In 1651 Agostino Inveges (d.1677) attributed the origins of the castle to the Carthaginians following the battle of nearby Imera Gelone in 480 BC.  More likely the place is first noticed in 800 AD when Cucumo was mentioned in a Byzantine record.  More certain is the record of 1094 when Count Roger gave Caccamo to the Normans, Geoffrey and Adelasia Sageyo.  From their heiress the castle passed to her husband, William Bonellus who was holding the castle in 1137 with his wife, Sybilla and their son Tancred.  This son obviously died, as had his parents by November 1157 when Matthew Bonellus confirmed his father's foundation of St Angelo priory near their other holding of Prizzi, also in the mountains above Palermo.  Such confirmations are usually undertaken when a lord assumes his new patrimony.

Although young, Matthew was apparently popular with the barons and people and he used this popularity to raise 3 rebellions against 
King William I (d.1166).  Firstly he murdered Admiral Maio in November 1160 and then fled the 22 miles from Palermo to Caccamo castle.  After being forgiven by the king, who had since been convinced of Maio's treachery, he was summoned back from Caccamo with oaths that the king was happy in Maio's death and to the alleged adoration of the crowds and nobility.  

Despite this, the queen and palace eunuchs, held Matthew guilty of the murder of the Admiral and plotted to turn the king's mind against him.  Consequently the king for the payment of the 60,000 tari debt that Matthew owed as his inheritance tax on the death of his father and which had been deferred by Maio.  

A second revolt which went off prematurely while he was at
Mistretta castle in March 1161 and resulted in the death of the king's son in Palermo palace.  Matthew advanced with his army from Mistretta to Caccamo and found his fellow conspirators hiding their from thewrath of King William.  Matthew then wrote to the king stating that he was disturbed to hear of the king's capture and was marching with his army to release him when he received news at Caccamo that the king was already freed.  The king replied to Matthew asking why he was now sheltering these same rebels in his castle?  He replied that although he was unconnected with the uprising, the men were his friends and colleagues and so he could not refuse them shelter.  He also stated that he agreed with their reason for rebellion, that the king refused them the right to marry off their daughters until they were too old to be child bearing.  He did not state the obvious conclusion of this, that the estates of the ladies would then escheat to the Crown as they bore no children to succeed them.  The king was infuriated by this reply as the matter had not earlier been raised before him when he would have done justice as the law required. 

In a final desperate bid to overthrow the king, Matthew again attacked Palermo, but he was too late, as the king's reinforcements arrived from Messina by sea and other forces reached him from the interior.  Consequently Bonellus retreated, this time to King Roger's palace at Favara.  Further negotiations then led to the exile of the main plotters, taken out of the realm in the king's galleys, but Matthew was welcomed back into royal favour.  The exiled plotters seem to have fled either to the mainland of Italy, to Jerusalem or to Byzantium where Count Simon, the king's half-brother and Alexander Conversano were found in 1166 and 1168.

Towards the end of April there was further unrest in central Sicily which resulted in the destruction of Piazza Armerina and Butera when Tancred of Lecce and Roger Sclavo, the illegitimate son of Simon Vasto of Butera, had seized them from their Lombard garrisons.  On hearing of this the king simply arrested Matthew and, after his prison was attacked and Atenulf the royal chamberlain cut down by one of Matthew's knights, the king had Matthew blinded and hamstrung, after which he was left to die in a dungeon according to 'Falcandus'.  However, other evidence suggests he survived until at least November 1173 when he had been released and restored to favour by King William II (d.1189).  In this uncertain manner ended the best documented lord of Caccamo.

As a result of Bonellus' alleged death in 1161, Caccamo was held by the Crown until 1168 when Chancellor Stephen Perche (d.1169) granted Bonellus' lands to John Lavardin (d.1185).  He was one of the many French lords called to court by the widowed Queen Margaret of Navarre (d.1172+), regent from 1166 of her underage son William II (1166-89).  John immediately tried to tax all his tenants on his accession to the lordships of Caccamo and Prizzi, causing further hatred against all the French in Sicily.  Eventually his subjects rebelled besieged him in his own fortress and forced his surrender.  Caccamo was then declared a state-owned city by the Messina parliament and given the title of Urbs generosissima - the most noble city.  In 1203 the church of St Maria la Mensa was supposedly demolished to extend the castle before it was given to the Genoese nobleman, Paolo Cigala, who was also made constable of Sicily.  As he died without heirs, the Emperor Frederick II (d.1250) granted Caccamo to the archbishop of Palermo, Bernardo del Castagno, in 1215.  The archbishops held it until 1267, when it was given to Fulcone Podio.  The castle then passed to his son-in-law, Galasso Estendardo, a French knight, who was exiled during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.  At the beginning of this uprising a troop of archers from Caccamo helped besiege Vicari castle and killed John St Remy, the French justiciar of Sicily. 

Afterward the Sicilian uprising of 1282 the castle is
said to have been occupied by Frederick Chiaramonte who is claimed to have extended the castle before his death in 1286.  Traditionally he is supposed to have inherited the castle through his heiress wife, Marchisia (Markisia) Prefoglio.  However, the fee seems to have only been granted to his son Manfred (d.1321) in 1296 for his support of the usurpation of Frederick III (d.1337).  Manfred is claimed to have built 2 more towers and restored the S&E buildings in the early 1300s.  This seems to have occurred before 1302 when these new fortifications allowed the castle to repel a surprise assault by an Angevin army trying to break through to the interior of the island. 

In 1392 the last Chiaramonte, Andrew, was beheaded in Palermo before the Steri palace for opposing King Martin I (d.1409).  Caccamo castle was then entrusted to the Catalan Gerald Queralto, but the people resented this and drove him out, King Martin granting the town autonomy on 19 March 1396.  Despite this, the county of Caccamo was given to Don Giaimo or Giacomo Prades.  Faced with the open hostility of the Caccamese, Giacomo updated the fortifications, dying a natural death in 1420.  The castle entrance was given a new gate and equipped with a drawbridge in 1526.  Various works continued until 1665 and finally an earthquake ruined the castle in 1823.  It has since been heavily restored.   

Caccamo castle stands on a rocky spur on the NE side of Mount Calogero.  The building is made of limestone quarried from its immediate environs.  The castle consists of at least 3 constituent parts.  The heart of the castle is a rectangular keep set on a rock motte and dominating the surrounding area.  This thick walled tower, with narrow lancet windows, collapsed in the earthquake of 1823.  To the west is a ground floor entrance.  The keep may have borne similarities to the keeps at Aci and Milazzo.

South of the keep was the inner bailey which is now marked by a rectangular courtyard and a row of buildings running along the top of the ridge.  Centrally is a large projecting square tower.  To the W, N&E there is an outer ward with a rectangular gatetower to the NE, leading to the town.

The castle is accessed by going through an entrance gate that leads into a courtyard overlooked by fifteenth century buildings.  Through a second gate is a quiet courtyard.  A round arch, above which is a pointed arch, leads to a terrace, in which stands the small court church and the entrance to the prisons.  Within is the hall ‘of the conspiracy' because, according to tradition, it was in this hall that in 1160 the barons plotted their rebellion against King William.

The north part of the castle was remodeled for the Chiaramonte.  This consists of the NE wing, a tower close to the keep and the tower called del Pizzarrone placed at the mouth of the downstream sewers.  The Gibellina tower was also restored about this time.

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


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry