Castles of Sicily
In our scolastic culture, the Middle Age is a millennium of decline for human civilization, following the collapse of the Roman Empire and ending in 1500s after the discovery of America and the final expulsion of Arabs from Europe. Around year one thousand, in the midst of this dark era, the Arab civilization before and then the Norman one, gave instead Sicily a rich period of prosperity and progress. Until 1250, capital of the Sicilian Kingdom, Palermo was one of the most important cities in the world along with Alexandria and Constantinople. The castles of Sicily testify the greatness of that historical period.
On May 1860 in Salemi, acclaimed by the people, Giuseppe Garibaldi decreed the dictatorship and called citizens to arms for the unification of Italy. The first italian flag in Sicily was waving on the round tower of the Castle. The medieval fortress overlooking the town has recently become one of the most important national sites dedicated to art and culture.
The ruins of Ribera Castle dominate the valley where the river Verdura flows along a gorge carved in the rock. Built by the Arabs before the year one thousand and then fortified by the Normans, its picturesque ruins surround a circular embattled tower 25 meters high, which is depicted in the emblem of the municipality.
In 1700s the Castle of Palazzo Adriano was built as hunting lodge for the capricious King Ferdinando. He loved getting off the horse just before the church door, so he wanted some tuff-steps inserted in the staircase to prevent the horse slipping. This arrangement is still visible.
A wonderful example of Gothic art is the Castle of Mussomeli built in the late 1300s. Even today it shows all its pride and grandeur to the visitor: an architectural gem nestled on a ridge of limestone about 80 meters high, a symbol of the feudal barons' power. They say some ghosts dwell within the walls of the castle.
The Castle of Montalbano Elicona presents a perimetral embattled wall of 1200s, the most important and best preserved structure of defense "at dart" in Sicily. It was rebuilt in the 1300s by King Federico II of Aragon, who turned the military fortress into a royal palace, with such an impressive and elegant style that it is unique in its kind.
The Castle of Giuliana with its single tower, perfectly preserved and restored, is located on the same cliff depicted in the second chapter of The Leopard, in which Tomasi di Lampedusa tells about the arduous carriage-ride of the prince Don Fabrizio Salina from Palermo to Donnafugata.
On a massive cliff, only the church of S. Anna stands over the ruins of Geraci Castle, which belonged to the Muslims and then the Normans, and was finally elevated to baronial seat under Spanish rule. The site no longer holds the magnificence of the medieval castle, but the stones continue to recount its history and legends.
Overlooking the city of Trapani and the sea, the town of Erice still keeps its medieval appearance almost intact. Some inscriptions discovered among the ruins of the Castle, a Phoenician dedication to Astarte, a Greek one to Aphrodite and some Latin fragments addressed to Venus, testify a continuity of worship and a substantial identity between the three deities.
Castle S. Benedetto in Monreale, called Castellaccio, dominates the city of Palermo and the sea. With its six towers it looks like a medieval military fortress, while the interior reminds more a monastery. Already abandoned by the end of 1500s, it was bought by Alpine Sicilian Club in 1899, restored and turned to mountain resort. It is open to visitors every Sunday and it offers a restaurant service by little expense.
In a dominant position on the coast, the Castle of Carini was built as a Norman military fortress and then transformed into a baronial residence. It is now seat of cultural and artistic events. Its reputation is tied to the story of Carini's Baroness, killed by her father in 1563. According to legend, the mark of her bloody hand appears in the site on the anniversary of the murder.
Only one round tower of Cammarata Castle survives today inside the town, restored and converted into exposition room. Historical sources testify that it was already powerful before the Norman conquest with its seven towers. The possible cause for its disappearance can be attributed to an earthquake in 1537.
Only evocative ruins remain today of Caltabellotta Castle, on the peak dominating the landscape. In his Decameron, Boccaccio wrote that in 1282 a talented poet told in poems the love of the young woman Lisa Puccini to the King Pietro. Touched by so much love, the king let her marry the young noble Perdicone, and also gave her the castle and lands of Caltabellotta as dowry.
Surrounded by the streams Garella and Tina, who once served as a moat, the Norman castle of Burgio is well preserved in its main parts, and is now used as exhibition space. It overlooks the old center of the medieval village, typically Arabic with its winding alleys.
Overlooking the sea in the town of Butera, the Castle of Falconara consists of an imposing Arab tower, around which are articulated the subsequent Norman and Spanish buildings. The complex was renovated, has 16 rooms with bathroom and large living rooms, and houses an archeologic aquarium and an art gallery. It can be rented for events or touristic stay.
On a giant sandstone rock, the Sperlinga Castle was built around the year one thousand. The cliff conceals prehistoric settlements. In 1282, during the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers against Angevin rule, a French garrison barricaded itself inside the castle where withstood the siege for almost a year. The historical fact is described by Tasso in his Jerusalem Conquered.
Founded as a Greek polis with the name of Akrai, Palazzolo Acreide has a long history documented by its famous archaeological sites. The terrible earthquake in 1693 destroyed the city and the Norman castle, the ruins of which still remain. In the subsequent reconstruction, were built the jewels of baroque architecture making it one of the eight sites in Sicily declared World Heritage by Unesco.