The castle is alleged to have been built around 1082 on a quartzitic rock which held numerous hypogea.  These were still inhabited until the 1950s.  However, the chapel would appear to be Byzantine and it seems unlikely that early defences did not crowd this hill top to protect this when this part of Sicily was under attack.  Palermo, 66 miles away, fell in 831 AD, and Enna, just 15 miles away in 859 AD.  Cefalu, just 30 miles away, also fell soon after Enna in the spring of 859 AD.  Presumably Sperlinga also fell around the end of the 850s.  Certainly there would have been a direct threat to this district at this time.

Despite this suggestion of an early history, the vill was first mentioned in 1082 as Sperlingua and the castle as Galgania in 1133.  It was presumably around this time that the Lombards arrived in the district.  They also settled around the nearby centres of Nicosia and Piazza Armerina.  In 1222 Sperlinga castle was held by Roger Red (Rossus Rubeus), who was also lord of Martini, when he lent 2,000 florins to Frederick II (d.1250).  The sum was never repaid, but the emperor did reward his loyal vassal with other income instead.

During the War of the Sicilian Vespers the castle was loyally defended for the Angevins.  At the end of March 1282 the Sicilians rose en masse to oust and massacre their French nobility.  The townsfolk of Sperlinga seem to have refused to join in the mayhem and the castle gave refuge to a few surviving Angevin soldiers.  Remarkably, the garrison survived for a year before retiring to safety at Messina 80 miles away.  This dogged defence is commemorated by an engraving on the wall near the castle's entrance: Quod Siculis placuit sola Sperlinga negavit - That Sperlinga alone refused that which pleased the Sicilians.  The castle then passed as Splingi to King Peter in early 1283.  Later that year the both this castle and Modica castle was seized by Walter Caltagirone in his bid to make Sicily a province independent of both Aragon and Naples, but in this he failed, was taken and executed.  The castle later passed from the Aragonese royal family to Francesco Scaglione and then the powerful Ventimiglia family before 1296.  Francesco Ventimiglia was holding the castle shortly before 1330, together with Pettineo.  Three centuries later the Ventimiglias sold the castle to Giovanni Forti Natoli who became the first prince of Sperlinga in 1597 when he founded the new town beneath the castle.

Sperlinga castle is about 650' long and up to 50' wide.  It is set on top of a sharp rise about 230' above the surrounding ground level.  The NW side of the castle is like the bow of a ship and contains the church, cistern pits and the access to the upper castle.  This part of the fortress is entered via a concrete walkway from the SE.  The main ward is a long rectangle entered through the much modified gatetower.  Externally this tower was protected by a rounded entrance passage.  From here a drawbridge crossed to an ogival arched entrance which has been reduced in size at some point.  Above this are two filled in drawbridge raising slots, while beneath are the 2 corbels on which the drawbridge swivelled.  Above this again, and of an earlier period, is a blocked Byzantine light whose lower half has been destroyed by the drawbridge apparatus.  On the south side of the tower is a fine double light window with dog-tooth surround.  For some reason this is thought to be fourteenth century.  Behind this the curtain wall has been raised and now contains 3 later openings, one being a flat topped door(?) of the seventeenth century.  The chamber here, above the stone vaulted entrance passage, is now known as the baronial rooms.  Beneath this to the south is a large projecting buttress with an apparent gun loop cut into a brick string course. 

Behind the entrance building the curtain continues, hugging the top of the cliff to the SW corner of the site where there is a long rectangular tower at the prow of the ‘ship'.  All along this front for some 330' are rooms carved out of the rock, complete with a water cistern, one of them giving access to a Byzantine splint - a groove for rolling stones down a slope to defend a site.  The main curtain continues back on the north side forming the northern walls of a series of 3 rectangular buildings which make up the ‘Byzantine' church with its 3 Romanesque apses to the east and round west window.  East of the chapel are 2 rooms, the first containing a trace of a staircase, the second two ovens and some stoves.  All these building were rebuilt in the late twentieth century.

Behind these buildings to the SE are a flight of time worn steps that rise up the rock to the long thin, upper castrum with its modern Ghibelline battlements to the SE.  The area defended on the summit is about 130' long by 23' at its widest.  The arches within the gateway in the thickened wall are ogival.  In some ways it resembles the castrum at Calatabiano, but there are no towers.  Again this points towards an early provenance.

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