Aci

This is thought to have been a Roman and then a Byzantine castle built on an isolated rock island.  The fortress was destroyed by Emir lbrahim in 902 and it is thought that Caliph Al Moez had a fortification (kalat) rebuilt on the rock in 909.  The Arab site was conquered by Roger Hauteville (d.1101) probably in 1072.  In 1126 the castle received the relics of St. Agatha, brought back to Sicily from Constantinople, while in 1169 an eruption of Mount Etna destroyed many towns in its vicinity and joined the castle rock to the mainland by a lava flow.  Presumably the silk industry that was settled here survived this catastrophe.

The fortress was destroyed and then rebuilt by King Tancred (d.1194) when he seized the throne in 1189.  It later became the property of the bishops of Catania until 1221 when Bishop Walter Palearia was removed from his post by Frederick II (d.1250).  In 1239 Frederick officially took over the castle in recompense for liquidating the bishop's debts even though he had died as long ago as 1229. 

After the 1266 Angevin occupation of Sicily, the castle was returned to the bishops
in 1268, but seized again by the Crown after the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.  It was soon given to Roger Lauria (d.1305), the admiral of the Aragonese fleet who had received Tripi before 1285, for in 1296 he transferred his loyalties to the Angevins on the accession of Frederick III (d.1337).  Consequently Aci castle was besieged and captured in 1297 by King Frederick and Lauria was stripped of his fiefs.  The siege was hard pressed and involved the king having a siege tower constructed called ‘cicogna'.  This overawed the garrison and allowed a drawbridge to be dropped down onto the battlements for a successful assault.

In 1320 the castle was taken from Roger's descendant, Margaret Lauria, and given to Blasco Alagona (d.1385).  Whilst the latter was away defending Palermo from the attacking Angevins, Bertrando di Balzo sacked Aci in his absence.  The great eruption of Mt Etna in 1329 heavily damaged the district while Blasco was still lord.  This was witnessed by Nicholas Speciale on 28 June.

... as the sun was setting in the west, Mount Etna shook violently in horrific upheaval and roared... from the eastern face of the mountain... where white clouds hitherto could always be seen, the earth was suddenly ripped away and fire burst forth vehemently... and globs of molten rock belched forth with a horrible din....  All along the eastern and southern sides... where many ancient buildings had stood for those seeking solitary worship of God, the powerful and ceaseless shaking of the earth either destroyed them outright or left them broken and shattered and the earth itself opened so wide as to swallow whole streams that had flowed by peacefully.  Along the nearer coastline many boats and skiffs which had just recently docked, sank on account of the countless quakings of the land beneath the sea.

Finally there was an eclipse on 17 July 1329 after which he:

beheld thousands of flaming rocks that had been blown from the mountain, a terrific earthquake shook the whole land and the ground ripped open on this and that...  Lava divided into 3 main streams, 2 of which ran eastward, bring great slaughter throughout the district of Aci... while the third ran headlong to the limits of Catania. 

In 1354 the castle was severely damaged
and taken by Marshal Aciaiolu, who had been sent to Sicily by Duke Louis I Anjou of Naples (1339-84).  As a consequence Artale Alagona (d.1419), the son and heir of Blasco, defeated the Angevin fleet in the bay and retook the fortress for King Louis, who may have granted it to Frederick Randazzo who died soon after.  After returning from his abortive attack on Palermo, King Louis retired to the castle where he died, probably of the plague on 16 October 1355.  The castle then reverted to Artale.

In 1396, during the absence of Artale
, the troops of King Martin I took the castle by poisoning its water supply.  Subsequently they set fire to the castle before Artale arrived with a relief army.  Later Martin restored the castle and after 1402, was occasionally in residence there with his second wife, Queen Bianca (d.1441).  After his death in 1409, Queen Bianca moved to Paterno castle and gave Aci to Ferdinand the Just of Castile (d.1416), who became the new king of Sicily in 1412. 

In 1416 the first viceroy of Sicily, Giovanni di Castiglia, ordered the renovation the castle.  The castle was presumably brought up to scratch and in 1421, the Viceroy Ferdinando Velasquez became lord of the fief of Aci, by paying King Alfonso (d.1458) 10,000 florins.  When Velasquez died, the castle reverted to the king, who again sold it, this time to his secretary Giambattista Platamone.  King Alfonso's brother and successor, John Il of Aragon (d.1479), demanded possession of the castle from Sancho, the descendant of Platamone.  Sancho refused and the castle was besieged and soon taken, Sancho and his son being imprisoned in Ursino castle in Catania, where they both died. 

The castle remained in royal hands and in 1634 King Philip III (d.1665) equipped the castle with artillery and had a marble plaque affixed to the entrance with the words:
PHILIPPUS III REX HISPANIARUM ET INDIARUM ET UTRIUSQUE SICILIAE ANNO DIVI 1634.
Even so the old castle must have been reaching the end of its useful life and was not really suitable as an artillery fort.  The castle was badly damaged by the earthquake that devastated eastern Sicily in 1693, although some repairs were undertaken.  In 1818 another earthquake caused such serious damage to the castle that the castle was abandoned, even as the prison which it had become.

Description
The castle is set on a basalt rock jutting out to sea and consists of a small rectangular keep and 2 wards to E&W.  The land ward is a jutting spur or eperon, walled around the cliff top like a ship's prow.  Although more common on rocky sites in the south of France like Peyrepertuse or Cabaret, another eperon can be found at Sperlinga.  Access to the Aci prow is currently gained only via the keep.  This stands in the centre of the rock, commanding the entrance steps up the north side of the rock to a rectangular gatetower at the NE end of the site.  This is reached via rock cut steps running east up the face of the rock.  The projecting rectangular gatetower that was once equipped with a drawbridge, although the facing and the Romanesque arches all appear to be modern replacements.  The face of the outer gateway is definitively eighteenth century, although it bears some resemblance to that found at Sperlinga.  Through the Aci gate passageway the steps dog leg up the rock face and enter the east bailey beneath the keep.  From here access can be gained to the undercrofts of the buildings that lay along the east curtain, safest from the land side.  The arches within the undercroft are ogival.

The keep, set on the north side of the enclosure, is a small nearly square tower, which has two vaulted storeys and a basement.  The structure has been much rebuilt and has doorways to E&W to allow access to the two wards.  To the west the tower is stepped, but not apparently on the other 3 sides.  A later vault has been inserted at roof level giving the tower a solid fighting top, presumably for artillery.  The basement vaulting is ogival and the only apparent light is on first floor level to the north.  However the rebuilding of the remains could well have filled any such apertures.  The much destroyed tower at Caccamo may have been similar, as too may have been the keep at Milazzo.

A similar tower to Aci keep lay to the south, but this is even more ruined to the extent that only the basement and a first floor doorway have survived.  That doorway though, is typically ‘Byzantine' with a tiled Romanesque arch and flat lintel beneath.  Other such doorways survive at Calatabiano and Rometta.  Beneath the keep to the south is another chamber with ogival vaults, which has been heavily rebuilt.  Much ‘Roman' tile is to be found built into the walls, while many cisterns are cut into the rock beneath the castle.  Similar supposedly Byzantine castles may exist at Agira, Belvedere, Brolo,
Calatabianco, Calatamauro, Caltavuturo, Caltanissetta, Castelmola, Castronovo, Cefala Diana, Cefalu, Cerami, Erice, Francavilla, Gagliano Castelferrato, Geraci Siculo, Milazzo, Mistretta, Modica, Nicosia, Pentefur, Rometta, San Marco d'Alunzio, Santa Lucia del Mela, Santapau, Sperlinga, Taormina, Torremuzza, Tripi and Vicari.



Why not join me here and at other Sicilian castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


 

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