Pietratagliata O Gresti

The site appears to be typically Byzantine - long and narrow like Aci, but there is no early evidence of a castle here, other than in the surrounding Greek and Roman sites uncovered by archaeology, viz Morgantina some 2 miles to the south.  In October 1210 Frederick II (d.1250) confirmed the lands of Prior Robert of St Mary of Aidone.  In this he noted that Robert held some hamlet (casale) called Rahalbasil which was situated in the tenement of Enna (Castri Joannis) between Fesine hamlet and Castine hamlet.  Fessina in 1408 was described as the fee which contained Pietratagliata castle.  The lack of mention of the castle, in such a document, does not preclude its existence.  In 1296 it was recorded that Michael Berga, the knight of Sigona, held the fee of Sigone which had belonged to Peregrin and was in the provinces of the lands of Nicosia and Fessima.

Around the beginning of the fourteenth century King Frederick III (d.1337) is said to have granted Fessina to Prandino Capirena da Piazza.  On his rebellion the lordship was reclaimed, but it was only in 1358 that Pietratagliata was mentioned as a castrum.  From 1364 until the mid 1600s the fortress was held by the Gioeni family.  Frederick IV (d.1377) confirmed the fee and fortress of Pietratagliata to Perron Iuenio in 1374.  It was only in 1408 that the fortress was truly described as one, as castro Pietratagliate, cum feudo Fesine

In the seventeenth century the fortress became a farm, which had to be rebuilt after the 11 January 1693 earthquake.  Towards the end of the eighteenth century it was still ‘a stone fortress in the valley called Fessima... joined by a bridge to the nearby cliff.  It once belonged to Perrone di Gioieni as part of the lordship of Aidone and today belongs to the prince of Galati'.  The castle seems to have been still largely intact up to the Second World War, but has suffered several partial collapses, the last being due to the earthquake of 13 December 1990.

The castle stands upon a giant quartzite intrusion that cuts through the valley of the River Gresti.  It is split into 3 constituent parts.  First there are the cave houses cut beneath the east wall of the site and at the top of the west slope of the cliff.  Secondly, there is the tower which looks like a keep with other masonry on the upper site and further underground structures.  Finally, there is the seventeenth century farm.

The castle proper was approached by a narrow path cut into the rock on the south side of the intrusion.  The farm ruins are built on the rock to the north of the path, while a low wall gives some comfort from the drop to the hillside below.  The path leads up the slope, passing the tower to a twin entrance, one to a destroyed staircase that led to the upper floors, the other into the caves under the castle.  Through here is a large rock cut chamber with a smaller one to the north and a rock cut window looking out over the valley.

From the twin entrance a now destroyed staircase led to the summit of the rock as well as to the tower and a hall block which was of 2 storeys and had 2 rooms in each floor.  The tower is set on a cut platform that runs down the eminence at a startling slope.  It rises vertically about 120' and surprisingly is solid.  It's makeup consists of layered rubble with flat stones inbetween in typical Sicilian fashion.  The corners are finely quoined and at the south corner, in a destroyed small projecting turret, was a spiral stair that led to the fighting platform on the roof.  Until 1970 there was a second tower, as high as the first and abutting against it to the south.  This had a fine ogival door and a square window.  When this tower collapsed it pulled down the last remnants of the main tower's spiral stair turret.

The proposition has been put forward that the castle, with its 2 linked square towers, is Swabian and resembled Frederick II's castle of Menfi otherwise known as Burgimilluso.  This was also composed of two square towers joined together.  Unfortunately this fortress was destroyed, apart from a few uninteresting fragments, in the earthquake of 1968.  In France 2 double donjons exist at Blanc and Excideuil, but these are much more impressive than that of Pietratagliata.  It has also been alleged that the ogival castle entrance to the NE was similar to the doorways into the keeps of Paterno (restored?) and Adrano (clearly an insertion).

To the east on the other side of the road was a Baroque chapel which went with the later farmhouse.  It is now roofless and in a state of near total collapse.

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