Castles in central Sicily
Women, knights, weapons and love – this is what comes to mind when we think about castles. Bygone mythical and fairy tale times… Sicily has more than two hundred castles: are you ready to enter a world where history meets fantasy? In this itinerary we will explore the castles in the centre of the island, mansions surrounded by nature. Here, time seems to have stood still…
If you are coming from the south, the first stop on our journey is near the coast: Gela (link to Gela) . Its Castelluccio has Swabian origins, it stands on top of a hill, defending the town. Unfortunately, it can only be visited from the outside where we can enjoy a breath-taking view on the whole plain of Gela. Castelluccio is the setting of several legends. It is said that, in ancient times, a beautiful lady with long hair lived in the castle and everyone was attracted by her beauty, but whoever dared to approach her ended up disappearing into thin air. Furthermore, according to the peasants, strange shadows wonder within the castle walls, perhaps ghosts from the past, who are still protecting a precious treasure (a truvatura, as it is called in Sicily). No one has ever managed to find the treasure chest, so maybe you could be the lucky one!
The time has come to head back inland, and our next destination is Butera. The town’s historic centre was built 400 metres above sea level and the castle was its core. The manor has Arab-Norman origins, its inner courtyard is a public square, while its massive ruins are an exhibition space. Therefore the city life continues to flow around and inside this wonderful milestone. Be sure to visit it, as it’s a journey that will take you back through time!
We continue towards the centre of Sicily and we arrive at Mazzarino, a lovely Baroque town. The actual feudal structure of the Castle of Mazzarino is the result of many changes that took place over the centuries. It is said that the manor has Roman origins, while its tower dates back to medieval times. The particular shape of the tower gives the castle the name Cannuni: having a walk under it is like walking through history. In the south-eastern part of the castle there’s a theatre that offers a breath-taking view stretching all the way to Mount Etna. You may also be lucky enough to have the chance to watch the shows and theatrical performances in a very unique location.
Hopefully you won’t be tired, because there are plenty more castles in the centre of this region to visit! Let’s move now slightly westwards, to Mussomeli and visit one of the most inaccessible fortresses of the whole of Sicily. It was built between the 14th and 15th centuries on a limestone massif at 80 mt above sea level. From the outside, the castle is extraordinarily impressive and its structure seems to be part of the rock on which it stands. To enter, you cross a drawbridge followed by a porch with an ogival arch. Here there are huge cross-vaulted rooms and stables that could host till 50 horses. A staircase leads to the dungeons, some of them are completely dark, known to the people as the “dark rooms”: it seems that terrible crimes were committed here and it is said that the Castle is inhabited by dark presences… A soldier who was in love with Manfredi Chiaromonte’s daughter dared to challenge the local lord in order to marry the girl, but he lost and was locked up in a castle tower until he died. But there’s also the story of Prince Frederick who was so jealous of his three sisters, due to be in love with them. Subsequently, he killed them all and buried them within the cavities of the wall, this way they could not belong to anyone else except from him. Another legend that is spoken about, of the Mussomeli Castle is the one involving the Baroness of Carini (Laura Lanza). She was accused of having stained the family honour, and her father, Cesare Lanza, killed her. After the murder, Cesare took shelter in the castle of Mussomeli where he was reached by the spirit of his daughter. Ultimately, it still seems to haunt the rooms to this day. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the Mussomeli Castle enchants you for its beauty and history. A must-see by all accounts.
Now let’s go further inland to reach the highest capital in Italy: Enna (950 mt above sea level). Due to its geographical position, Enna is also known as the “navel of Sicily“. As we get closer to the city, we can see the Castello di Lombardia, which is located at the highest point of the town. In the Middle Ages, the manor was one of the most important defensive fortifications on the island, its name comes from a garrison of ‘Lombard‘ ( i.e., generically, soldiers ‘from the north’) who defended the fortress during Norman rule. The castle’s origins go back more than two thousand years, during the Sicans era, while its current shape derives from the Swabian structure. It has an area of 26,000 square metres and is one of the biggest medieval castles in Italy. Here Frederick II of Swabia summoned the first Sicilian Parliament. Inside, it is still possible to visit the private church and the residence of Emperor Frederick III of Aragon. Not far from the castle stands the Rocca di Cerere, where we find a temple built by the Sicans and dedicated to the goddess of the harvest. But that’s not all… another great architectural symbol of the city is the Tower of Frederick II. Its origins are uncertain and subject to much debate. Probably it was an ancient astronomical observatory, built by the Siculs at the exact centre of Sicily and set in alignment with the celestial bodies. We can therefore be at the centre of the island and in contact with the cosmos!
After having touched the stars, we set off again and cross the centre of Sicily, heading north. Sperlinga Castle is the last stop on this tour of the castles of central Sicily. A stunning fortress entirely carved out of the rock. The whole ancient town centre has developed around this mansion. The ‘Byzantine citadel’ consists of about fifty caves and it now houses an ethno-anthropological museum. The view of the landscape from here is unique. Inside the castle we can see the boardroom, the chapel and the mullioned window.
By this time, If you are still not tired of ladies, ghosts and fortresses, we can continue the tour of the castles towards the west, towards the east, towards Etna or towards the south.