Motta Sant'Anastasia

Motta Sant'Anastasia is another castle claimed to have been built by the Muslims during their occupation of this part of Sicily.  Despite this, the present castle is further claimed to have been built around 1080 by the Normans on behalf of Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101).  A castle was certainly standing in 1091 when it was granted to the bishop of Catania.  The place was mentioned by Edrisi in 1154, but nothing more.  In 1168 the castrum Sancte Anastasie was mentioned, which suggests the fortress was operational at that time.

In 1250 the Emperor Frederick II (d.1250) deprived the bishop of Catania of all his goods including Sant'Anastasia, making the castle a royal fief once more.  It was only in 1327 that the place was first given the epithet of Motta.  Why can only be supposition, for there certainly was not a motte in the way of British or Northern French castles.  By 1336 the town had become Mocta Sancte Anastasie as it still pretty much remains today.  In 1359 the castle was the site of the signing of the peace treaty between Count Henry Russo of Aidone (d.1388) and Artale Alagona (d.1419).  It was still in a state of upkeep in 1408 when its lord, Sancho Ruiz de Lihori, imprisoned the Count Bernardo Cabrera of Modica within the fortress.  In 1455 the castle reverted to the crown for a while before being granted to Ludovico Perellos by Alfonso V (d.1458).

The castle stands on yet another rocky crag, this one in the shadow of Mt Etna. It is usually regarded as similar to nearby Adrano and Paterno castles in having a powerful rectangular keep.  However, Motta Sant'Anastasia is almost dominated by the neighbouring church of SS. Rosario and has a less military outlook than the largely destroyed surrounding enceinte.  The tower occupies the centre of the crag and the church its northwest quadrant.  The bailey is now very fragmentary and built over although one section of wall, clinging precariously to the cliff edge, boasts a blocked Romanesque archway and possibly later battlements.  This wall is built in the traditional ‘Byzantine' way, with rubble layered between Roman tile levelling courses.  Castle buildings within this enceinte were still visible in the early twentieth century.

The ‘keep' is currently entered from the west at ground floor level.  The bulk of the west front at this level consists of ashlar tufa, similar to the long and short work quoins that make the corners of the tower.  The other 3 sides and above the western ashlar all consist of small, well laid rubble set between tufa quoins, some of which appear to be modern replacements.  Possibly all the tufa work is modern.  Two ground floor loops to the north may be original in style as may the 3 to the east and 2 to the south.  There are multiple windows on each floor, although all are replacements.  Entrance was possibly originally gained to the south at first floor level as there are some masonry fragments at the base of the tower here that may mark the site of a forebuilding, although this would have covered two loops on this front.  A single storey, probably modern building stood along the west side of the keep as is evidenced by 4 remaining joist holes and a roof crease above them.

Internally the tower had no mural stairs as the walls were only 3' thick.  This is incredibly thin for a castle keep.  Presumably wooden staircases allowed access to the higher floors, the tower standing 69' high.  The tower itself is quite small being only 55'x28'.  This is much smaller than Adrano and Paterno and considering the weakness of the walls it is to be wondered if this was ever designed as a keep.  Perhaps it was simply the castle hall, later raised in height and given an ogival roof.  The battlements on the summit are modern.

Therefore the tower seems purely residential when compared with the nearby true keeps of Adrano and Paterno, as well as those further away like Roccella or Cefala, or even the great palace towers like Cuba or Zisa.  Certainly its thin walls and lack of accommodation, or even a chapel, suggests its current form is more due to modern rebuildings than original military design.  In summing up, it seems likely that Motta Sant'Anastasia castle was originally a Byzantine stronghold set around the summit of a volcanic plug and containing internal buildings of undefined appearance.  This was then occupied by the Arabs and then the Normans who may have built the current tower as a non military residential building within the fortress.   Certainly it does not compare with other great tower keeps.

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