There are two castles thought to belong to the town of Alcamo.  The first lies within the town, while the second is on the hill above and is known as Mount Bonifato.  This is also known as Castello dei Ventimiglia.  The history of both sites is not certain, but it is claimed that Mount Bonifato was the older site, being abandoned about 1338 when the new town of Alcamo took over in the district.  However the history of Alcamo makes this unlikely.

In the Book of Roger (1154) Alcamo was described as ‘a vast hamlet, surrounded by rich arable land and with a flourishing market' and was viewable from Calatubo castle.  Later in 1184 Ibn Giubayr described it as ‘a large and opulent Muslim town with a market and mosques'.  Both descriptions seem to refer to the current town, rather than the isolated highland fortress of Mount Bonifato, which has its own history.  Traditionally the town was founded in 828 by the Muslim commander al-Kamuk, whose name the town carries.  Next to the chiesa Madonna Del Soccorso is a reused bell tower which is said to have been converted from a watchtower dating from 828.  The base of it consists of well cut ashlar.

During the reign of Frederick II (1197-1250), the revolt of the Muslim population led to the king expelling the occupants to Lucera in mainland Italy.  This was not a single event, but occurred over several decades and involved several castles in the Muslim enclaves south and west of Palermo.  It seems likely that the town of Alcamo became a royal demesne in 1243 when the Emperor destroyed the castle.  It has been suggested that the Christians of Mount Bonifato now descended to the lowland site and took over the old Muslim enclave.

Regardless of the origin of the town it is thought that the current Alcamo castle was built by the Chiaramonte counts of Modica, although there is no evidence for this.  Raymond Peralta (d.1348) was granted the barony by King Peter II (d.1342) in 1340.  It is possible that the castle was held at this time from the Chiaramonte, as when the last count of Modica was executed in 1392, King Martin visited the castle, apparently to enforce his newly acquired lordship.  After the death of Raymond Peralta in 1348 the castle passed to his son, William (Guglielmo) Peralta and was subsequently acquired by the Ventimiglia family until 1397/8.

In 1391 Henry Ventimiglia, on succeeding his father, Francesco, is thought to have rebuilt Monte Bonifato castle.  In 1392 the townsfolk, led by the archpriest Pietro Laudes, rebelled against Henry Ventimiglia and unsuccessfully attacked Alcamo castle.  In 1402 the lady of Alcamo, Donna Violante De Prades, was herself besieged within the fortress.  Presumably Henry's new castle at Bonifato played little part in these affairs.

In 1534, when attacked by Islamic pirates, the castle contained 10 cannon on wooden carriages, one of which stood on the keep.  There were also firearms, halberds, spades and everything necessary for defence.  The next year on 1 September the Emperor Charles V (1500-58) stayed at the castle of the count of Modica in the ‘opulent and joyful city of Alcamo' on his return from Tunisia.  In 1828 the fortress was converted into a prison with much associated alterations.  Today it has been refurbished into a museum

The castle is peculiarly rhomboid in shape with four boldly projecting corner towers, 2 round and 2 rectangular, each type being opposite the other.  The large rectangular tower to the southeast was probably the keep.  Within the enceinte were ranges of buildings which survive on all sides but the east.  The curtains are now pierced by 2 and 3 slight openings of a typical Gothic-Catalan nature.  The castle has been much altered and renovated in recent years.

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