The “very faithful” town of Frederick II of Aragon, perched on the north-western Peloritani mountains, is beautiful and fascinating with a long history, many churches and works of art, and an incredible panorama.
According to an ancient legend, the village of Castroreale in the province of Messina dates back to several centuries before the birth of Christ, when an Eastern king named Artenomo, founded a city, which he called Artemisia in honour of his daughter. Later Artemisia married Castoreo, who built a new settlement, Krastos, which over time changed its name first to Crastina, then to Cristina or Crizzina, and which lasted until the first decades of the fourteenth century.
The settlement played an important role in the period of the Sicilian Vespers. To reward the loyalty it showed to him during the fight against the Angevins, Frederick II of Aragon issued the diploma of 1324 ordering the construction of the Castle.
This is when the town’s history really begins. It first took the name Castro, then Castroreale.
Until the end of the fifteenth century there was a large and active Jewish community, the synagogue (or moschita) of which was enlarged in 1487. Its arch still remains today, and can be seen behind Monte di Pietà. After the earthquake of 1693, numerous settlements in late Baroque style arose in Castroreale.
The visit to the historic centre starts from Piazza delle Aquile. The main façade of the Mother Church dating back to the first thirty years of the 1600s is closed on the right by the sixteenth-century bell tower. Inside, there are several works by Antonello Gagini, Francesco Cardillo, Andrea Calamech, Filippo Jannelli and Rinaldo Bonanno.
The church hides an interesting secret: crossing the entrance you can see the meridian line that runs across the floor to the middle of the central nave, indicating the South-North direction of the terrestrial meridian of the place. It has been preserved intact – but incomplete – up to the present day, despite disastrous earthquakes and human intervention. It was conceived and built in 1854 by Castroreale local Nicolò Perroni Basquez. It is a so-called camera obscura meridian. The Mother Church contains silverware by the masters of the 1600s from Messina.
From the piazza side of the church, featuring a seventeenth century marble portal surmounted by three eagles, there is an enchanting view of the Aeolian islands and the Longano valley. The numerous ashlar portals from the 1500s and 1600s and the wrought iron gratings provide evidence of the street’s historic splendour, from when it was an important main road for the city.
The historic Via Moschita, which was once full of convents and churches, is today guardian of the small and precious heritage left. Located in Piazza Pertini is Palazzo Peculio, seat of the Town Hall, and the seventeenth-century Monte di Pietà; the side of the S.S. Salvatore and its bell tower from 1560. In the background towards the mountain is the arch of the Jewish synagogue. Continuing on, we come to the Pinacoteca in the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli, with works from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the arches of the historic convents of San Nicolò and the Benedictine female monastery.
The Civic Museum has several highly prestigious works, including: a Salvator Mundi by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (a pupil of Raphael who worked in Messina from 1528-1543), a painted cross from the fourteenth century, a wooden crucifix from the fifteenth century, the funeral monument of Geronimo Rosso by Antonello Gagini, the Altarpiece of the Madonna among the Saints by Gaspare Camarda and three paintings by Filippo Jannelli. Other great works to admire include the Polyptych of the Triad from the end of the fifteenth century and the table canvas of the Enthroned Madonna with Child and Angels by Antonello de Saliba.
It it worth taking the time to discover the Church of S. Filippo Neri from 1600 and the attached Oratory, location of the Civic Museum. The architectural complex of S. Agata and S. Marina is interesting. The latter features Norman elements and Aragon fortification mixed with a sixteenth-century structure. Inside the church of S.Agata there is the famous statue of Cristo Lungo, which is carried in procession on 23 and 25 August and during Holy Week.
There is also the Porta Raineri, which was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, and once allowed access to the city walls from the north, the Church of Candelora (1400) with an unusual Arab dome and the Frederick II of Aragon Tower, the only surviving trace of the castle he had built in 1324.
Visiting Castroreale also means immersing yourself in its gastronomic traditions!
In addition to authentic dishes from Sicilian tradition, Castroreale is famous first and foremost for its biscuits. In particular u biscottu castricianu or u biscottu da badissa, the recipe for which was invented by the Poor Clare nuns of the Monastery of S. Maria degli Angeli in Castroreale and was kept secret for a long time. Some biscuit makers now make these delicious treats after discovering what the ingredients are: aniseed, cinnamon, lard, sugar, cloves, vanilla, brewer’s yeast, homemade sourdough, flour, water and salt. Preservatives are forbidden! There is no better occasion to try them than the festival [link to Holidays and food festivals in Sicily] dedicated to them in the second half of August.
You should also try the homemade maccheroni and black rice during the Christmas period, made with sugar and toasted and crushed almonds.