlinga, in the Enna province, there are the ruins of a castle built around 1082. There remain 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.

The Castle of Gallego, with a splendid view of the sea, is located on what once was the fief the noble Militello Valdemone family. The complex comprises the castle and the so-called Militello and Sant’Agata towers. Successively, it passed to the Rosso dei Conti d’Aidone family, descendants of the Hautvilles.

The Lombardia Castle, in Enna, is a beautiful example of medieval fortress. It was built by the Swabian Emperors and later enlarged by Frederick III of Aragon. It has imposing walls and towers.

The Castle in Piazza Armerina dates from the end of the 14th century, when King Martin wanted to transform a Franciscan sanctuary into a fortified construction that would be granted to Giovanni Suriano, the Prior of S. Andrea. The fortress, become a state property in 1800, is currently owned by the Lanzas from Trabia.

The Gresti Castle in Valguarnera Caropepe nestles atop a spur overlooking a tremendous landscape. A fortress was built thereabouts in ancient times. Its current look is the result of a restructuration in the Norman epoch. In the 14th century, Frederick of Aragon granted it to Pradino Capizana. Over the centuries it has undergone many ownership changes. A spiral stair leads to the tower. A latin inscription, that refers to an ancient legend of the castle, is carved above a pointed window.

Ragusa

The Castle of Donnafugata, in the province of Ragusa, is an old castle probably built by the aristocrats Donnafugatas. Its central part dates from the 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 home to exotic plants, a picturesque labyrinth and concealing various follies meant to charm and bemuse its visitors.

The Castle in Modica boasts an ancient and glorious history. The city, especially under the Norman, flourished to become the heart of a noted County governing a vast territory in the south-eastern Sicily. The castle, whose existence is attested to by some documents of the historian Placido Carrafa, was largely destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1693. It housed the Governor Palace and three churches dedicated respectively to the Virgin Mary, S. Cataldo and S. Lorenzo, the last mostly used by prisoners being kept in the castle dungeons. According to Carrafa, a square temple dedicated to the god Sun was also enclosed within the castle walls. Recent excavations have brought to light outstanding finds and the staircase leading up to the main entrance. Today, a majestic clock-tower, of more recent construction, is the Castello’s dominant feature.

The Castle in Comiso, is commonly called the Palazzo del Conte as, according to legend, it was built on the ruins of another castle thought to have been owned by the Count Giovanni Chiaramonte. Of the original building remain a circular tower, two ogival portals and a 15th century iron door. The first floor, collapsed because of the earthquake of 1693, has been restored to its original splendour thanks to careful works.

The Biscari Castle in Acate retains its original front, two lateral towers, and, at the entrance, a coat-of-arms depicting a three-towered castle supported by two dragons. Inside the building there is an aristocratic chapel. The castle was owned by Guglielmo Raimondo Castello and recently divided into two properties belonging respectively to the Biscari and to the Raddusa families.

Siracusa

The Castle of Maniace, 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. The walls enclose the ruins of a 18th century small church that is still used as a military storehouse.

Near the mouth of the Tellaro river, is the Tellaro roman villa, with beautiful floor mosaics dating back to the second half of the 4th century depicting mythological and hunting scenes.

The Castle in Augusta was built by Frederick II of Swabia. In the second half of the 14th century it served as both a refuge and a prison for Mary of Aragon, the sole heir to the throne of Sicily, there sheltered by the noble Moncada from evil intrigues and plans of the regent Artale Alagona, who laid siege to the fortress before being suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the Aragonese fleet. Throughout the centuries the castle has undergone many restorations. It has conserved part of an ancient Norman tower, and is presently being refurbished to become seat of a Museum and Library.

Caltanissetta

The medieval Castelluccio in Gela, sitting atop a towering rock, was likely built by the Arabs and restructured in the 14th century, to gain its present look. It was owned by Anselmo of Moach and then by the Aragonese royal family.

Gela also preserves the ruins of an ancient Norman castle that was the property of Frederick II who, in the early 1200s, enlarged the town and the castle.

Also worth-mentioning is a fortified wall, built, after the people’s request, to protect the village from pirate raids.

The Castle of Butera was built on a former Byzantine fortress. Historical sources relate to the importance of this building in times past. Further sources hold that in the second half of the 12th century it belonged to the Count Henry of Lombardy who had married Count Roger’s daughter and that during the Aragonese rule it was owned by Calcerando Santapau, who restored it adding a tower, still existing. Today a town property, it offers well-maintained two-light windows and a building of more recent date with two large terraces.

The Castle of Mussomeli, dating from around 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.

The Tower of Frederick II of Swabia, formerly thought to be built by Frederick II of Aragon, is set atop a low hill overlooking all the surrounding area. The octagonal tower, 25 metres in height, is accessible through a park that was home to a castle razed in 850. The exterior bears numerous decorations and two windows in the Catalan style probably built along with the Gothic tower, after an architectural contrast attested to by numerous Renaissance buildings.

Near the coast is the Ossuna Tower, a lookout post that formed part of a broad defensive system of Swabian towers across the entire island, is now reduced to poorest conditions.

Messina

The Castle of Lipari, on this famous island off Messina coast, was first a Greek acropolis and then a Byzantine, Arab and Norman fortress. In 1131, an abbey, soon to become seat of an archbishop, was erected next to it. In 1544, the castle was besieged and destroyed by Ariadeno Barbarossa and later rebuilt by the Toledos. It has undergone numerous changes throughout the years, the last during the Fascism. Today, it is a major tourism destination thanks to its panoramic location.

The Castle of Santa Lucia del Mela has undergone several enlargements and restorations throughout its history. Documents maintain that Frederick II expanded its outer walls in the first half of the 13th century. In the 18th century it became a worshipping place. Its current structure preserves the remains of a polygonal tower and of a small 13th century chapel that provides access to a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The Gonzaga Castle, in Messina, is a fortress dating from the early 1500s under Charles V. It is named after the Vice-king of Sicily Don Ferrante Gonzaga, who, fearing a Norman invasion, decided to fortify the island’s defenses beginning with the most strategical area of Messina. The fortress’ strong walls and structure have survived almost intact the disasters and the wars that have affected this area throughout the centuries.

The Castle in Milazzo, thought to have been a Greek and Roman fortress, was rebuilt by the Normans, enlarged by Frederick II and furtherly reinforced by Ferrante Gonzaga. Its beauty is even enhanced by its dominant position over the town and the sea.

In Taormina is the Castle of Santo Stefano, set atop the Mount Tauro, where stood the ancient Greek acropolis. It is also called the Saracen Castle since it was rebuilt by the Arabs in the 13th century. It is complete with a watch-tower. Worth-mentioning is an underground corridor housing the gun room. Of its three original salons, it just conserved one on the ground floor, with a cross-vault and arches.

Taormina is home to many notable palazzi. Among these stands the splendid Palazzo Corvaia incorporating three buildings erected in different epochs from the 11th through the 15th century.

The Castle in Villafranca Tirrena is named Bauso, a corruption of the name of its builder the Count Bevuso, who built it in 1592. Nothing remains of its ancient splendor, it having being much neglected mostly due to disputes between the heirs and the city government over its ownership. It only conserved a hall with frescoes, marble medallions portraying four members of the Pettini family, and tombstones inscriptions.

The Castle of Montalbano Elicona, near Messina, was built by Frederick II of Aragon, likely on the ruins of a former building. Following Peter II’s death (successor of Frederick), and a long succession dispute, the castle passed to Matteo Palizzi, Count of Novara, and eventually to the Bonanno family that was also granted the Dukedom of Montalbano. The ruins of a tower and of a chapel, and a section of the walls are all that remain of the castle.

Catania

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. The palace have undergone many restorations, also of recent. It was built at Frederick II’s behest, in the first half of the 1200s 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 Castle in Acicastello, with its characteristic dark lava stone colour, is of uncertain date. It is known that the Normans restored and entrusted it to the Bishop of Catania. Presently largely ruined, it retains a tower and a part of the central structure. It now belongs to the town and often accommodates art exhibitions.

Palazzo Biscari, in Catania, was completed in 1763 after the design by Francesco Battaglia and his son Antonino. A fine 18th century doorway, in its oldest part, gives access to a lovely courtyard. Inside, there are numerous well-maintained rooms among which worth-mentioning is a hall that hosted balls and banquets.

The two-towered Maniace Castle in Bronte was named after the Byzantine General that ordered its construction around 1038 and presently belongs to the city of Bronte. It is surrounded by a nice garden and park that houses the relics of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was granted the castle by King Ferdinand III, and a British cemetery. Within the walls there is a small church in late-Norman style housing a worth-noting 13th century polyptych.

The Castle of Adrano was built on the ruins of a Saracen building by the Count Roger who bestowed it upon his nephew Adelaide. It retains the walls and some more remains. The interior, in a very poor condition, houses a chapel remained miraculously intact, on the first floor.

The Norman Castle in Motta S. Anastasia, built by the Count Roger and later granted to Catania’s earliest bishop, belonged to the noble Moncadas till the early 1900s. Today it belongs to the municipality.

Agrigento

The Castle of Palma di Montechiaro or Moncada, by the sea, was built by the Chiaramontes in the 14th century. It passed to Guglielmo Moncada, who gave its name to the fortress, when all the family properties were confiscated, because of Andrea Chiaramonte’s treachery against the King. Throughout the centuries it passed through several owners, the last of whom is Giuseppe Tomasi Mastrogiovanni, Prince of Lampedusa. Only a few remains of its ancient noble splendor, such as an image of the Madonnina, inside a chapel within the castle, and a statue with a pedestal bearing seraphs and coats-of-arms of the Caro and Aragon families.

The Chiaramonte Castle in Naro is of unknown origin. The earliest information on the castle goes back to the Sicilian Vespers war, when the French living in the castle were killed and their corpses left hanging from the fortress’ walls. It later belonged to the Chiaramonte family, until their properties were confiscated due to Andrea’s treachery against the King. During the White Queen regence, the Count Cabrera vainly attempted to take the castle. 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.

Another Chiaramonte Castle is located in Favara, built by Frederick II Chiaramonte in the 14th century. After numerous ownership changes it finally passed to Diego Pignatelli. Today the castle is partly decayed, although still boasting fine external and two-light windows, a square courtyard and a chapel. A tombstone at the entrance bears an indecipherable inscription.

The Castle of Caltabellotta was built by the Arabs and restructured by the Normans. The fortress was the scene of important events: one of these involved the King Tancredi and his direct heir William III who was killed by Arrigo VI of Swabia; there, was signed the noted Peace of Caltabellotta, between Frederick II and Charles of Valois, that put an end to the Vespers war and proclaimed the former King of Sicily. A few remnants is all that remains of this ancient and noble building.

The Castle of Sciacca was largely razed by two massive earthquakes in the 18th century and, besides its glorious history, has only conserved the outer walls. It was built in the end of the 1300s by Guglielmo Peralta, married to Eleanor of Aragon, and witnessed a long dispute between the Luna and Perollo families over its ownership, that would end with the suicide of Sigismondo Luna after killing Giacomo Perollo. The Luna holdings were all confiscated and granted to Sigismondo son’s along with the castle of Caltabellotta, while that of Sciacca became a state property.

The Castle of Menfi is of uncertain date. It has a majestic tower, with an irregular form, after the Arab style and named Torre di Borghetto. It houses some fine frescoes.

The Colombaia (the dove-cote) is a charming building on an island off Trapani shore. Its name is owed to doves stopping there along their way to Africa. The fortress, first owned by the Romans, was the residence of Queen Constance of Aragon. It was restructured by King Philip of Austria and fortified by Charles II to prevent from Turk invasions. Outside, there are a tombstone, placed between two coats-of-arms, and signs of Greek architecture visible in the tower. Presently it houses a prison.

Trapani

The Castle of Salaparuta is of uncertain date. It is documented that that in the end of the 13th century it belonged to the Abate family and, later, to Domenica Alvira de Anversa who gave the building her name. Other owners were Giuseppe Alliata Colonna, who died there in the beginning of the 18th century, and his descendants, who kept it till the early 1900s when it finally passed to the city municipality. The Alliatas carried out several notable restorations and enlargements.

The Castle of Partanna was built by the Baron Vignato di Partanna on the remnants of another castle belonging to his ancestors. It housed precious works by hte sculptor Francesco Laurana, who long resided there, of which only a coat-of-arms has remained. The castle has fine ornaments, a front and a back courtyards. On the inside, there is a hall with a eye-catching 17th century fresco portraying three Christian Knights during a battle and the castle in the foreground.

The Castle of Castelvetrano, of Aragonese origin, has had several owners through its present proprietor the Princess Anna Maria Pignatelli Cortes. Unfortunately, nothing has remained of its original structure.

The Castle in Salemi, a small village probably found by the Sicanians or Elymians in remote times, is presently owned by the town municipality. It has a majestic circular tower, two-light windows, and a staircase leading to the tower walls and the terrace.

In the ancient Erice there are two castles.

Legend claims that the ruined Venus Castle, with a 13th century decorated battlement, was a temple dedicated to the goddess by her son Eryx. It was the property of some Norman noble families who are believed to have built a church dedicated to the Madonna della Neve within its walls. It was probably restored during the Aragonese rule. The Venus well is one of the castle’s main and more ancient attractions. Other relics were recovered from the dungeons.

The Balio Castle is also a very ancient structure. Here was born Sant’Alberto degli Abati in the 13th century. Its imposing towers, that give it a medieval look, were restored in the end of the 19th century.

The Castle of Castellammare del Golfo has remotest origins and successively belonged to Arabs, Normans, Swabians and French Anjous.

The Castle of Alcamo, built during the Aragon rule, has two circular towers, one of which bears a black crowned eagle, the coat-of-arms of the rulers’ dinasty. It was owned by the Peraltas, Ventimiglias, Cabreras and other families. The four towers are among its few remains.

   

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