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
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
Paul Martin Remfry