The city is thought to have been founded by the Elymians in the twelfth century BC, just like nearby Erice and Segesta.
Entella seems to have had political autonomy until 404 BC, when it was
occupied by mercenaries from Campania on behalf of Carthage. From
the fifth to the third century BC there was a sanctuary to the cult of
Demeter and Kore just outside the current city walls. The
descendants of the 1200 mercenaries remained in the town and left
bronze tablets explaining the place's history. Many of these
tablets survive today. During the sixth century BC Entella passed
under the dominion of Syracuse, Campania
and finally Carthage and it may have sided with Rome during the first
Punic war. It then disappears from recorded history, although
Cicero (d.46 BC) praised its inhabitants for their industry.
Presumably the city lost importance by the end of the Roman period.
Eleven hundred years after the city's last mention in antiquity a
settlement is recorded here. In 1062 the Muslim caudillo Ibn
at-Thumna attempted to convince the inhabitants of Antilium castrum
to join with him and the Normans, but he was killed in an ambush.
With the foundation of Monreale cathedral the castle was recorded under
various names, viz Castellum Hantelle and Hantellathey. It was also recorded that the buildings had been destroyed. Presumably this had happened when Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101) conquered the region in the 1070s, presumably around the time Erice fell in 1077.
After the Norman conquest the city would appear to have remained a
mainly or even totally a Muslim province. In 1206 Pope Innocent
III wrote to the people of Entella, together with other Muslim leaders,
urging them to remain faithful to their monarch, Frederick II
(d.1250). Probably they had already rebelled due to the fall of
Norman power in Sicily in 1196 and their own second class treatment by the Christians. Around this time it was recorded
that the rebel leader, Muhammad ibn Abbad, made Entella his
capital and issued his own coinage. Writing in the fourteenth century the Arab
al-Himyari thought that after the death of Muhammad ibn Abbad in 1221
his daughter held the fortress. Presumably she was besieged here
and brought to Swabian allegiance. Certainly between 1221 and
1225 the Emperor Frederick (d.1250)
brought Entella and its hinterland back under royal control and
deported some of the population to Lucera on the mainland.
However, around 1243 Iato and Entella (Jatum et Alicatam - a mistranscription for Antellam:
Jato is some 15 miles north of Entella) rebelled again. The
consequent fighting resulted in royal troops permanently deporting the
remaining Muslim population to Lucera in 1246. This appears to
have marked the abandonment of the site.
The ruins of Hellenistic and Roman Entella stands on a rocky plateau
just south of Lago Garcia, from where it is possible to see Mount Jato,
Corleone, Mount Triona and Calatamauro castle.
Entella castle, as distinct from the large city, is located on a slight
ridge roughly centrally on the south cliff of the plateau. The southwest
side of the castle has fallen off the precipice on that side, but the
rest survives as low walls. It is sometimes known as the Lace
Queen and bears comparison with Calatafimi Segesta and apparently other Arabic structures in Africa.
The fortress consists of a rectangular outer court with a large,
projecting rectangular gatehouse at the northwest angle. This is entered
from the northwest and exited into the courtyard to the southwest after performing a
right angled turn. Such entrances are unusual, cf. Erice and in Wales, Caldicot. Entella outer ward was about 60' by 80', with the gatehouse being roughly 30'x25'. To the east is a cistern.
Northwest of the outer ward is the inner ward which is about 60' square and
was entered through an ashlar doorway. To the southwest was a kitchen
with oven and a small cistern. The castle includes walls only
some 2' thick which mark the earliest, non fortified buildings on the
site. In makeup the fortress consists of rubble with layerings
made up of flat stones or old brick. Quoins tend to be reused
ashlar from the older ruins. The floors consisted of beaten soil
and tile fragments, while the walls were plastered, while the wall tops
were relaid in 1995 to help with their preservation.
The town walls surrounding the castle were some 9,000', but were not
built above the cliff faces. There are traces of 2 gates to northwest and northeast.
Why not join me at other Sicilian
castles? Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry