Half way between Palermo and Messina, the area may have been inhabited since 2,500 BC, but the castle is only said to have been begun by Byzantine refugees from Herbita in the sixth century.  It is also another site alleged to have been strengthened by the Muslims after they took the district in the late 850s.  Whether this was true or not, the castle was attacked by Count Roger in the Autumn of 1062, but on hearing news of an uprising at Troina, he abandoned the siege and returned the 12 miles to retake that town.  Nicosia was finally taken by the count in 1065.  Sometime afterwards the castle was made responsible for supplying the rather exact figure of 296 men for Roger's fleet.  During this period of Roger's rule many Lombards, who had possibly followed his mother, Adelaida Vasto Savona (d.1118) from Liguria, settled here.

Therefore, although a Lombardic district, there is no mention of action at the castle when the revolts of 1160-61 shook the district and Butera and Piazza Armerina were attacked.  Indeed, when the revolt of Messinashook the kingdom in 1168, Nicosia was one of the places who promised to send troops to the king to put down the insurrection.  Nearly 100 years later in November 1254 the town and presumably the castle rebelled against Peter Ruffo (d.1256+) when he was breaking the siege of Enna.

In May 1272, when King Charles (d.1285) was reorganising the defences of the island, his chancellor set the garrison of the fortress to be 20 knights.  This was an exceptionally large force and shows the importance of the castle in the interior of the island.

In mid September 1282, after the Vespers Revolt, King Peter (d.1285) stayed here on his march from Trapani to Messina.  Soon afterwards, the lord of the castle, Alaimo Lentini, captured Walter Caltagirone after he had seized Sperlinga castle.  The two had earlier been joint plotters in the Silician Vespers from at least 1279 and now Lentini betrayed him to King Peter.  In 1284 the Lady Machalda, the wife of Alaimo, a main leader of the revolt, full of jealousy for Queen Constance (d.1302), had herself, although in perfect health, carried in a litter from Palermo to Nicosia, simply to insult the queen who was actually suffering ill health.  If the tale is to be believed, Machalda's litter, decked out in scarlet cloth, was therefore carried on the shoulders of her husband's servants for a full 70 miles - or a good 4 days walk!  As overlord of Nicosia, Lentini employed one Master Garcia of Nicosia on treasonable correspondence with the king of France.  For this Lentini's nephews did him to death to unsuccessfully keep the treason secret.  Alaimo was sent to Catalonia, from where he never returned and his wife, Machalda Scaletta, was imprisoned with her children in Messina castle in 1284.  There her gay and immodest dress scandalised her jailers.

By the 1320s Nicosia was held by Michael Berga and Roger Vallono, but it had come to James Chiaramonte by 1354, when he was allowed to mint copper coins there with his own image on them.

Located on the highest rock in the city at 2,868' stands a curtain wall forming a bridge between 2 castles on juxtaposed crags.  It is hard to decide which castle is the outer ward.  To the NE is a rocky crag with an outer defensive wall to the east.  Within this is another wall with an apparent inturned entrance to the NE.  Beside this to the north may have been an internal rectangular guardhouse.  On the crag above this is the main keep, an elongated structure with a possible round tower to the NW.  This was entered via an ogival arch to the SE and has many Roman tiles in the structure used for levelling.

Beneath the rock face and accessed by a modern path around the crag is the Norman curtain linking the two sites.  This is 262' long and has a central ogival arch at its base on the north side and a Romanesque one on its south side.  Originally one of these was said to be surmounted by a Norman coat of arms.  This high curtain was equally battlemented on both sides, being as it was, the only link between the 2 halves of the site.  Again there are Roman tiles in the structure.

On the SW side of the bridge, on its northern side, stands the remains of the basement of a square guard tower made of fine small ashlar blocks, similar to the keep high above it to the SW.  The tall rectangular keep has largely collapsed to the west although it was built directly onto the rock.  To the east the tower sinks a good storey down the rockface.  It has a basement and 1 proper storey above this.  The south face is made of fine, small ashlar blocks and there is the featureless gap of a destroyed window on the top storey.  This side also has 2 external steps, one at first floor level and the other at the window base.  Similarly externally stepped towers exist at Kendal and Bamborough in the north of England.  There are traces of a wallwalk and battlements on the summit of the Nicosia tower.

The keep stands on the NE side of an NW-SE running battleship site, so typical of Byzantine work, viz:
Aci, Calatabianco, Castelmola, Castronovo, Cefala Diana, Rometta, Sperlinga, Taormina and Vicari.  The walls are best preserved to the SE and contain many Roman tiles.  Apparently this castle was known as Castelletto from the fourteenth century family of that name which lived here.  Apparently there were once 3 towers here, a sundial and 2 cisterns.  The church below has a decagonal tower.

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


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry