Cefala castle was built at the top of a 2,155' high crag, dominating the upper valley of the River Milicia and controlling the old route from Agrigento via Vicari to Palermo via the baths of Cefala.  Nearby is thought to be the Norman site of Monte Chiarastella, a tower called Castello Di Cefalà La Vecchia.  This was said to lie 2,192' high on the Chiarastella lace, a calcareous hill isolated between the Bagni stream and the Buffa valley, 2 tributaries of the River Milicia about 1 mile NNW of Cefala Diana castle.  Alternatively La Vecchia is merely the name of an ancient castle on the site of the present fortress.  Considering the Roman tiles found built in the site, this may be more likely.

The town of Cefale existed in 1093 when it pertained to the parish of Agrigento.  In 1121 the description of an estate near Vicari mentions the road to the castle known as Cefala (viam castelli cognomento Chephalsas) and in 1148 Paneditos te Kefales was mentioned in a Greek diploma.  In the 1154 Book of Roger, Cefala La Vecchia is described as ‘a pretty village with a vast district and great territory with hamlets and farmhouses'.  This appears to be the same reference as ‘a gracious village' for the new castle.  Cefala was still a town in 1182, though it is thought to have become a fiefdom at the end of the twelfth century when it had a largely Muslim population.  It was first mentioned as such in 1242 in a document written in Latin and Arabic concerning the San Lorenzo hospital.  In 1244 it was again recorded as a hamlet and in 1296 Frederick III (d.1337) granted the house of Miserelle in Cephale tenimentis with a mill to the Teutonic Knights in Palermo.  In 1300 Robert Angio granted the hamlet of Cefala to Virgilio Scordia.  By 1329 the castle had been acquired by Nicholas Abbate when he sold the fief to Giovanni Chiaramonte of Favara (d.1339).

In 1348 the Black Death hit the district hard with the result that the land remained devoid of inhabitants and was exploited by the Palermitans.  They were only 16 miles away and used the land for grazing and the cultivation of cereals.  A fortress must have been here by this time for it was besieged in 1349 by Palermian troops attacking Catalan freebooters who were using it and Vicari castle as a base for pillaging.  In 1357 it was granted by King Frederick III (d.1377) to Matthew Perollo, a captain from Ciminna.  However, between 1371 and 1374, Cefala was acquired by the Chiaramonte family, before passing through various hands.  The last mention of the district was on 5 February 1461 when it was described as the fee of Chifale lu vechu, viz, ancient Cefala.  This again suggests that it is the same as the alleged Norman site 1 mile to the north.  In the seventeenth century the castle passed to Nicholas Diana who in the mid eighteenth century founded the village of Cefala Diana.

The castle stands on the edge of a plateau with steep cliffs to the N, E&SE.  The land falls a much shorter distance to the west, where the town stands under a mile away to the SW.  The fortress is vaguely triangular in shape with a long series of rectangular buildings built along the west front outside the main fortress.  Above this is a superior line of defence with an entrance to the south within a rectangular barbican which also covers the south side of the lower buildings.  The south side of this tower has collapsed and the surviving internal gateway has been rebuilt.  The walling above this is rubble built and contains much red tile and brick.  A first floor doorway gave access to the destroyed north curtain wallwalk.

 The west curtain ends just after the rectangular north internal tower and currently is little more than a revetment of the crag.  The tower consisted of 2 floors and a buried basement which contains many fragments of Roman brick and tiles as well as a single basement loop facing west into the long west building.  The tower is not bounded to the curtain to the south and there are 2 corbels left of a destroyed corbelled out battlement.  More chambers line the internal side of the west curtain, just like the buildings below, but these are more heavily ruined.  The cliff faces to N&E are crowned by fragmentary curtain walls. 

At the rocky summit of the crag is a rectangular tower keep, 42'x28', and 65' high.  This was originally entered on the first floor, 16' up.  The cistern beneath was fed via a terracotta pipe which still exists in the NW corner.  The tower was divided into three floors.  The basement was covered by two barrel vaults and light was provided through two narrow lights.  Both upper floors are each of one room and have vaults with bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern.  The first floor of the tower was reached through a system of stairs that, starting from the central courtyard, reached the only door of the keep on the north side.  Single light windows splayed inside and with brick jambs lit the room.  The second floor was lit by four windows, one on each side.  Ghibelline battlements still crown the top of the tower, although they have been heavily restored if not added.  Such tower keeps exist in Sicily at Brolo, Caccamo, Chiaramontano, Chiaramontano de Naro, Motta Sant' Anastasia, Pollina, Roccella and Serravalle a Mineo.

On the crag surrounding the keep to N, W&S are various buildings delimitated by the shape of the rock crag.  In the base of this are some fragments of monumental ashlar walling similar to that found at Erice and Cefalu.  The implication of this is that this site was operational from the Greek period onwards.

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