The castle stands on a 985' high rock and is probably on the
site of the Roman settlement of Hibla Gaelatis.
If this is the case, this was a stronghold during the Roman, Byzantine
and Muslim periods. However, the Arab geographer, Muhammad Ibn
Ahmad Al-maqdisi, or Al-Muqaddasi (d.c.1000), stated that the inhabited
area existed before the fortress was built during the tenth century
AD. This Arab castle is alleged to have surrendered to Robert
Guisard in 1061 during the initial N-S march he made westwards around
Mount Etna. However, the source claimed for this fact, Geoffrey
Malaterra, writing about 1099, states nothing of the sort. All he
records is that after leaving Centuripe, the Norman army encamped on Paterno plain and waited there for 8 days in the hope that the army of Emir Ibn Hamud from Enna
would give battle. They didn't and the army then marched on that
city. There is no indication that there was fighting in Paterno
at all, or that there was a defensible castle there. It is then
claimed that the castle was rebuilt or refortified in 1072 Roger Hauteville (d.1101). This was
done to help surround Muslim Catania, before Roger's final assault on
Some time after 1072 the castle was granted with Butera to Henry Vasto (d.1137), probably by Count Roger's widow, Adelaida (d.1118), the
sister of Henry. Consequently in 1115 Count Henry the son of
Marquis Manfred made a charter as lord of Paterno within his fortress
in favour of the Stratigos William. This was witnessed by his
barons who were obviously holding court in his castle of Paterno.
He was doing so again on 9 March 1130 when he made another grant in Butera.
Henry's son, Count Simon of Policastro (d.1156),
was imprisoned for treason around 1154 and presumably lost the castle
at that time. A little earlier in 1154, Idrisi had simply described Paterno as a
There is no evidence that the castle passed to Count Simon's children,
Manfred (d.bef.1160) or Roger Sclavus (d.1161+), although both seemed
to have retained Butera.
Presumably Paterno remained with the king after 1154 and was not
mentioned during the revolts of 1156, 1160 or 1161 when Butera was attacked. In 1168 Count Henry of Montescaglioso demanded the county
that Count Simon had once held in Sicily, ie the castles of
Butera and Paterno, which had been in royal
hands since. This was refused and he was subsequently arrested
for treason and blinded.
The castle then remained in the royal hands until 1194 when the Emperor Henry VI
(d.1197) granted it to Bartholomew Lucy (d.1200) who thereby became count of Paterno. After Count Bartholomew's death in 1200 the
castle was mentioned in both 1212 and 1252 as a royal possession.
The Emperor Frederick II (d.1250) was in residence in 1221 during his
campaign against his rebel Muslim subjects. Soon after 1252 King
Manfred granted the castle to Galvano Lancia, who died with the king at
Benevento in 1266. It then passed to Manfred Maletta, before
being confiscated in 1299 after his rebellion and regranted by King Frederick III (d.1337) to
The castle seems to have been back in royal hands by the time Frederick
died there on 25 June 1337. On their marriage in 1302 he had
granted it to his new queen, Eleanor Anjou of Naples, who lived in the
castle until her death in 1341. This was despite the fact that
Frederick had otherwise given Paterno to the count of Squillace, whose
family seem to have reclaimed the castle on the queen's death. In
Alagona took possession of Paterno, but in 1398 the fortress was
repossessed by the Crown, two years after it was simply described as
‘the tower' (turris).
Presumably this indicates that the castle bailey had disappeared by
this time. Paterno castle later became the home of Queen Bianca
of Sicily (d.1441) after she was widowed in 1409. In 1405 she had
proclaimed the ‘Customs of the community of Paterno' from the
castle. These were
a collection of norms that regulated various aspects of the life of the
country, such as the succession, some public exercises, the commerce of
foodstuffs, the pasture, the condition of women of malfeasance and the
public viability. The original document is kept in the State
Archives of Catania and carries, in addition to Bianca's signature, a
medallion depicting the donjon of Paterno. After her death the castle was used as a royal prison
until sold to Count Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada of Adrano
(1454-66). His descendants retained the castle until 1818.
The castle consists of a tall rectangular keep, 80'x60' and 112' high,
with a wall thickness of up to 8½'. Externally the ground
floor is accessed via a modern staircase located on the north side
where the ground beyond drops steeply away. The door is covered
by a single pilaster buttress at the NE corner of the tower. This
projects just 6' to the north. At the opposite SE corner on
the east face of the tower is an unusual plinth, similar in many ways
to that on
the possibly Byzantine keep at Aci. Possibly this is the rebuilt remnant of another pilaster buttress. There is also a garderobe
exit on this front in a dip in the strata the tower stands upon.
Internally the tower is
divided into five rooms, the main one being a large entrance hall with
a barrel-vaulted roof, 2 single-lancet windows, 3 doorways into other
chambers and a cistern in the middle. A flow channel for
rainwater in the west
wall originally ran to the roof. Doorways to S&E lead to 2 rectangular chambers,
that to the south having a twin splayed loop. In the SE
corner is a similar chamber with one similar loop, but with no door at
this level. In the NE corner is a chapel of St John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista)
which contains twelfth century wall paintings. It is entered via
an ogival doorway with an agnus dei carved into the keystone.
consists of a rectangular room forming the nave (20'x13')
semicircular apse cut into the thickness of the east wall.
The chapel, once equipped with seats, has a barrel vaulted ceiling with
wooden stars. Along the walls are
damaged tempera wall paintings (not frescos). The figure of St
Michael and the Pantocrator in the small
apse are largely destroyed, while
the Angel and the Virgin of the Annunciation as well as Sts John the
Baptist and Nicholas are still extant. Above the apse arch are
the four symbols of the evangelists within medallions, flanking the
Agnus Dei. These have been linked with
the painted ceilings of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and the
cathedral of Cefalu. Further paintings are along
the 3 other walls, one of which is thought to be St George.
Not far from the entrance door is a stone staircase in the 9' thick
north wall. At the top of the stairs the east doorway leads
into a projecting rectangular guard turret. The south door leads to the
first floor which is divided into two portions, the first reached on
the east side being a large hall (63'x19½') covered with a
pointed vault with holes that indicate the presence of inverted
amphorae, used to lighten the weight of the masonry. This is
illuminated by four east facing mullioned limestone windows and is called the delle Armi or Representative or Parliament chamber
and was equipped with a fireplace. It was probably in this
room that Queen Bianca of Navarre (d.1441), wife of King Martin I of
Sicily (d.1409), confirmed the Customs of Paterno. The other portion
of the first floor consists of three rooms, each about 20'
square. They are probably the kitchen and lodgings for the
castellan and the chancellery. Beside the steps up from the
basement another mural stair leads to the second floor.
The top floor is entered via a magnificent central gallery some
60'x20'. This is called the Loggia and is illuminated by two
large mullioned windows, one with a marble column the other with a lava
one. It has been suggested that these symbolise sunrise and
sunset. As the castle is located according to the cardinal
points it has been suggested that this done deliberately for its
astronomical value and that the tower was used as an astronomical
observatory as the royal court, especially under the Emperor Frederick
II (d.1250), was full of scientists, mathematicians and
astronomers/astrologers ie. Michele Scoto, who was remembered by Dante
in the Bolgia degli Indovini. However, if this were so it
would suggest that the tower was only built in the early 1200s, which
is most likely well over a hundred years too late. Whatever the
case, this room is totally unique.
To N&S of the Loggia gallery are four rectangular rooms
(20'x18') with the remains of chimneys and frescoes. The frescoes
probably date from the first half of the fourteenth century and suggest
that the rooms were for accommodation. The NE room also has a
small attached chamber, which may have been a bedroom. Small
cupboards are also cut into the walls. The roof was also accessed
from here, as are two walkways
formed in the cavities of the vault on the second floor.
These may have had a
Many of the smaller windows in the tower have been replaced in
limestone in modern times as too have most of the corner quoins.
For some windows red tile has been used for replacements and
internally for repairs. Comparison with old photographs show that
these renewals are not necessary accurate. Certainly the size of
the ground floor east window has been increased dramatically. The
two ground floor loops to the south are unusually very deeply splayed
externally and bear some comparison with the early work at Portchester
which probably represents an ancient modification to an earlier
structure. The present limestone voussoirs of these windows at
Paterno are slightly ogival.
The mass of the tower is built of local rubble lava, laid in even
lines, almost giving a herringbone appearance. This again could
be a sign of an early origin. The same herringbonesque masonry
with lava quoins is found at Motta Sant'Anastasia and Adrano.
Why not join me here and at other Sicilian
castles? Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry