Agira - Castle San Filippo

Once more this site is claimed as a Byzantine fortress, possibly being the fortress of al-Giran taken by Khafaja in 866.  It is then thought to have been subsequently occupied by the Arabs and then the Normans.  Later it is said to have been held by William Malaspasano.  Despite this claim to history, the castle is first mentioned on 5 October 1239 when it was one of the castles exempt from being provisioned by the Emperor Frederick II (d.1250).  In 1254 Agira considered rebelling against Peter Ruffo of Messina (d.1256+) before he passed through it with an army on his way to victory at Enna.  Then, after his defeat at Piazza Armerina, Peter marched back through Agira on his way to Messina.

On 3 May 1272 it was garrisoned with 12 knights for King Charles (d.1285) as Castrum San Filippo.  In the fourteenth century the castle changed hands between the Aragonese and the Chiaramontans.  This fighting seems to have little effect on the attached town which grew from some 2,800 inhabitants in 1277 to 3,100 by 1376.  In the late 1320s the castle was held by Ferrer Abella.  Quite likely the castle was ruined in the great earthquake of 1693.

Today the castle consists of 2 wards.  The upper, older one, is heavily ruined and lies to the northeast.  Logically this would have been the old Byzantine fortress.  The ruined hexagonal enceinte now contains the squat more recent church of St Fillipo.  Apparently meaningless fragments mark the site of walls, while beneath the ground is a large chamber with a barrel vault and central arch which was no doubt once a water cistern. 

Surrounding this rocky inner fortress was a lower bailey which has virtually disappeared apart from to the west.  This, the weakest side of the castle, was massively refortified, presumably by the Angevins (1266-82) or Chiaramontans (1300-92).  At the north apex of the site appears to have been a small square projecting tower.  Traces of a curtain wall run southwards some 50' from this leading to a powerful, 28½'x26', rectangular projecting tower that has walls 5'6" thick.  This is opposite the entrance to the upper ward.  The tower was once of at least 2 storeys and has a solid basement some 16' deep, which is created by the lie of the land.  The barrel vaulted room is entered through a doorway and is lit by 2 loops, facing north and south.

At the south end of the west front was a trapezoid ashlar tower built upon the earlier curtain wall corner of the presumably Norman outer ward.  To fit onto the preexisting wall the long sides have to measure 40' and 33' respectively, while the short ones are 26' and 20'.  The walls are all under 6' thick.  The ground floor room was entered from the east and lit by a single loop.  The internal wooden first floor has gone, but the roof has a slightly pointed vault.  The south curtain, which has largely collapsed, was accessed from this floor, but not the west one.  The upper room was lit from a large window to the west.  From the tower the curtain continued north for 97' and was 6' thick.  This has mostly collapsed, but one segment still stands to wallwalk height, while on the inside are traces of internal buildings.  The stonework is rough rubble and obviously predates the towers.  At the end of this wall was the main entrance, overlooked by a fine polygonal tower, though it so heavily ruined not much can be said of it, other than it once had a hemispherical vault.  The remaining fragment of wall on the north side contains a decorated splayed window.  North of this polygonal tower the site of the curtain can be roughly traced for a further 87' before square tower is reached.

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


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry