The Matagrifone (Greek-Killers’) fortress Roccaguelfonia or Matagrifone Castle is an early example of fortification of a particularly strategic site. It is the typical fortress said rock, i.e. large fortress built on top of a mountain or in a high, steep and rugged place. The term “rock” often expresses the particular meaning of fortress, derived from the original toponym, i.e. the designation derived from its specific topographic characters. A piece of work located inside the walls, it’s the most important, ancient and strategic fortification (or whatever is left of it), despite having lost much of its importance as early as the 16th century, becoming de facto a redoubt — that is a fortification used for the fighters after an initial defence. The Normans land in Messina, the Heart of Riccardo is kidnapped An already attested fortification near Messina hides its origin behind the ranting name of “Matagrifone Castle” around 1061 AD, the year when the conquest of Sicily by the Normans began. The Gesta Regis Henrici tell of the famous landing in Messina during the third crusade (1190 AD), of Richard the Lionheart, who, according to tradition, gives orders to build, near the village, the castle of “Mategrifon”. The toponym, composed of two terms, means “kill-griffoni”, the latter nickname applied by Europeans to Greeks and Levantines. The name Roccaguelfonia, instead, refers to the fact that Richard the Lionheart was a Guelph king. The Castle was defended both by the town walls, ending in the west with the historic Tower of Victory, protagonist in the war of the Vesper, (demolished in 1960 to make way for settlements), and at the back (upstream) by barrier works such as the Castellaccio and the Gonzaga Castle. The straddling position, particularly strategicand ideal, placed it first in line with the end of the stride, so to close the access to the port, while the control both of the coast and the hill was total. Roccaguelfonia Castle is surely among the most ancient and important symbols of the history of Messina, whose fame was again great at the time of the Crusades, as a starting point for the Christian troops going to the Holy Land. Precisely on the occasion of the third crusade (1190), the fortress was rebuilt by command of the English king Richard the Lionheart, who resided there until 1191, year of his departure for the Holy Land and the destruction of the castle by his own will. Frederick rebuilds what Richard destroyed Although it is unlikely that a city and an important port for the island remains totally devoid of fortifications, we know of the likely rebuilding of “Matagrifone” only by order of Frederick II in 1240 (in documents a castrum novum is mentioned). This new fortress passes on to the Angevins and in 1272 it is State property; in the aftermath of the Vespers the fortified complex is the last stronghold within which the followers of Charles I of Anjou barricaded themselves in, pressed by the people of Messina in revolt against the oppressor. The outcome is a foregone conclusion: in 1283 the castrum novum is torched by the victorious people. The building, although damaged, survives, since around the late 13th century it becomes the home of Queen Constance. Many misfortunes threaten the beauty of the castle but the will of its builder made him sturdy At the end of the 15th century the first talks aimed at broadening the second fortress began, by will of Ferdinand the Catholic, whose inscription remains near the survived tower. Crucial is the 16th century, when more evident changes andextensions for the fort are noted. In 1516 an explosion damages part of the building structures; in 1540 Ferramolino strengthens the defensive lines of the Castle. In the following centuries the castrum novum with 16th-century ramparts is the protagonist or the victim of continuous revolts in the city: in 1674 Messina rebels against the Spaniards; in 1718 and 1734 the fort undergoes gun firing because of rebellions. In 1759, perhaps due to the decay of the structures, the castle was partially converted into a convent of Discalced Augustinians; damaged by the earthquake of 1783, in 1838 it became prison and new place of battle since besieged and damaged by the Messinesi during the uprisings of 1848. Destroyed in the earthquake of 1908, on its ruins in 1935 the Christ the King’s shrine was built, which houses the remains of the soldiers killed at war, and which was also damaged during the bombings of 1940-43 (when it also became a hospital for the reception and assistance to injured, managed by the Red Cross). Today little of the fortification is left, like the octagonal tower, of Norman-Swabian period, changed many times and probably related to one of the entrances giving access to the basement of the Castle; and some still impressive sections of the city walls with bastions that surrounded the fort. In modern times, on top of the octagonal tower one of the bells was installed, the largest in Europe, and recently restored.
The Greeks, the founders of seafaring Messina The fate of Messina has always been inextricably linked to its role on the strait. The first records date back to the Bronze Age but with the arrival of the Greeks in 740 BC the city takes on that seafaring role that suits it best. The first total destruction of the city took place in 396 BC by the Carthaginians of Himilco; the new Messina was born in the same year with Dionysius of Syracuse, who repopulated the city with about 6000 settlers. In 263 BC Messina became the first city in Sicily in the hands of Rome and with the passage of the Empire to Byzantium operated by Constantine, Messina was ruled by local magistrates said Stratigoti. The 476 with the fall of the Western Roman Empire coincides for Sicily and Messina with the beginning of a long series of barbarian invasions interrupted by the Byzantine domination which returned to Messina dignity and to its port the central role in the trade with the East. Guiscard brings the city back to the top In 843 Messina capitulated to Arab attacks and in 1037 Georgio Maniace with the help of the Greeks of Calabria and the Normans of Apulia liberated most of eastern Sicily, starting the process that led to the conquest of the island by Robert Guiscard and Count Ruggero in 1061. The coming of the Normans brings back the city to the top and gives it a series of trade privileges that brought in the city merchants of Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi, Armenians, Greeks and Jews, all well reflected in the urban toponymy. In those years, the port in the strait hosted fleets on their way to the Holy Land for the Crusades. Still in the Swabian period Messina consolidated its privileged position with the granting of the free port by Henry VI and the resulting free import and export of goods. The Academy of Frederick to purify the vulgar In 1231, under the auspices of Frederick II, in Palermo and Messina the “Academy” was created, commonly called ” Sicilian poetic school,” “with the task of purifying and give a better form to the Italian vernacular’; with this definition it is usually defined the establishment of the first real school of poetry in Italy made of artists from all over Italy, but especially Southerners, who lived and composed at the school of Frederick II and then of his son Manfred. Great was the cultural industry in the thirteenth century when the vulgar started to go alongside the Latin of the classical tradition. This was not a language yet, and it took shape according to the subjects treated, now religious and now chivalric, now theological, philosophical hour or scientific. So the vernacular literature was still too varied and diverse to be able to start a real literary tradition; the language was not yet a common vernacular across the peninsula, but just the dialect used by each writer. The Sicilian dialect, language of love The school is called the Sicilian not because the artists were only Sicilian, but because the language used to compose and rhyme was the Sicilian dialect and it was born and flourished at the court of the king of Sicily. These poets who sang of love have a special feature: many of them were natives of Messina. It is, probably, the first academy that is located in Messina, but it is certainly the first in the whole peninsula. Among the many merits of the poets who worked at the court of Frederick II are the composition of the first Italian poetry; the presence of the first Italian poetess, Nina da Messina; the invention of the sonnet by Jacopo da Lentini; the artistic birth of the first Italian “troubadours”. The major poets of the Academy can be considered Guido and Odo delle Colonne, Ruggieri d’Amici, Stefano Pronotaro, Tommaso di Sasso, Mazzeo di Ricco, e Filippo da Messina. The Angevins and the Aragonese The Angevin domination saw Messina initially far from the fighting of the Vespers, but subsequently the city participated in the expulsion of the French. Meanwhile, Peter of Aragon, who was elected King by the Sicilian parliament, went to the defence of Messina managing to make Charles of Anjou retreat. Out with Martin II the Aragonese dynasty, the island capitulated in 1412 to Ferdinand of Castile. Later, the government of the island was entrusted to the viceroys. Austrian domination In 1516 with Charles V Sicily came under Austrian rule and began a period of great splendour for a town forgotten over the years. In 1571 in the harbour of the city gathered the ships of Christendom, which defeated the Turks at the battle of Lepanto. The defeat of the Turks, thus eliminating the danger of raids, transforms the appearance of Messina which abandons its role as a fortified city substituting its own walls overlooking the harbour with the so-called Palazzata consisting of a long series of elegant buildings crowning the port. The decline at the hands of the Spaniards The Spaniards, to whom Messina was allocated by the Treaty of Nimeg, deprived Messina of all its privileges, its political and cultural institutions and ultimately of its splendour. The various governments that followed in the years to come could not in any way revive the fortunes of the city. The Risorgimento (Resurgence) On September 1st, 1847 in Messina began the Italian Risorgimento, however, only in January 1848 there was the real revolt in which Messina was able to conquer almost all the forts, but eventually the city was forced to surrender to the Bourbons. The Bourbon rule ends on July 27th, 1861 with the entry into the city of General Giuseppe Garibaldi and the arrival of Vittorio Emanuele II who formalising the Unification of Italy. The Suez Canal and Messina The opening of the Suez Canal, in 1869, certainly damages the port of the strait, but in 1899 Messina believes it has found a role in the new political order: the first ferryboats start operating in order to connect in a stable manner the island to the mainland. The courage and love of Messina’s inhabitants At 5.21 of the 28th December 1908 Messina was literally destroyed by a terrible earthquake and an almost simultaneous tsunami: nearly 80,000 people perished, but to counter the silly proposals of not rebuilding the city, there was on the part of the surviving an iron will not to abandon Messina but try and repopulate it, and restore its former glory.
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