The Castle

Resistant to nature Wanted by Frederick II to guard from the city arisen against him, the castle of Ursino resisted first to the eruption of 1669, when lava surrounded it and moved it away from the sea, burying its moats and ramparts. Then, it remained standing, along with a few other things when the earth shook on the night of 11th January 1693. It was built by the military architect Riccardo da Lentini on what was then an impregnable rocky promontory overlooking the sea, connected by an isthmus to the city and to the city walls. Initially it overlooked the sea, south of the port of Catania; now it is a hundred metres far from the sea due to morphological modifications caused by the eruption and the earthquake. How to finance the construction of a castle Work began in 1239-40 and lasted a decade: in three letters sent by the emperor between November 1239 and March of the following year to the supervisor Riccardo from Lentini, we learn that the castle works started precisely in Catania in November 1239, thanks to two hundred ounces of gold spent by the citizens of Catania under “warm” invitation by the Swabian, plus other one hundred and sixty left from the construction of the Castle of Augusta. Thirty metres of imperial power Its present appearance dates back to the restoration carried out in the 1930s: of rigorously geometric setting, the plan imitates arab examples. Enclosed by the four cylindrical towers at the corners, the structure rises imposingly on a height of 30 metres. The northern right tower was called “of the Flag”, according to the Angevin and Aragonese custom to raise the flags of the val di Noto and val Demone. The other tower was called Martorio, because it was used for torture. One of the two southern towers was called “of the Hall”, because near the hall of Vestments, the other “of the Warehouse” because it was used as weapons storage. The eagle strangling the lamb and the five-pointed star The windows were small in order not to give the enemy access; on the north side they are entirely missing because it was the most exposed to attacks. Also note the massive stillness of its walls constructed with lava rock. Of the external decorations only two elements remain. On the northern front it is possible to observe a three-lobed arched niche containing an eagle, symbol of the Emperor, strangling a lamb, symbol of the people who had dared to rebel, with its claws. On the eastern front the Pentalfa (or Pentagram) inlay is visible, a five-pointed star, by some scholars incorrectly defined as the star of David, a six-pointed Jewish symbol.  Graffiti of prisoners and archaeological finds In 1837 the building, which changes name to Forte Ferdinando, already partly used as a prison, undergoes an intervention that changes the original structure to make it militarily reusable. In 1860 it is used as barracks and in the courtyard, on the southern facade, the prisoners ‘ graffiti are still visible. Since October 20th, 1934 the castle has been home to the Museo Civico: 8043 pieces are kept there among archeological finds, inscriptions, coins, sculptures, paintings, Greek and Roman clay sarcophagi, and mosaics from the city and from the territories of Catania, Paternò, Centuripe, Lentini, Rome, Trapani, Caltagirone, Ercolano and Camarina.   Source: Source: “I castelli siciliani di Federico II” – Copyright ©2001 Alberto Gentile e Federico Messana