The castle at Francavilla di Sicilia is otherwise known
as Ruderi Castello Ruffo. Archaeology has shown a Greek presence
in the area between around the fifth or fourth century BC, while merely
the ridge line position of the castle might suggest a Byzantine
origin. Count Roger Hauteville
(d.1101) founded a monastery at nearby Motta della Placa or St
Salvatore della Placa, about a mile west of Francavilla. This was
built on the site of a Byzantine complex which had been ruined by the
Arabs. Possibly it had been a castle founded in the eighth
century by the Byzantines. If so it seems somewhat unlikely that
they would also have built Francavilla castle at the same time.
The castle probably remained with the Crown, although it was garrisoned
by Peter Ruffo of Messina (d.1256+) at some time after the death of Frederick II in 1250. After Peter's defeat at Piazza Armerina
in November 1254 it was surrendered by him to the Messinans. In
1296 its lord, John Lauria (d.1298), took the castle over to the
Angevins on the revolt of his brother, Admiral Roger Lauria of Aci (d.1305).
Francavilla may have been inhabited into the fourteenth
century and beyond. In the eighteenth century it was described as almost
intact, although ‘useless'. Complete ruination obviously
followed soon afterwards.
The fortress stands on a ridge on the steep side of a mountain south of
the current town. It is almost 400' long, but only the south ward is
wider than a single building's width. Here there seems to be a
great hall and a possible entrance. Slightly towards the north
end of the site is a large projecting rectangular tower which overhangs
the precipice. It may have been a keep. Barbicans or
outposts, existed at the north and south ends of the fortress. There
seems to have been another tower to the south, all these being at least
3 storeys high. The masonry is often made of rubble interspaced
with levelling courses of Roman brick.
Why not join me at other Sicilian
castles? Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry