The castle was first mentioned by the Ararabic name ‘Saharat al Hadid' in the Book of Roger of 1154.  As such it was described as a small village with a fort at the top of the rock - A ‘little hamlet (picciol casale) with a castle (hisn) at the top of a cliff, which advances, steep on every side, on the beach of the sea'.  The land of Roccamaris was granted by Roger Hauteville (d.1101) to the new diocese of Troina in 1082, while a century later in 1194 Rochel was captured by the Emperor Henry VI's troops when advancing on Palermo to seize the throne from the young King William III.  One of the Swabian emperors gave the castle to Count Paul Cicala of Collesano, for, in 1205 he sold Roccella to the bishop of Cefalu.  The bishop in turn sold it to Montevergine monastery in 1218 as ‘the place where Roccella castle stands and he allows a church dedicated to the Virgin to be built there'.  As a consequence the church of St John, first attested in 1135, was joined by the church of St Mary, which was in use by 1232. 

In 1221 Frederick II (d.1250) confirmed the sale of Roccella with the proviso that he was allowed to garrison the castle.  This suggests that the castle may have been granted to Count Paul when Frederick was a minor, ie. between the death of his father Henry VI in 1197 and 1205 when the castle was in the hands of Count Paul.  In 1296 Lord Damian Spatafora held Rocchella.  He was still lord in the late 1320s.  This was after the fortress had briefly been given to Roger Lauria (d.1305) with Castiglione (Castellionis) in 1299 by King Frederick III (1295-1337).

In 1338 an unsuccessful Angevin invasion landed here.  Some 20 years later the castle was acquired by the powerful Ventimiglia family.  After Antonio Ventimiglia (d.1409) was deported to Malta in 1408 the castle was garrisoned by the Crown with 12 serjeants under the castellan, Peter Claromonte.  The weapons reported within the castle included 2 bombards, 3 crossbows, 12 Pavia and 2 cases of crossbow bolts.  In 1412 Antonio's son, Francesco Ventimiglia (d.1418), was captured by his step mother, Elvira Moncada and thrown into Roccella castle prison.  However, part of the garrison rebelled and helped him imprison his mother-in-law and her daughter.  After failed attempts to reclaim the castle Francesco rebelled, his brother Giovanni (d.1473+), holding Roccella for him.  The castle was besieged by royal troops in 1418 who quickly bombarded the castle into submission when it became royal property once more.  At the end of the sixteenth century the castle was drawn by Tiburzio Spannocchi and painted by Camillo Camiliani with a view for using the site as a defence against the Turks and pirates.  The fortress was still manned as an artillery fort around 1750.

Standing on an outcrop projecting into the sea, only 262' long and 33'-66' wide, stands Roccella castle.  Today only a tower keep, 46'x26' by 65' high, with walls around 8', remains on the south, landward end of the outcrop.  This was of at least 3 storeys, each divided by a string course.  A plinth was added at a later date.  Access was gained to the first floor via external steps to the north.  From here the basement with a barrel vault is divided into 2 bays by an ogival arch.  Underneath is a cistern.  The first floor has Romanesque windows, as does the second floor, which also has shoulder headed doorways and a fine inserted brick fireplace in the corner.  The coat of arms of the Ventimiglia family, who acquired the castle shortly before 1358, can also be found several times in this room.  Francesco Ventimiglia (d.1392) is said to have rebuilt the tower about 1385.  A list of similar keeps appears under Cefala Diana.

A pair of curtains ran down to the north end of the rock where there are the remains of a round tower.  Between this and the main tower to the south are foundations and barrel vaults of vanished buildings.  Originally running water reached the site via an aqueduct of which traces can still be seen.

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