In Roman times Mistretta was already regarded as most ancient - vetustissimo - while excavation has uncovered Byzantine occupation levels.  Presumably the castle survived through the Arab occupation and by 1081 was a part of the diocese of Troina under Norman control.  Two years later in 1083, with the garrison of San Marco d'Alunzio castle, it revolted in favour of Jordan Hauteville (d.1091), the illegitmate son of Count Roger (d.1101).  On Count Roger's return from Italy the revolt fizzled out and the 12 ring leaders were blinded, though Jordan was eventually pardoned.  In 1101 it was mentioned as a villa et castellum in Count Roger's domain.  Twenty years later in 1122, it belonged to Matthew Bonellus and appeared in diplomas as either Creum or Amestratou.  In 1131 Mistretta was transferred to the new diocese of Cefalu

In 1160 both Caccamo and Mistretta took part in the successful rebellion of Matthew Bonellus against William I (d.1166).  In February 1161 Matthew rode to his castle after having arranged for a further revolt in Palermo.  Once here he began to prepare the castle for attack and to restore the apartments to hold the king prisoner in when he had captured him.  However, the plot was betrayed and on 9 March the prisoners in Palermo palace revolted early, successfully seizing the king and his family.  Yet, 65 miles away from the action, Matthew could not influence events and the plot misfired.  By the time the discomforted plotters had fled Palermo, he and his army had only reached Caccamo.  Mistretta and all the other castles of Bonellus were subsequently seized by the Crown when Matthew was arrested and blinded on the revolt of Butera castle later that spring.  At this point Mistretta castle reverted to the royal domain.  In 1254 the place rebelled against Peter Ruffo of Messina (d.1256+).

After the fall and death of King Manfred of Sicily in 1266, the new King Charles (d.1285) granted the castle to Henry and Guglielmo Visconti, grandchildren of Pope Gregory X (1271-76) in 1271.  The grant possibly did not outlive the pope and the castle was given to Peter Antioch before 1296 when he was holding it of King Frederick III (d.1337).  Soon afterwards it was held by Blasco Alagona (d.1301).  Probably he was granted it when he was made count of Mistretta.  As his father only died in 1295, this was probably within a few years of his death.  His grandson Artal Alagona was also count at the time of his death in 1389 and it is to be presumed that they had control of the castle with the title during this time. 

In 1337 the fortress had been occupied by the rebels Enrico Rosso, Frederick Chiaramonte (d.1363) and Frederick Ventimiglia.  The Alagona counts of Mistretta died out with the fourteenth century and in 1448 the fortress reverted to royal control.  In 1450 it needed urgent restoration work, but by 1458 was fully functional again, being manned by a castellan and four sergeants.  By 1520 the castle, which was serving as a prison, was again in disrepair; the garrison being reduced to the lord of the castle and the porter, with part of their salary being directed towards repairs.  These works would seem to have been minor as by 1608 the castle was described as in ruins.  In 1633, following the seizing of the feudal lordship of the Genoese lord of Mistretta, Gregorio Lancillotto Castelli, the castle was attacked and demolished by the local population.  In 1686 a large landslide destroyed the northeast slope of the fortress and no doubt the ruins were then used as a quarry by the townsfolk.

Today the castle is reached via a steep ramp that runs along the cliff on which the castle stands at some 3,600'.  This leads to a set back entrance gate, with a large, blocked Romanesque gateway, which leads into a long barbican down the west side of the main enceinte.  This also commands the entrance to the lower ward which surrounds the southern half of the castle.  The inner ward consists of a polygonal enclosure encompassing the summit of the crag.  There may have been a keep to the southeast, but to the southwest was an irregular great hall of which four ground floor lights still remain commanding the barbican below to the west.  The curtain wall to the east rests upon a powerful stepped plinth of 3 orders, while two small rectangular towers lay to the southwest near the church.  Posterns lay to the southwest and southeast beneath the keep area.

The ruins consist of the standard build rubble with higher quality quoins at the corners.  The main ward contains much more Roman tile than the barbican and is therefore likely Byzantine in origin.  As such it fits quite easily into the class of other castles that date to this era and are listed under Aci castle.  The barbican also sports long, narrow crossbow loops to the west which again would suggest a Norman origin for this structure.  Archeological excavations in the 1980s found the foundations of a small three-apsed church.  It was thought to be Norman and set in a layer of Byzantine material.  According to a local source of 1902 the castle had four towers and a cistern.

There are remnants of the town wall, including a fine still inhabited rectangular gatehouse with an impressively high Romanesque gateway.

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