Noto



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. 

In 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 understood today.

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 ButeraKing 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.

Description
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 walls.

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 Sojourns.


 

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