Scaletta Zanclea
Castello Rufo Ruffo

The placename Scaletta is first mentioned by Edrisi writing in 1154.  He calls it ‘the Scala Piccola', which is translated to Scaletta.  Once more, such a mention neither proves, nor disproves the existence of a castle, though the implication is that the hamlet was not fortified.

It is thought that Scaletta castle was built in the early thirteenth century by Frederick II (d.1250), on the grounds of the fact he was controlling the castle in May 1239.  This is somewhat emphasised by an instruction recorded in the surviving 1239-40 register of the Emperor.  This contains a letter to Master R Trajecto concerning the provisioning of the castles in Sicily to the east of the River Salso.  In this he orders that Constable Matthew Savage of Scaletta is to munition the castle from September to November 1240 with the help of Matthew Marchafaba and that Jordan Filangerium, who was once captain of those parts, was to do the same in December.

The castle remained in the hands of the Crown, although it was garrisoned by Peter Ruffo of Messina (d.1256+) after the death of Frederick II in 1250.  After Peter's defeat at Piazza Armerina in November 1254 it was surrendered by him to the Messinans.
One of the Matthews mentioned in relation to Scaletta in 1240 may have been the grandfather of the Matthew Scaletta who was beheaded at Agrigento 13 January 1284.  This Matthew's sister was Machalda, the wife of Alaimo Lentini of Nicosia, the hero of Messina in the Sicilian Vespers.  In May 1272 the Angevin garrison of Scaletta was supposed to consist of the large force of 12 knights.  This figure was reduced by 1278 to just one squire and 6 sergeants.  In 1281 a revised statute of castles lowered the garrison requirements again to merely a squire, who was not hold any land in the kingdom, and 4 sergeants.  In 1282, in a plan to strengthen the Angevin defences of Sicily, it was ordered that the millet stored in the castle should be increased from 20 to 48 loads.

When the war of the Sicilian Vespers broke out in March 1282, fleeing French refugees found shelter in the castle under Michelotto Mosca.  Presumably they withdrew to the mainland and the castle passed into the hands of the newly installed Aragonese monarchy.  In 1325 Scaletta castle is thought to have been granted by King Frederick III (d.1337) to Peregrino Patti, the future chancellor of King Peter II (d.1342).  In 1397 Scaletta was granted to Salimbene Marchese, the man who had pronounced the death sentence for Andrew Chiaramonte of Modica in 1392.

In 1535, the Emperor Charles V visited Scaletta, after his crusade to Tunis.  The castle had in the meantime been acquired by the Ventimiglias, who held it until 1672 when it was sold by Francesco Ventimiglia to Duke Antonio Ruffo Spadafora.  He converted the castle for artillery and the garrison soon witnessed the battles between the combined Spanish and Dutch fleets against the French fleet of Louis XIV that occurred in the straits between 1674 and 1676.  Finally the fortress resisted a French siege in 1678.  The Ruffos, who gave the name Rufo Ruffo to the fortress, then held the castle until the abolition of feudalism in 1812 when Scaletta became a commune.

Like so many castles in Sicily, Scaletta castle stands at the NW end of a rocky spur, overlooking the neighbouring village and the nearby straits to the east.  The southeast is therefore the only easy direction of approach.  The castle site has been much altered over the centuries, but the core of it is the great tower keep.  This is trapezoidal, being roughly 60' by 65'.  As such it has been compared to earlier rectangular tower keeps to the south of Etna, like Paterno, Adrano and Motta Sant'Anastasia.  However, these are almost certainly much older and are, of course, regular.  If anything Scaletta would be more like the upper ward at Mussomeli which is also thought to be a later castle.

The keep stands 3 storey's high on a natural rocky motte, with a bailey behind to the west and below to the southeast.  The internal wooden floors have now gone, but the roof vault survives.  Internally the arches are rounded, but the main entrance to the northwest has a pointed arch made of sandstone blocks, while the rest of the castle consists of limestone ashlar, with some quoins replaced by sandstone.  Other than the main door, there are no apertures to the west although there appears to be one blocked window.  The main windows, where they survive, are in the Chiaromonte style, although those to the south have been filled in.  The upper floor windows are surprisingly small and appear sixteenth century or later, possibly as servants' quarters.  Presumably the upper floor was designed at that time.  Access to the battlements was gained from a stair turret to the southwest.

West of the keep is the site of the main ward.  Nothing remains of this, but the rocky site and some much later wales.  Below the cliff to the west is a wall blocking the base of the rock.  This may be medieval and contains a postern.  To the southeast is a large lower bailey, which again contains what appears to be only much later fort walls designed to house artillery.  Another fort, the battery San Placido, has been constructed at the east end of the ridge over the current motorway.

The keep now houses a museum. 

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