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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Valguarnera, unfortunately closed to public, was built in the early
1700s at the heart of a beautiful park, overlooking the sea.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
worth-mentioning is a fortified wall, built, after the people’s
request, to protect the village from pirate raids.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the ancient Erice there are two castles.
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.
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.
Castle of Castellammare del Golfo has remotest origins and successively
belonged to Arabs, Normans, Swabians and French Anjous.
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.