Castello di Noto or Castello Reale, stands at Noto
Antica, 6 miles north of the present town of Noto. When the
Greeks started to colonize the coast of Sicily, the local tribes
retreated to more inland locations like these; a rocky spur, now called
Mount Alveria, protected by deep ravines on both sides. The
settlement was later taken over by the Romans, the Byzantines and
finally the Muslims in 864 and, after a revolt, again in 866.
Under their aegis it became the capital of one of the three historical
provinces of Sicily - Val di Noto.
After the fall of Butera in 1088, Noto was the last Muslim stronghold
in Sicily, defended as it was by the widow of Emir Benarvet and his
children with their forces. These decided in February 1090 that further
resistence to Christian rule was pointless and so they chose to come to
the peace of Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101).
On the surrender of Noto, Count Roger forgave his illegitimate
son, Jordan (d.1092), who had been imprisoned since the revolts of Mistretta and San Marco d'Alunzio, and granted him the city. It is claimed that Jordan then
built a fortress in Noto before his death.
However, there is no physical or literary evidence of this and more
likely he simply garrisoned the pre-existing city walls which were
extensive and powerful.
1154 Edrisi said that Noto was 8 miles from the sea and ‘amongst
the strongest and highest of fortresses'. This hardly implies a
castle and strongly suggests that the only fortification here were the
city walls and not a private castle. At this time, the end of King Roger's reign, Noto, along with the cities of Sclafani and Caltanisseta,
were in the hands of Count Godfrey of Montescaglioso (d.1174). In
1155 King William I (d.1166) granted Noto to Admiral Maio (d.1160) even
though Godfrey was especially fond of it. A contemporary
chronicler, known as Hugh Falcandus, described Noto as ‘well
fortified both because of its large garrison and the nature of the
terrain, the place being ideal for defence'. Such a description
again indicates that the Noto of the twelfth century and earlier
consisted of the city defences and no private castle as it would be
In 1156, while Sicily was agitated by intrigues against Admiral Maio,
Count Godfrey joined the rebellion, fortifying his castles of Noto, Sclafani and Caltanissetta, before going to join other rebels at Butera. King William (d.1166), left his campaign on the mainland and induced the garrison of Butera
to surrender on terms of exile at the king's pleasure. Presumably
Count Godfrey took the king up on this offer, but like his other
confederates, was allowed to keep their lives and their property.
It is uncertain what happened to Noto at this time, but presumably it
remained under the nominal control of Count Godfrey until his death in
1174. The castle may have then passed to Godfrey's nephew, Count
Tancred of Lecce who became King Tancred
in 1189. Consequently the castle was likely in Angevin hands when
King Charles (d.1285) seized the throne in 1266, although surprisingly
it was not mentioned in the list of castles to be garrisoned in May
1272. However the suspicion remains that this was actually the
site described as Avola (7 miles from old Noto, but only 4 miles from
the current town) which was to have the large garrison of 12 knights.
Certainly in 1296 the
fortress was held by a royal castellan called Philip. The same
year it was sacked during the rebellion of Giovanni Callaro. In
1325/6 the castle fell to the Angevins in their attack on the south
coast of Sicily. A little before 1330 it was recorded as being in the hands of Russo Rosso of Messina (d.1342), the lord of Aidone.
The city was back in royal hands in 1337 on the death of King Frederick.
It would seem that the castle was only commenced in 1430 by Duke Peter
of Aragon (d.1438). Peter had been born in 1406 to King Ferdinand
of Aragon, who was also king of Sicily. He was made viceroy of
Sicily in 1424 and around the same time, duke of Noto. This led
him to found the castle and give it his name. Over a hundred
years later in 1545, the Emperor Charles V (d.1558) had the castle
modernized, which may well have seen the building of the 2 bastions on
either side of the north gate. Finally, during the Franco-Spanish
War in 1675, Noto castle was provided with guns. On 11 January
1693, the region was struck by a devastating earthquake and the city
and castle were totally destroyed and abandoned.
The ruins of the old city and castle are extensive, but heavily ruined
and hard to quantify. The city occupies a long site whose
defences to the south have largely disappeared. Along the west
side the defences follow a cliff which run as far south as the
Hermitage St Maria della Provvidenza, built in the aftermath of the
1693 earthquake. At the northern end of the narrowing city
enclosure are two massive bastions dwarfing the north gate of the
city. Within this on the west side against the city wall are the
remains of Castello Reale di don Pietro d'Aragon. It is possible
that this is the first true castle at Noto and therefore only dates to
the 1430s. Earlier references would therefore relate to the city
The castle consists of a pentagonal outer ward that runs from just
south of the north gate SSE for about 200'. It then makes a right
angled turn for another 200' feet to an open backed rectangular
projecting tower. At this it makes an obtuse angle back to the
west curtain of the city wall. This city curtain is mostly gone
as is most of the castle wall, apart from the lower portions of one
corner tower and its associated sections of curtain. These stand
some 10-20' high and consist of a rubble ashlar with better quality
quoins. The tower has 2 large rectangular openings to the south
and is set on a rock cut boss which is plinth shaped. Obviously
this and the cliff face the curtain stands upon is man made.
Within the outer enclosure is a great round keep built of a fine ashlar
and having a sloping plinth at the base. It now stands only 2
storeys high. Attached to it are 2 pieces of rubble built curtain
which appear to have once helped make a rectangular court. The
keep is entered via a Romanesque doorway and has a solitary loop for
lighting and defence to the south. The south curtain once had a
lean-to building against it, judging by the first floor roof mark on
its interior. The northern portion of the inner ward is totally
gone apart from jumbled foundations.
Why not join me at other Sicilian
castles? Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry