Castello dei Ventimiglia is set in the Madonie Mountains high above Cefalu.  The castle is alleged to have been commissioned by the powerful baronial Ventimiglia family in 1316.  As ever history suggests differently.  The first mention of Castelbuono occurs in 1101, when there was a hamlet at Ypsigro - a supposedly Byzantine foundation.  This is believed to have been on the current site or in the immediate vicinity of the fortress.  In 1105 Hugh Creon received the hamlet as a gift from Countess Adelasia (regent from 1101 to her death in 1118).  It then remained in the Creon family for many years.  By 1267 the castle had passed to the Ventimiglias family as in that year King Charles (d.1285) deprived them of their county as they were considered loyal to the Hohenstaufen dynasty.  Consequently they were left with just the hamlets of Fisaulo and Ypsigro.  According to tradition Castelbuono, or rather the ancient Ypsigro, was begun now when Count Alduino Ventimiglia of Geraci had the inhabitants of Fisaulo transferred here, to escape the ‘harmful air'.  The new centre took its name from the castle built in a ‘healthier' place on the hill of San Pietro.  Once again history takes the tale apart as it was King Charles who built the quadrangular castle at the site after 1269 on the already existing site of Yspigro. 

With the Sicilian Vespers of 30 March 1282, Count Francesco Ventimiglias of Geraci welcomed the Argonese and later made an alliance with his family enemies, the Chiaramonte family.  He did this by marrying Costanza, sister of the Count John Chiaramonte of Modica in 1315.  The next year, 1316, he began building his own fortified palace on King Charles' castle.  An epigraph of 1322 mentions the castle.  Later, as they had no heir, Francesco repudiated his wife, gaining the hatred of the powerful Chiaramontes.  On the death of King Frederick III of Aragon in 1337, the Chiaramonte family returned to favour and Count Francesco was arrested, sentenced to death and his county confiscated.  The family, however, survived and later acquired control of the castles of Roccella and Sperlinga.

Between 1454 and 1456 Giovanni Ventimiglia expanded the castle and restored the palace chapel to house the skull of St Anna, which was taken from the chapel of Geraci Siculo castle.  In 1683, the chapel was moved to the second floor of the southern wing and decorated with stuccos, making this the baroque pride of the castle.

Castelbuono castle stands on the summit of the 1,388' hill of San Pietro.  It is four square with a 3 storey rectangular tower at each corner, except for the NE one.  Here stands a D shaped tower.  The regularity of this plan has been deformed by extensions to the N&W which have reduced the projection of the towers on some fronts.  Inside the building is a small, open central courtyard.  What presently is called the castle was, in reality, the palace placed inside a defensive walled perimeter of which there are now only some traces.  Two ramps lead up to the two different entrances.  The ramp wrapping the S&W sides is the oldest.  The other is in line with the eighteenth century gate.  The rectangular part of the castle is the fourteenth century structure, while the round tower dates back to the earlier Angevin fortress of King Charles.  As such it mirrors other thirteenth century round towers like those found at Milazzo.

In the last decades of the seventeenth century the main staircase and some rooms were rearranged and large balconies were added on the north side of the building before the earthquake of 1693 seriously damaged the castle as well as laying waste Aci, Calatabiano and Noto castles.  At the beginning of the eighteenth century the western entrance gate was walled up and a new door opened in the south face.   Further earthquakes in 1818 and 1820 are said to have caused the collapse of the top floor.  Finally the castle fell into ruin with the extinction of the Ventimiglia family in 1860.  The 1980s and 1990s saw restoration work begun and the discovery in the cellars of remnants of the late thirteenth century castle with it's numerous large loops.  When a buttress of the 1920s was removed the fourteenth century gate was exposed.

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