Isnello lies on the crest of an impressive rock about 2,133' above sea level.  The site was possibly begun in the eighth century by the  Byzantines, but is only mentioned for the first time as a hamlet, when it was included in the diocese of Troina in 1082.  Like many other places in this district the Rocca Asini hamlet was made a part of the diocese of Cefalu at its foundation in 1131.  Similarly, in the Book of Roger of 1154 it was noted that al-Himar or Rocca Asini was ‘a hamlet on the top of a mountain'.

Even so, it is nearly a hundred years later in 1250 when an
actual castle of Isnello is first mentioned.  After the defeat of King Manfred in 1266 the castle passed, with all the other royal domains, to the Angevins, although it has been claimed that Henry Ventimiglia was its lord and was dispossessed at this point.  On 2 January 1271 King Charles (d.1285) invested his second cousin, Simon Montfort, with the land of Isnello.  Two months later on 23 March Simon murdered his cousin, Henry Almain, in Viterbo church to the horror of all Christendom.  Within a few months Simon died at a castle near Siena in Tuscany.  It would seem unlikely that he ever managed to see Isnello.  Instead Asinelli castrum was taken from Nicolas Geraci and given to William Melun [Medulionis/Meledunis] an advisor to King Charles. 

With the Sicilian Vespers, Asinello passed to Nicholas Abbate who was still holding it in 1296.  By 1300 it seems to have passed to Henry Ventimiglia who was also lord of Geraci Siculo, although in the late 1320s he was recorded as still holding the fee in the list of feudal dues.  Another fee was held in the hamlet of Asinello in Cefalu lordship by John Calvellis.  On 27 November 1398, the castle was seized from the Ventimiglias when King Martin (d.1409) granted the land of Isnello with its castle to the Catalan, Arnald Santacolomba.  As late as 1558 Isnello was listed as a fortified centre.

Due to its narrow design it has long been thought, without evidence, that the castle was Byzantine or Arab.  Standing on a precipitous boss of rock it consists of two rectangular rubble built blocks.  The square tower to the east would appear to be a keep.  Three storeys of this survive with a Romanesque arch overlooking the town and at least the shadow of a  two floored service building can be made out on the downhill side.  To the west the narrow bailey ran along the ridge top.  The church has painted apses and from its site on the Piazza Mazzini a small trail leads up to the castle.

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


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry