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
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
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 SE corner of the crag
with the town of Geraci stretching out to the north. The rock is
precipitous to the S&E, 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 E-W 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 NW 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
Paul Martin Remfry