The Castle

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.