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

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

Milazzo Castle

The Castello di Milazzo is located on the summit of a hill overlooking the town, on a site first fortified in the Neolithic era. The castle was built as a result of the strategic importance of the Milazzo peninsula, which commands the Gulf of Patti, the body of water that separates Sicily from the Aeolian Islands. It also commands one of Sicily"s most important natural harbours. The Greeks modified it into an acropo ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Milazzo, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hagios Demetrios

The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.

The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.

The church had an unusual shrine called the ciborium, a hexagonal, roofed structure at one side of the nave. It was made of or covered with silver. The structure had doors and inside was a couch or bed. Unusually, it did not hold any physical relics of the saint. The ciborium seems to have been a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.

The basilica is famous for six extant mosaic panels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Byzantine Iconoclasm in 730. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church (called the founders, ktetors) and with children. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heaven for saving the people of Thessalonica from a pagan Slavic raid in 615.

Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1430. About 60 years later, during the reign of Bayezid II, the church was converted into a mosque, known as the Kasımiye Camii after the local Ottoman mayor, Cezeri Kasım Pasha. The symbolic tomb however was kept open for Christian veneration. Other magnificent mosaics, recorded as covering the church interior, were lost either during the four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493–1912) or in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 that destroyed much of the city. It also destroyed the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolour versions give an idea of the early Byzantine craftsmanship lost during the fire.

Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church. Tombstones from the city"s Jewish cemetery - destroyed by the Greek and Nazi German authorities - were used as building materials in these restoration efforts in the 1940s. Archeological excavations conducted in the 1930s and 1940s revealed interesting artifacts that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church"s crypt. The excavations also uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath, where St. Demetrius was said to have been held prisoner and executed. A Roman well was also discovered. Scholars believe this is where soldiers dropped the body of St. Demetrius after his execution. After restoration, the church was reconsecrated in 1949.