Messina occupies the Sicilian side of the shortest crossing to Regina on the mainland and in the Hellenistic era was known as Zancle.  There may well have been a Roman fortification here, but any trace of this is now lost.  A fortification was mentioned near Messina as early as 1061 when Amato di Montecassino (d. between 1090&1100) states that Roberto Guiscard (d.1085) built a great fortress at Messina.  Twenty years later, in 1081, Malaterra recorded that Count Roger (d.1101) had strengthened the defences of the town through the construction of a castle with towers.  It would appear that this castle was still standing on 5 April 1168 when it was the site of the imprisonment of Odo Quarrel.  Then it was called the Old Castle which stands in the harbour by the New Church.  Odo was subsequently taken from the castle and ritually murdered.

In 1190 King Richard I of England (d.1199), on his way to the Holy Land, occupied Messina, and built a new wooden castle called Malegriffon.  This was destroyed by King Tancred (d.1194) when Richard left the island in 1191.  The castle only appears to have been rebuilt under Frederick II (d.1250), as one of his documents of 1240 refers to a castrum novum in Messina.  This was surrendered by Peter Ruffo to the Messinans in December 1254 after his defeat at Piazza Armerina.  The city however remained in rebellion and loyal to the pope, until in early 1256 the rebels, under Roger Fimetta of Lentini were defeated in the field at Favara, they then surrendered to Manfred (d.1266) as regent to King Conradin (d.1268) in May 1256.

It was recorded
by King Charles' chancellor in 1272 that there were 2 castles in Messina, Matagrifone and Rocca Guelphonia and that there was a garrison of 50 knights there.

Alaimo Lentini of Nicosia opposed King Charles (d.1285) from here during the Sicilian uprising, until he was relieved by King Peter (d.1285) in August 1282. In 1283 castrum novumis was set on fire by the victorious population, but was later repaired as a residence for Queen Constance (d.1302).  Alaimo's wife, Machalda Scaletta, and her children were later held captive in the fortress after their downfall for allegedly plotting against the same king.  However by 1460, all the fortifications of Messina, including its castle, were in ruins.

By the fifteenth century the castle site was definitely at Malegriffon when King Ferdinand of Aragon (d.1516), the ruler of Sicily, ordered it refortified.  An inscription of 1496 concerning this still survives in the current bell tower.  After an explosion in 1516 the castle was reinforced with outer defences similar to those raised at Milazzo.  Two hundred years later the fortress had been abandoned and became a convent for the barefoot Augustinians in 1759, before being converted into a prison in 1838.  Ten years later the Messinese rose in revolt and besieged and damaged the castle remains, while finally the earthquake of 1908 did irreparable damage to the structure.  Finally in 1937 the current church was built on the site.

Little now remains of the castle which is presumed to be on the site of King Richard's Malegriffon, other than an octagonal tower being used as a bell tower and its associated strip of curtain walling.  This stands on a 200' high hill which commands the port.  What remains seems to have been part of a quadrangular keep, which was reinforced in the sixteenth century by and outer ward with circular towers on three sides.  In the remaining tower is an inscription relating to Ferdinando the Catholic and dated to 1496.  The tower is now used as the base for the bell tower of the church of Christ the King, which stands within the site of the keep.  Some sixteenth century ruins remain, mostly hidden within residential buildings.

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