Geraci Siculo

Geraci and its environs seem to have been inhabited by the Greeks since the eighth century BC.  It became another Byzantine castle as is shown by the capture of the fortress in 840 AD by the Saracens under Emir Ibni Timna around the same time as they took Caltabellotta, Corleone and possibly Castronovo.  The capture of Geraci is often followed by the common and foundationless assertion that the Arabs enlarged the fortress.  It then remained in Arab hands until the Norman conquest of 1062-4.  Following the battle of Cerami in 1063, the town and castle were granted as a fief by Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101) to his nephew Serlo Hauteville (d.1072).  Within the town is a tower identified as the one erected by Inghelmaro in 1082, possibly this is the bell tower attached to the ancient church of St Stefano.  The castle was strengthened by Count Roger Creone in 1169.

In 1228 Count Aldoino of Ischia (d.1239) seemed to be holding Geraci when he founded the church of SS. Trinity there.  In 1258 the castle is said to have become the caput of Henry Ventimiglia, a blood relative of King Manfred (d.1266), when he became count of Geraci on his marrying Isabella Ischia (d.1270+), the heiress of Count Aldoino (d.1239).  Henry allegedly held this district from 1252 until the death of King Manfred in 1266.  Later sources say that Henry fell with his lord, but more contemporary sources say he escaped the battle and then, in August 1268, came to Sicily with a Pisan naval force while Conradin, King Manfred's nephew, attacked southern Italy.  Consequently Count Henry Ventimiglia and Count Frederick Lancia landed their forces at Milazzo and captured it.  With the defeat and death of Conradin the Pisans returned home, but Henry probably entrenched himself in Geraci and Cefalu while places as far apart as Agrigento, Augusta and Lentini castle fell to Swabian supporters, while an Angevin force of 1,700 knights was sent against them.  The subsequent French siege was broken by an epidemic amongst the attackers, although Henry himself abandoned his lands and fled to the mainland, probably around 22 November 1270.  The last rebel stronghold, Caltanissetta, surrendered in January 1271.

No sooner had King Charles successfully expelled the Ventimiglias, than he granted many of their lands away.  On 23 January 1271 Simon Montfort was granted the castles of Gangi, Castelluccio and Geraci.  He may also have gained Castelbuono as he also appears to have received Ypsigro and San Mauro.  Simon died soon afterwards in disgrace and on 3 May 1272 the Geraci castle was held for the Angevins by a single squire at the Crown's expense.

Count Henry and his son Aldoiono are said to have landed in Sicily with the Vespers of 1282 and Henry was present at the coronation of King Frederick III (d.1337) in 1296.  In September 1299 Henry asked King Charles of Naples (d.1309) if he could come to his peace and Charles confirmed him on 28 July 1300 with all his possessions in Sicily, viz. Geraci, Petralia, Caronia and Gratteri.  This implies that Henry was at the time holding these of King Frederick III (d.1337).  Henry, however, did not come to Charles' peace and died before 1308.

Count Henry's land now passed to Alduino's son, Francesco (d.1338).  In 1337 Franceso was besieged here by his own tenants and forced to capitulate, after which he was killed on 3 February 1338.  Before his death he is credited with rebuilding the church of Santa Anna within the fortress.  It is said to have held the skull of St Anne since at least 1242.  The skull was later transferred to Castelbuono, another Ventimiglia stronghold. 

The castle stands high on a basalt crag some 3,375' above sea level.  It forms an enclosure castle at the southeast corner of the crag with the town of Geraci stretching out to the north.  The rock is precipitous to the south and east, leaving a rock cut ditch to cut off the promontory from the rest of the plateau.  The fortification within this is now very fragmentary and most of the internal buildings seem to have run east to west along the south wall.  Two windows of one such building remain cut through the 6' thick curtain wall.  The one is small and trefoil, the other large and once mullioned.  Much of their substance seem modern.

A rectangular gate tower may have lain at the northwest apex of the site.  There is a single fragment of masonry some 30' high here, the rest of the enceinte having collapsed.  Cisterns were cut into the rock and a  passage leads down from the castle to the ditch bottom.  Within the ruins stands the rectangular church of St Anna which is reenforced at the corners with pilaster buttress as well as half way along the long sides.  There is also a circular window to the west and an apse to the east.  The masonry consists of poor slabs of stone set in an uncoursed mortar matrix with the old Roman tile thrown in.  The west door is a Byzantine architrave type with a much worn hood and 2 stops.

Immediately south of the church are the foundations of a rectangular building about 50x45' which was divided in 2 by a thin crosswall with some tiles in its poorly coursed makeup.  This is now very fragmentary, but probably represented a keep or hall block.  Its masonry is roughly coursed, but seems to have few tiles within it and these are certainly not laid as levelling courses.  On the whole the castle most resembles other triangular Byzantine castles like Assoro inner ward or Caltrasi, but is not a 'battleship' castle like those mentioned under Aci.

Why not join me at other Sicilian castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


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