Agrigento was reckoned among the Sicilian cities (muduns) by Al-Muqaddasi in 970 AD.  In 1077 Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101) took the opportunity of moving against Castronovo which blocked his path southwards from Palermo towards Agrigento.  Despite this early success, it was only on 1 April 1086 that he began the siege of the city of Agrigento which fell to him on 25 July 1086.  After this Roger annexed 11 places in the district.  Not all are still identifiable, but those mentioned include Platani - which was possibly Mussomeli lying some 2 miles east of Acquaviva Platani (Platanum), Masseria (Missar just west of Favara), Monte Guastanella (Guastaliella), Sutera, Raselbifar, Mocluse, Naro (Naru), Caltanissetta (Calatenixet), Casteltermini (Castrum foeminarum), Licata and Riesi? (Remunisse).  Sometime after this he founded Agrigento castle, which according to the chronicler Malaterra, consisted of a curtain wall equipped with towers.  In 1154 Idrisi called it ‘an excellent and strong fortress' as well as ‘one of the main castles suitable for defence'.  In 1201 it was recorded that Henry Cologne had been its castellan.

In 1258 Agrigento castle is said to have become the caput of Henry Ventimiglia (d.1300/08), a blood relative of King Manfred (d.1266), when he became count of Geraci on his marrying Isabella Ischia (d.1270+), the heiress of the lordship.  He allegedly held this district from 1252 until the death of King Manfred in 1266.  Later sources say that Henry fell with his lord, but more contemporary sources say he escaped the battle and then, in August 1268, came to Sicily with a Pisan naval force while Conradin, King Manfred's nephew, attacked southern Italy.  Consequently Count Henry Ventimiglia and Count Frederick Lancia landed their forces at Milazzo and captured it.  With the defeat and death of Conradin the Pisans returned home, but Henry probably entrenched himself in Geraci and Cefalu while places as far apart as Agrigento, Augusta and Lentini castle fell to Swabian supporters.  Meantime an Angevin force of 1,700 knights was sent against them.  The subsequent French siege of Geraci was broken by an epidemic amongst the attackers, although Henry himself abandoned his lands and fled to the mainland, probably around 22 November 1270.  The last rebel stronghold, Caltanissetta, surrendered in January 1271 and in 1273 Agrigento castle was noted as an Angevin stronghold whose custody was entrusted to a single squire by 1282.  After the Sicilian Vespers, Matthew Scaletta was beheaded at Agrigento 13 January 1284.  He was brother to Machalda, the wife of Alaimo Lentini of Nicosia, who was the hero of Messina during this period.  He had been loyal more to Sicily than the Argonese and this led him to apparent treason.  Henry Ventimiglia appears to have only returned to Sicily in 1296 when Agrigento was confirmed to him.  It then passed down the Ventimiglia family for generations.

In 1561 Don Garzia Toledo, the viceroy of Sicily, and Don Carlo of Aragon, president of the Kingdom in 1576, jointly stated that holding the mountain of Erice (San Giuliano) together with the cities of Syracuse, Messina and Agrigento, was one of the keystones of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Sicily.  Today the castle and city are but a glimpse of their military heyday.

The medieval city lay on the hill of Girgenti while the suburbs extended down to the Greek acropolis to the southeast.  As is often the case, castle and cathedral stood side by side, but unlike the church, the castle has faded away and what little remained has been further mutilated by a reservoir.  All that can be seen is traces of a ward with a strongly plinthed square tower at the northeastern end of the crag next to the church of St Alfonso Maria of Liguori.

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


Copyright©2023 Paul Martin Remfry