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The Castle

The Rams of the Byzantines in tribute to the Swabians The castle of Frederick II in Syracuse, then said Maniace, was built between 1232 and 1240. Maniace Castle’s name derives from Giorgio Maniace, Byzantine General who in 1038 briefly reconquered the city from the Arabs and brought two Hellenistic bronze Rams as gift, then placed at the entrance of the Swabian Castle, which has improperly retained the name of the leader.     


Frederick and the Arab masters The first documents on its foundation are the letters that Frederick sends on November 17, 1239 from Lodi to his subjects linked to the construction of the Castle, in which the Emperor welcomes the diligence with which Riccardo from Lentini prepositus aedificiorum follows the castrum nostrum Syracusie and reassures him that his request pro munitionecastroum nostrorum Syracusie et Lentiní quam etiam pro Serracenis et servis nostris necessarium frumentum, ordeum, vinum, caseum, companagium, scarpaset indumenta was passed onto the Messina Treasurer, who will soon supply him of everything he needs. Worth of notice is how the Emperor uses the terms Serracenis and servis nostris, referring to the workers on the construction site: the Saracens, “specialist technicians”, were regularly employed, while servants weren’t. In 1240, when the castra exempta fall under the imperial jurisdiction, the Castle of Syracuse is counted among them. The names of two Swabian castellans ofSyracuse are known: Riccardo Vetrani and the very loyal Giovanni Piedilepre, mentioned by a diploma of Manfredi of 13th August l263. The Rams for Giovanni Ventimiglia Under the Angevins the Castle becomes royal heritage, listed in 1273 by a commission of inquiry which mentions a Castrum Siragusie. The war between the Angevins and the Aragonese for the control of the reign sees the Castle defending the city. For most of the 15th century the castle was a prison. In 1448, after a splendid banquet held in the halls of the Castle, Captain Giovanni Ventimiglia kills all the guests, accusing them of treason. For this brave act he gets as a gift by King Alfonso of Castile the two bronze Rams that have adorned since that day the front of the Castle. Victim and executioner, the explosion changes the nature of the castle At the end of the 16th century, in the more general fortification plan of the city, Maniace Castle becomes a focal point for the walls, designed by the Spanish military engineer Ferramolino. In the mid 17th century further fortified works include works in the Castle, of unknown size. On November 5th, 1704, a furious explosion occurred in the powder keg devastated the building. Shreds of groin vaults and limestone blocks are launched within a radius of several kilometres. In the following years the reconstruction is prepared, which leaves intact the parts damaged by the explosion, while creating claddings for the building of warehouses. In the Napoleonic age the Castle revives with military functions and is equipped with cannon ports. In 1838, to safeguard the uprisings throughout the Kingdom, the Bourbons of Ferdinand VI build a pillbox. The castle is handed over to the Kingdom of Savoy and used until World War II as military equipment storage. Numbers and magic The function of the Maniace Castle was that of being seen from afar: first bastion of the town wall, visible to foreign sailors with whom Syracuse came into contact, visible to enemies who intended to attack the city, visible from every point to the citizens themselves, in memory of the rebellion of 1232 bloodily put down and of the strength that could be used to suppress any other. The first consideration must be made with reference to the geometrical structure of the plan and in particular to the combinations of squares and circles adopted for the first time by the Swabian architecture with mathematical precision. The square, the number 4, in the Middle Ages was the number of the Earth, of the Church revealed through the four theological virtues; for the Orientals four were the forms of the deity; for the Greeks the famous four primordial elements fell under the pre- Socratic school. The circle is the symbol of perfection that starts and ends in itself, for the Orientals it is the sun and life, among the Greeks it is the cosmos. In Syracuse the number 5 and 4 have been persistently used; but 5 is nothing but the sum of 2 plus 3, two primes of Leonardo Fibonacci’s series. It is the series of numbers that gives order to the universe and the applied arts, and Frederick himself had several contacts with Fibonacci. The planets, symbols of power In the plan of Maniace castle, reading the numbers as symbols, the square represents the Earth and the circle represents the Sun. The duo’s theory was proposed with particular vehemence by Innocent III, protector of Frederick: the Pope, descending from God, represents the Sun which makes the Moon, the Emperor, shine of its reflected light. It is clear, however, that the will of Frederick II was to impersonate the Sun rather than the Moon. Frederick II was often pictured by the Crown symbol as the Sun’s rays. This important Swabian construction is a further affirmation of the temporal power of Frederick II on the both spiritual and temporal Church power. Fortified mosque? The problem of Maniace’s plan has led some scholars to believe it one of the rarest examples of Italian fortified mosque, comforted by the fact that in the underground springs a freshwater spring -that would have been used for ablutions required of Muslims – But the hypothesis of the desire to build a Muslim mosque in Syracuse is not acceptable, both for the absence of documentary evidence and of a viable political motivation. Moreover, in the Castle you can find, on a shelf, the clear symbols of the Staufer eagle. The eagle is the Latin-Germanic symbol in which the priestly power, the legal wisdom and the warrior valor expressed in the aggressiveness are blended. SOURCE: Copyright  ©2002 Carla Delfino

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