The Castle

The castle admired by Al Edris The first news of the existence of the castle is given by the famous Arab geographer Edrisi (Al Edris) in his most celebrated Book of Ruggero, certainly completed before 1154 (the date of death of the Norman monarch, buyer and dedicatee of the work) and conceived as tagline to a large silver planisphere which the same Edrisi had also made because commissioned by King Ruggero. Towards the middle of the XII century then, for some time, the name Montalbano and a fortress already existed, around which swarmed an intensive productive activity. Even today, the more significant historical architectural element of Montalbano Elicona is the Castle; it dominates a medieval urban centre, irregular and tortuous, winding up and down the alleys adapting to the shape of the rocky promontory. The small houses made of sandstone are full of authentic history. A Norman-Swabian fort married to the fortifications of Aragon Built on pre-existing Byzantine and Arab structures, the castle is made up by a small Norman-Swabian fortress and down from the Swabian-Aragonese fortified palatium. The upper part, a rectangular fortress, is closed at the end by two towers, one square and the other, typically Swabian, pentagonal, with the function of the male. To the Swabian period dates the perimeter wall with battlements that represents the most important and best preserved defensive configuration “in saettiere” of Sicily. Of the Angevin period there is the date of 1270 engraved in the lining of the great hydraulic tank. In Constance’s dowry With the advent of the Normans, succeeded to the Arabs in the control of the island, the feudal system was introduced in Sicily; we do not know exactly the legal position of Montalbano in such system at the time of the Altavillas, but a document of 1211 states that ” Montalbano with all its houses and estates”, as ordered by Frederick II of Swabia, had joined the” dodario “(dowry) of his wife Constance of Aragon and, as such, it belonged to the royal domains, under the direct control of the crown. And so, when in 1232 he was against the rebellious centres of the island not accepting the Constitutions of Melfi, considered harmful to the rights of vassals, the reaction of Frederick II was particularly hard. The land was sacked, the fortress was razed to the ground, and the inhabitants exterminated and those who survived the massacre were deported to Augusta. But the strategic importance of the place soon persuaded the emperor of the need not only to rebuild, but also to strengthen the fortifications. So in the space of two years (1239/40) the turreted fortress atop a hill reappeared, at the foot of which subsequently a fortified camp arose to reinforce the defence of the East side. The new castle, gift of Frederick II Therefore a new building took shape, which will become in time the main body of the castle as we see it today. It was, at first, a covered walkway that was developed seamless, drawing around the slopes of the hill a nearly perfect square. The new building remained closed between a massive crenellated outer wall of m. 1.40 thickness and an inner wall thinner than 70 cm. that gave light to the walkway through a series of windows placed at the top, under the eaves line. In its overall configuration, the castle had already assumed, in the Swabian period (between Frederick and Manfredi), in the geometry of its volumes, the profile it still retains. To the years of the Angevin rule refers the date ADMII.C. ~. LXX (1270) recently discovered in the tank which collected the water of the slopes of the new body. And it is uncertain whether it is to be referred to the construction of the tank or to a subsequent intervention on the same. A protagonist of the Vespers In the Aragonese period, which began in 1282 with the uprising of the Sicilian Vespers, the castle, which immediately fell under the reign of Frederick II of Aragon, had its period of greatest splendour. Reached the peace of Caltabellotta (1302), Federico accomplished the transformation of the new Swabian body from fortress to palace. Thanks to the restructuring carried out by the Aragonese king, the castle Montalbano is one of the most unitary and harmonious works of medieval Sicily. The most extraordinary element of the entire castle is the royal chapel of the Byzantine era, which according to some scholars would house the remains of Arnaldo of Villanova, physician, alchemist and religious reformer and probably a heretic, who died in 1310 and of whom numerous appearances are attested in Montalbano along with King Frederick. From realm to feudal palace, the decline of a great manor In 1396 it was granted to Thomas Romano Baron of Cesarò the county of Montalbano; from realm, the castle degrades to feudal palace: administrative centre of the lord’s assets and reference point of civic life (political and judicial) of a small mountain town. The rule of the Romanos lasted two centuries until, at the end of ‘500, it passed onto Filippo Bonanni to whom the last heiress of the Romanos brought it in dowry. Also two centuries lasted the rule of the Bonannis, who completely overlooked the uncomfortable mountain feud. Refuge for the Church No change in structure occurred on the outside of the castle during the four centuries of feudal rule – inside it took more and more the appearance of a large farm. In 1805, the Bonannis sold the fief of Montalbano to the fathers of the Society of Jesus who actually took possession of it seating in the castle a small religious group in 1813: when for already a year the Sicilian Parliament, under pressure from the British, had decreed the abolition of feudalism. With the Jesuits, the castle underwent the last metamorphosis since the building was called on to perform even the functions that are usually those of a convent. Of this unusual story remains as a visible sign the arc joining two battlements of the southern side, built to hold a small bell calling the worshipeprs to the liturgical functions that were celebrated in the chapel. At last, a return to former beauty With the so-called revolutionary laws of 1866 the castle passed onto the state land registry and was literally ransacked. After more than a century of decline, in the 80s of the twentieth century restorations have given the castle back its former beauty, but with an unforgivable mistake: the battlements, originally dovetail, became rectangular, qualifying as a Guelph a building that, being Swabian-Aragonese, could not be more Ghibelline!



Montalbano Elicona, tortuous and white town The name Montalbano, according to some scholars, is derived from the Latin “mons albus”, referring to the mountains whitened with snow, according to others from the Arabic al-bana, with the meaning of “excellent place”. More recent studies make it derive its name from Sesto Nonio Albano, Roman landowner, citizen of the nearby Tindari, which would be the eponymous hero of the city. The name of the river Elicona is of clear Greek etymology (Elikon = tortuous) and probably appears in the fourth century. B.C. Among the possessions of the Swabians, Montalbano full of all goods The first mention of the village dates back to the ninth century. A.D. when, conquered by the Byzantines, it gains the look of a fortress, but in 843 Messina fell under Arab rule and with it, probably, Montalbano. Towards the middle of the twelfth century we have the first official news of Montalbano in the famous Book of King Ruggero of the Arab geographer al-Idrisi, defining the place as “a rock very rough to climb and go down but full of all goods “; with the Normans the rock of Montalbano is enriched with towers and becomes state property, under the direct control of the crown, and remained so even under the Swabians. The forgiveness of Frederick II In 1211 Emperor Frederick II granted the castle as a dowry to his first wife Constance of Aragon; but for rebelling against the emperor, as the other Lombard colonies of Sicily, in 1233 the village was destroyed and the inhabitants were deported partly to Augusta and partly to Palermo and Agrigento; however, Frederick II, aware of the strategic importance of Montalbano, rebuilt the castle embedding it in a general plan for the consolidation of the Sicilian fortresses; with King Manfred in 1262, Montalbano is elevated to the rank of county and entrusted to Boniface Anglona, ​​uncle of the king himself. The Aragonese and the palace The Angevins in 1270 continue the work of strengthening the castle, but the golden age of Montalbano coincides with the arrival of Frederick II of Aragon, who established his residence there (1302-1308) strengthening the castle and surrounding the village with new walls. In 1396, Montalbano is granted to Thomas Romano Baron of Cesarò, County of Montalbano; from a royal palace, the castle downgrades to a small feudal palace: administrative centre of the assets of the Lord and reference point of civic life (political and judicial) of a small mountain town. The lordship of the Romanos lasted two centuries until it passed, at the end of ’500, onto Filippo Bonanni, who the last heiress of the Romanos brought it as dowry. The rule of the Bonannis also lasted two centuries, who completely overlooked the whole uncomfortable mountain feud.


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