Santa Lucia del Mela

The castle was traditionally built at the time of Arab rule in the ninth century, but there is no evidence to support this.  In 1094 Count Roger (d.1101) stated that he had reconstructed the church of St Lucia in the territory of Milazzo (Milatii) and that 7 villeins and their wives lived there.  The place was next mentioned as belonging to Milazzo and being held by Geoffrey Borrellus.  He would seem to have been dead by 1179 when a royal justice confirmed the forests of the church of St Lucia as they had been granted in the time of Burelli.

St Lucia did not appear in the list of castles that should be repaired by Sicily's inhabitants made up by Frederick II between 1231 and 1240; and although in 1248 St Lucia was mentioned as a hamlet, it was recorded as a palace the next year.  Therefore the appearance of the ‘castle' in 1248 rather gives the lie to the statement that Maccaruni castrum was built in the hamlet of St Lucia by King Frederick III (d.1337) as part of his 1330 scheme to help defend the Milazzo area against Angevin raids.  The castle is said to have been damaged by Angevin raids before the Peace of Caltabellotta in 1302.

Towards the end of Frederick III's reign he probably gave the fortress to Matthew Palizzi as on Matthew's death in 1340 the fee returned to the Crown.  The castle was certainly operational in 1346 when Vicar Giovanni Randazzo used it as a base for his troops during the successful siege of Angevin Milazzo.  The castle was still in existence in 1356 and in 1413 was garrisoned by six sergeants.  The castle was fit to greet the Emperor Charles V during October 1535.  In 1558 it was stated that the castle of St Lucia was 3 miles from the Basilian monastery of Santa Maria di Gala and 6 miles from Milazzo.

In 1644 it was noted that the castle was in a state of ruin.  Afterwards it was converted into a place of worship and the sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve was built in 1673, with a seminary opening in the old fortress during 1695.  The old fortress suffered major damage during the 1894 and 1908 earthquakes, but was repaired by 1927.

It is difficult to work out the original dimensions of the castle.  Certainly it seems to stretch about 330' along the top of the ridge which reaches some 1,200' high and overlooks Milazzo to the north. 

At the south end of the long ridge top is a powerful eperon, or ship's prow, some 40' high, but with walls only 5' thick.  The feature consists of rubble mortared between levelling layers of Roman tiles.  There are no quoins on the original south angle, although this may have been rebuilt.  The other 2 ‘angles' consist of modern quoins, probably built after one of the many earthquakes to strike the site in recent times.  The base was possibly filled in somewhat later judging by the join between the filling and the quoins.  Possibly this eperon may originally have been Byzantine. 

The structure is covered on its external sides by an outer mantlet wall which is pierced by many musket loops and has a more irregular build than the eperon.  Presumably the mantlet is seventeenth or eighteenth century.  The curtain that would once have joined the eperon to the main fortress is now gone and replaced by a car park.

The entire hilltop is narrow, being mostly about 50' east to west, although this expands to 100' at the north end where the main castle now stands.  The north ward consists of a polygonal enclosure around a triangular court with buildings to north, east and west.  This is known as the palace.  To the southwest is the imposing, boldly projecting, round tower some 65' high.  This tower has a similar build to the eperon and may be of a similar age, as too may elements of the attached enceinte.  The tower is currently of 2 storeys, the lower one, often described as a prison, being 17' high and topped by a hemispherical vault.  Above is a larger room, 38' high with a groined vault.  The lower room has a large Romanesque window, while the floor above has a smaller one.  Both face south, although there is a similar small window facing northeast and a small loop facing west on the top floor.

Immediately east of the tower is an ogival entrance arch, with a Romanesque one within.  There is a
blocked offset loop above.  About 6' over this gate it is obvious that the top section of the wall is a rebuild.  At the southeast corner of the enceinte the base of the wall, for its first 10', consists of a well made ashlar.  Next to this is a fragment of ‘Byzantine' style curtain which has a repaired pointed gate arch inserted into it.  The rest of the exterior wall of the enceinte also consists of ‘Byzantine' rubble and Roman tiles and contains many altered Romanesque windows.

In the courtyard to the east is the original chapel.  The whole structure has been massively altered over the years, even though the exterior walls seem to be relatively intact.  The chapel leads to the sanctuary of the Baroque Madonna della Neve.

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