Caltanissetta - Pietrarossa in Caltanissetta

Pietrarossa, the castle of the red rock, dominates the town of Caltanissetta.  From its design it would appear to be Byzantine in origin, cf. Aci.  It later became an Arab stronghold, until taken by Count Roger (d.1101) in 1086.  In 1154 Idrisi mentioned Qal'at an-Nisa as ‘a fortress of beautiful construction'.  It is still beautiful today, even in its ruined state, perched dramatically on its great rocky ridge.  The castle was important enough to warrant an Angevin garrison of a knight and 6 seargeants in May 1272.  The surrounding town also increased in prosperity at this time, expanding from some 750 people in 1277 to 3,300 by 1376.

In 1282 it was held by Roger Barry, but was sacked during the Vespers War, after which King Peter (d.1285) made Bernard Sarria castellan.  In 1295 the Sicilian parliament of the barons met here in response to King James (d.1327) turning the country over to the pope who intended to return it to the Angevins.  As a consequence James' brother, Frederick III (d.1337) was made king in 1296.  Probably King Frederick then granted the castle to the Peter Lancia who was still holding it after 1330 when he also held Delia and Naro.  Peter died sometime after 1335 leaving 2 daughters as heiresses.  In 1361 Frederick's grandson, Frederick IV (d.1377), took refuge in the fortress to escape the grip of the Sicilian barons.  After his death, in 1378, the four Vicars met to divide up the government of the Island between themselves, bringing in another era of anarchy for the island.

In 1407 the castle was granted as a fee to Matthew II Moncada by King Martin (d.1409).  It remained to Matthew's heirs until the suppression of Feudalism in 1812.  During this time the fortress was destroyed.  It was possibly hit by an earthquake on the night of 27 February 1567.  In the morning all that remained was rubble, a crumbling wall, a stone guard tower, the earthworks and a communication bridge.  By 1591 the prince of Moncada had repaired part of the castle, but was also using the site as a stone quarry.  The castle continued to be quarried and in 1827 the southern part of the castle was used to help make the road to the monastery of Santa Croce.

The castle is located at the eastern edge of the city of Caltanissetta.  It stands on a limestone crag overlooking the River Salso.  Access was gained via a steep path from the city.  This ramp led to the centre of the crag where a series of 2 or 3 wards commanded access to the square keep on the highest crags, the whole being shaped like a typical Byzantine battleship fortress, cf. Aci.  The narrowness and rockiness of the site both led to the castle having a purely military role, there being too little space to add the comforts of a palace.  This in turn led to its rapid demise in less militarily disrupted times.

Originally the castle seems to have consisted of 3 towers in an enceinte.  The large central keep joins 2 rocky crags together from east and west.  In the gorge between the two on the south side is an opening with a pointed arch which seems to have led to a destroyed stairway which led up the keep.  The southwest side of the keep was reinforced, probably after the earthquake of 1567 in an attempt to support the structure.  At the present summit of the tower is a water cistern, possibly of the late Norman era.  Excavation to the west of the tower has revealed thirteenth century pottery.  There is another buried cistern here.

To the south was a further defensive area, isolated on its crag from the rest of the fortress.  In this respect the castle somewhat resembles Degannwy castle in Wales in being split over two distinct crags.

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