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!