Sant'Alessio Siculo

The castle was allegedly constructed for the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1048-1118) by George Maniakes who founded Maniace castle in Syracuse, although it is claimed that a fortress here had earlier belonged to the Arabs.  There seems to be no evidence to substantiate either claim.  In 1117 the then Count Roger (d.1154) recorded the gift of ‘Scala Sancti Alexi' within the land of Forza d'Agro to the Basilian monastery of SS Peter and Paul of Agro.  In the 1154 Book of Roger the site apparently appears as ad-dargah, but there is no mention of a castle.  It is only some 200 years later in 1356 that a castle is mentioned by Frederick IV (d.1377) when it was described as the fortlet above St Alessi (fortilicium superius Sancti Alessi).  Charles V (1500-1558) visited the fortress when he seized Tunis in 1535.  In 1558 a watch tower and castle were mentioned.  This suggests the upper castle had something like its present form then.  By 1584 the ‘ancient castle was ruined and undone by time'.  Similarly, in the early seventeenth century it was reported to King Philip IV (d.1665) that the ancient castle was in a state of total ruin, although the 'new fort' was defensible.  Presumably the new fort was the lower castle with its round watchtower.  Some 50 years later the fort housed a castellan, 3 soldiers and 2 pieces of artillery.  Abbot Vito Amico (d.1762) recorded that it was a well equipped fortress on a promontory and that to the southeast was a probable watchtower.  Soon afterwards it is thought the triangular bastion was added.  Then the castle was restructured by the English during the Napoleanic wars, before the 1906 house was built into the ruins.

The castle stands on two pinnacles of rock, surrounded by the sea on 3 sides.  On the seaward side stands the irregular, vaguely triangular watchtower, which was probably the first ‘castle' on the site.  This was intervisible with Scaletta and Castelmola on either side along the coast.  The main watchtower is of uncertain date, but it was almost entirely rebuilt and gun slits added in the early nineteenth century when the structure may have been lowered to make it more artillery proof.  There is a long stepped approach to the tower from the lower fortress.  This is commanded by 2 lines of masonry defences, the upper one forming a most irregular bailey to the north, south and east of the watchtower.  The entrance to the watchtower is commanded by a machicolation overlooking the sea. 

The lower ward has the 1906 house built into it, commanding the path over to the seawards watchtower.  The outer castle, or new fort of King Philip IV's time, consists of a rectangular enclosure with a round tower to the south.  This has a nineteenth century summit and is surrounded by a low circular curtain wall pierced with narrow rifle slits and possibly predates the rectangular enclosure which is also designed for rifle/musket defence.  The triangular bastion is to the southwest.

Why not join me at other Sicilian castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


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