It is thought that Motyca was founded by the Sicules around the seventh century BC when the Greeks were colonising Sicily.  The historian Mario Carrafa (d.1576), who also supplies the first description of the castle, stated that Greek coins had been discovered in the area with the inscription Motayon.  A Roman settlement certainly stood here and the Byzantines had a castle at Mudiqah which was taken with other southeastern castles in 845. 

The area then remained in Arab hands until the late 1080s as the Norman noose closed in around the remaining Muslim strongholds from Syracuse to Agrigento.  At this time the place was known as Motica, Motuca or Mohac.  It surrendered to the Normans after the fall of Enna in 1087 and before the fall of Noto in 1091.  Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101) made Walter the first count of Modica and it is possible that he established the cult of St George in his new caput and made him the patron saint of Modica.  After Walter the county was controlled by the Mosca family who died out with Manfred Mosca about 1296.  His father probably died after 1268 and before 1272, for in the two lists of royal castles in Sicily composed in those years the castle appeared in the second, but not the first.  In the latter it was ordered to have a garrison of either one knight or a squire.

With the death of Manfred Mosca the county devolved on his sister Isabella, who around 1286 had married Manfred Chiaramonte of Caccamo.  He was made count of Modica on 25 March 1296 by King Frederick (d.1377) in expectation of his continued support against the Agevins.  The extensive Chiaramonte family acquired many castles over the next century, viz. Agira, Alcamo, Caccamo, Calatrasi, Carini, Castronovo, Favara, Gela, Migaido, Milazzo, Misilmeri, Mistretta, Migaido, Motta Santo Stefano, Mussomeli, Naro, Nicosia, Palazzo Adriano, Palma di Montechiaro, Paterno, Racalmuto, Ragusa, Siculiana, Sperlinga, Sutera and Vicari.  However, the family suffered many ups and downs during the century and Modica itself was taken by the Angevins in 1325. 

The family was finally dealt an all but mortal blow with the execution of Count Andrew by King Martin in 1392.  The castle then passed to Bernard Cabrera (d.1423), who in 1401 welcomed King Martin here just as his predecessor, Count Manfred Chiaramonte (d.1391) had received King Frederick IV (d.1377) in 1366.  Bernard had received the title and castle on the fall of Count Andrew at the Steri palace.  The 20 June 1392 grant to Bernard was for 27 knight's fees owed at Modica.

The castle, known as the Castello dei Conti, stands on a massive rocky crag 1,475' above sea level.  Once more its battleship shape suggests a Byzantine layout.  Other such Byzantine fortresses are listed under Aci castle.  Of Modica fortress itself not much remains since the 1693 earthquake.  There are caves under the site, one of which, called Grotta dei Parrini, lead down to the valley bottom, as well as traces of the once great walls that crowned the rock.  What does survive has been much altered by later buildings on the central part of the site.  Within this structure are some fine Romanesque arches.  Towards the north end of the site is a fine Romanesque passageway in an ashlar wall.  Possibly this may date back to prehistoric times.  Later walls are rubble built and much has been uncovered of their foundations by recent excavation.

At the southern point of the crag are the lower portions of a powerful round tower with sloping plinth and crossbow loops commanding the town below.  Rubble curtains run back from this towards the main site on the summit of the crag.  Centrally on the north side are the remains of a north facing gatehouse half way down the rock.  This is similar in style to those found at Aci and Sperlinga castles.  At the northern apex of the site is a powerful projecting spur, within which many rectangular foundations have been excavated.  These were used as prisons, each room being reserved for a specific category of prisoner, viz. gentlemen, women, common convicts and those awaiting trial.  For the most dangerous prisoners there were two pits about 20' deep and sealed with a powerful iron grid.  Some ruins of the count's private chapel, the church of St Cataldo, still survive.

The oldest description of the castle before its destruction in 1693 is by Mario Carrafa (d.1576).  He stated that the castle had four corner towers, a drawbridge, a courtyard, a garden, a nursery, three churches, groups of double-rowed buildings with cross vaults, a solar temple (Tempio del Sole), a central entrance door on the north side.  Near this was the octagonal Anselm tower, which presumably was the keep.  Possibly this tower was Swabian and was similar to the surviving Frederick's tower at Enna.

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