Medieval castles in Sicily

Pepoli Castle

Therea re two castles in Erice, Pepoli Castle, with foundations dating from Arab times, and nearby Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period. Surrounded by a lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a stop in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and several medieval churches. Pepoli Castle was at first a feudal stronghold, though Erice was eventually ceded to the Crown as a demesnial city. The view from ...
Founded: 10-11th century AD | Location: Erice, Italy

Castelmola

This small village of Castelmola is a real genuine natural terrace built around the ruins of a Norman castle. The Norman walls are all that remain of the fortress. A plaque from the tenth century with Greek-Byzantine engravings placed on the façade of the cathedral states: This castle was built under Costantino, patrician and strategist of Sicily. It is probably referring to Costantino Caramalo, who in the ninth centur ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Castelmola, Italy

Ursino Castle

Castello Ursino was built between 1239 and 1250, as one of the royal castles of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily. In 1295, during the Sicilian Vespers, the Parliament which declared deposed James II of Aragon as King of Sicily, replacing him with Frederick III, was held here. The following year it was captured by Robert of Anjou but was later again in Aragonese hands. After the move of the capital away from Catania a ...
Founded: 1239-1250 | Location: Catania, Italy

Lipari Castle

The castle site in Lipari island has been populated for thousand years, but the current fortifications data mainly from the 16th century. The castle is surrounded by a long wall, built by the Spanish under Charles V domination around the mid-16th century.  The enter door leads to a gallery at exit, where an iron shutter was closed, and thanks to the existent trapdoors, boiling oils were poured. The first building to see ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Lipari, Italy

Castelbuono Castle

The construction of the Castelbuono Castle began in 1316, by order of Count Francesco I of Ventimiglia, over the ruins of the ancient Byzantine town of Ypsigro, high on the San Pietro hill. The castle mixes Arab-Norman features with others typical of the castles built during the Hohenstaufen rule of southern Italy: the cube shape recalls Arabic architecture; the square towers, although incorporated into those of the faç ...
Founded: 1316 | Location: Castelbuono, Italy

Venere Castle

Castello di Venere ('Venus Castle'), dating from the Norman period, was built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped. According to legend, the temple was founded by Aeneas. It was well known throughout the Mediterranean area in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Erice, Italy

Castello Maniace

The Castello Maniace is a citadel and castle situated at the far point of the Ortygia island promontory, It bears the name of George Maniakes, the Byzantine general who besieged and took the city in 1038. Originally, one could only enter the castle over a bridge spanning a moat (now filled). A feature of the castle is the decorated portal. Today the castle is open to public and is a local tourist attraction in Syracuse. ...
Founded: 1232-1240 | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Castello di Aci

The Castello Normanno ('Norman Castle'), or alternatively the Castello di Aci, is situated on a rocky outcrop jutting out into the sea. Its precise date of construction is uncertain, but it was important to the development of its region during the Middle Ages. During the War of the Sicilian Vespers, it was subject to Roger of Lauria. It was besieged more than once, and was briefly controlled by the Spanish. It is curre ...
Founded: 1076 | Location: Aci Castello, Italy

Castello di Lombardia

The Castello di Lombardia iis one of the largest and most ancient edifices in Italy, with an area of some 26,000 m2. The castle"s origins are related to a fortress erected in the 1st millennium BC by the Sicani on the foundation of the ancient Henna, on a hill 970 m above sea level. It remained a key possession in the subsequent history of the island, and the Romans were able to conquer it only by passing thro ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Enna, Italy

Castello della Zisa

The Zisa is a castle in the western part of Palermo. It is included in the UNESCO Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale World Heritage Site. The construction was begun in the 12th century by Arabian craftsmen for king William I of Sicily , and completed by his son William II. The edifice had been conceived as summer residence for the Norman kings, as a part of the large hunting resort kno ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Palermo, Italy

Donnafugata Castle

Although the origins of Donnafugata Castle can be traced to the 14th-century most of its current Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic appearance belongs to the 19th century.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Donnafugata, Italy

Monte Tauro Castle

Built by the Arabs about 400 meters high on the rock of Monte Tauro, the Castello Saraceno allowed to dominate on Taormina and its beautiful bay, and control the valley of the river Alcantara. The area of Monte Tauro coincided, in greek-Roman times, with the seat of the ancient acropolis less Taormina, Tauromenium. Castelmola represents the upper. It is likely that Muslims have used the fortress to defend themselves from ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Taormina, Italy

Caccamo Castle

The Castello di Caccamo is among the largest and best preserved Norman castles in Sicily, and one of the largest in Italy. The castle is built on a steep cliff. The castle as it is today was built by Matthew Bonnellus in the 12th century. It was later modified by the Chiaramontes in the 14th century, and by other rulers until the 17th century. Caccamo castle is a large structure built of white stone, having an irregular ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Caccamo, Italy

Scicli Castle

The first development at Scicli was around the Castello dei tre cantoni at the top of San Matteo hill that overlooks the town. The Castello dei tre Cantoni is actually composed of two separate fortifications, the Castelluccio higher up and the Castellaccio at a lower level. This was a defensive structure that, over the centuries, was enlarged and used first by the Arabs, then by the Normans and then later as a military o ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Scicli, Italy

Castello a Mare

Castello a Mare is an ancient fortress that guarded the entrance to the port at Palermo in La Cala. Extensive remains are visible, some of which are open to the public. There is a Norman keep, a fortified gate or entrance, and remains of a sophisticated Renaissance star-shaped defence.
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Palermo, Italy

Modica Castle

Modica Castle is located on the top of a small mountain. For a long time it was the political center of the Modica County, inhabited first by the counts and then by the governors, who succeeded each other without ever changing the Castle with other administrative offices. The current structure can be widely visited, although some points have been destroyed over time, still leaving some remains thanks to which it was possi ...
Founded: 8th century AD | Location: Modica, Italy

Gangi Castle

The medieval village of Gangi is one of the most beautiful villages in Sicily. The 14th century Ventimiglia castle, located on the highest point of Mount Marone, was the ancient seat of the county lords, Palazzo Sgadari and Palazzo Bongiorno. It was restored as a residental palace during the 17th century.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Gangi, Italy

Pantelleria Castle

The foundation of the castle on the island of Pantelleria can possibly traced back to the Arab or Byzantine period in Sicily, even if it is not attested with certainty before the 13th century. The Castello Barbacane is located in the centre of Pantelleria town at the entrance of the old harbour and is accessed via a staircase from the Via Castello. It was a bulwark to protect the maritime trade of the island, facing th ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Pantelleria, Italy

Santa Lucia del Mela Castle

The peak of Santa Lucia del Mela was an important military outpost. On the remains of the former city walls the Byzantines built a fort, subsequently rebuilt by the Arabs between 837 and 851. Frederick II of Aragon fortified the town with walls and renovated its castle. The castle was left to decay in the 17th century, but has been restored later.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Santa Lucia del Mela, Italy

Pentefur Castle

The current remains of Pentefur Castle were built in the 11th century by King Roger II, but the site has been inhabitated from the 7th century AD. The castle was damaged by earthquakes of 1693 and 1783 and it was abandoned.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Savoca, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Veste Coburg

The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.

A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.

In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.

Early modern times through Thirty Years' War

In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.

In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.

17th through 19th centuries

From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.

In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.

20th century

The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.

In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.

Today

The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.