The fortress was probably a Byzantine foundation, being captured from them by the Muslims in 839-40.  Subsequently the invading Normans under Count Roger (1060-1101) attacked the Arab garrison here in 1090 and after it fell refortified the site.  This rebuilding is said to have included the foundation of the cathedral to replace the earlier church of San Salvatore.  The cathedral was damaged in an earthquake in 1968.  The castle, being in an isolated postion did not figure a great deal in Norman history.

After the death of King Tancred in 1194, the Swabian Emperor Henry VI (d.1197) invaded Sicily virtually without opposition, the defences of Queen Sibilla and her young son, William III, surrendering en masse as he advanced.  Most of her children were sent to the well provisioned tower of Caltabellotta castle for safety, while she attempted to hold Palermo against the invaders.  However, the city surrendered and she fled after her children, King William III and his 3 sisters.  At this point, with only Caltabellotta, Vicari, Caltavuturo and Calatamauro holding out for King William, the emperor offered her generous terms, that her son would become prince of Taranto and that she would be forgiven.  So, on 20 November 1194, the Emperor Henry VI entered Palermo and was crowned king of Sicily in the cathedral on Christmas day, in the presence of the surrendered Queen Sibilla and the ex.King William III, who had reigned for just 10 short months.  Despite this, just 4 days later she and her entourage were accused of a conspiracy to kill the emperor and packed off to Germany.  None were to return.

The fortress was retained by the Crown during the 70 years of Swabian rule and on 3 May 1272 was recorded as holding an Angevin garrison of 1 knight and 6 sergeants.  This was at a time when most of the royal castles in the western half of Sicily were held only by squires.  Of the 18 other royal castles in the west only Caltanissetta,
Favignana, Licata and Vicari were held by knights.  It has been suggested that in November 1270 a banquet was held at the castle by Count Guido di Dampierre of Fiandra after he had landed in Trapani on his return from the Tunisian Crusade which had witnessed the death of King Louis IX of France.

With the defeat of the Angevins in 1282 various royal castles were handed out to supporters of the Aragonese crown.  Consequently by 1296, Caltabellotta was held from Frederick III (d.1337) by the Abbate Barresi, but it was then given by the king on his coronation to Berenguer Vilaregut.  This resulted in the Barresi rebellion at Pietraperzia.  Later in 1302, the castle was the setting for the formal end to the war of the Sicilian Vespers which had begun in 1282 in Palermo.  After the defeat of King Philip III of France at Courtnai in Flanders on 11 July 1302, the French king called the Angevin claimant to Sicily, King Charles of Naples (d.1309), back to France to help salvage what he could from the defeat.  Consequently Charles, who at the time was besieging Sciacca, offered Frederick terms he could not refuse.  Frederick III (d.1337) promised to marry Charles' daughter Eleanora and be king for his lifetime only, the crown then reverting to Charles's family.  The treaty was signed at Caltabellotta, just 10 miles from Sciacca on 31 August 1302, finally ending the war begun in Palermo in March 1282 with the Sicilian Vespers and leaving Caltabellotta in the hands of King Frederick III (d.1337). 

In 1325 the Angevins seized Caltabellotta during their invasion of Sicily, although by the end of the decade it was back under Aragonese control in the form of Abbate Barresi although the territory (terragium) was said to be under Gonsalvo Olea before 1330 Some time later the castle passed to Raymond Peralta (d.1348), who was made count of Caltabellotta by King Peter II (1337-49).  Later it passed to his second great grandson Nicholas (d.1391), whose heir, Margaret, married Artale Luna in 1400.  The castle then remained in the Luna family until 1673 when Ferdinand Aragon Moncada became castellan.  It was probably abandoned soon after this.  Perhaps the earthquake of 1693 helped it on its way.

The castle stands on and around a boss of rock, commonly called the Pizzo.  This reaches a height of 3,113' and gives views to the castles of Giuliana to the north and Luna of Sciacca to the southwest, as well as the Saracen fortress of Burgio to the northeast.  The rock top at Caltabellotta was once fortified with a wall, but only traces of this remain.  This shows an early rubble build with barely an attempt at coursing.  It is of a similar build to the west curtain in the ward below.  This ward consists of a small bailey at the eastern foot of the Pizzo rock.  Passing around this to the north access was gained via a small square gatetower into the ward which contained at least 2 other rectangular towers and other internal buildings.  The gatetower had a Romanesque entrance which has externally been lowered and had a smaller pointed arch inserted in fine ashlar.  The north side of the Romanesque arch has also been altered with a rebuilding of the tower north wall.  This entrance was only protected by a gate with a single drawbar.

Above the entrance were two further floors, each of one storey.  The first storey had a pointed embrasure above a wooden floor and a small rectangular window looking out to the east.  Above this was an upper storey with a straight stair in the east wall which probably gave access to a drawbridge that ran to the rock and gave access to the stone cut stairway that ran to the summit.  All but the east side and part of the north wall of the tower has now collapsed.  Externally the multiple builds of the tower are apparent, with ashlar work to the north where a buttress has been added to stabilise the original tower, which consists of red and grey stone laid in a coursed rubble.  The main curtain to the south butts against this tower, or at least butts against the lower ashlar work around the newer gate.  This curtain appears similar to the remnants on top of the Pizzo.

To the east of the rock and the little bailey lies the cathedral.  To the north of this are the remnants of 2 rectangular towers set on a rocky outcrop.  The masonry of these appears similar to that of the curtain of the bailey and that atop the Pizzo.  As no Roman tile is found in any of the structures it seems likely that there was no Roman building here, nor any Roman buildings nearby.

On a clear day it is possible to see Mount Etna in the east and Pantelleria in the south from the rock top.  The castle itself is occasionally named after both Count Luna and Queen Sibilla.

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