There were 3 castles in Trapani, Count Roger's, Terra and Colombaia.  The older was erected by Count Roger (d.1101) when he overwhelmed Trapani in 1077.  It may have been built on the remains of a Carthaginian fortification built by  Hamilcare, according to Diodorus Siculus writing in the first century BC.  This was initially thought to be sited at the mouth of the canal that connected the Tyrrhenian Sea to the port where the current Terra Castle stands.  Certainly as early as 970 Trapani was mentioned among the many Sicilian cities (muduns) and this would suggest an element of fortification.  By the end of the reign of King Roger (1105-54) Trapani was certainly a walled city.  Presumably these defences included his castle.  Columbarie castle may have been built around this time as Colombaia tower (turris Columbarie) appears to be mentioned in a document of 1223.  Later in 1239, Frederick II (1198-1250) ordered that Trapani castle [singluar, not plural] should be entrusted to a loyal citizen to avoid its ruin.  It may be around this time that he also founded a second castle on the island of Colombaia to control access to the port.  Certainly in 1282 a chronicler mentioned the twin castles of Trapani (geminis castris).

King Peter I (1282-85) landed at the port in 1282 and his son, James II of Aragon (1285-95), undertook miliary works at Trapani in 1286 and so may also have built new city walls as well as upgraded the castle.  Terra castle was apparently maintained throughout the fourteenth century, being a prison for the daughters of the deceased Count Raimondo Peralta in 1349 and being recorded as state owned in 1355 and 1398.  During the civil wars both castles of Trapani were recorded as being held by Richard Abbate or his son Nicholas between 4 February 1356 and 9 June 1358 and later.  Indeed on 4 February 1356, Nicholas was exhorted by Frederick IV (1355-77) to guard Trapani, Erice, their respective castles and the Colombaia.

By the fifteenth century Colombaia was generally held by a royal castellan and some 4 servants.  The island castle was probably consisted only of the tower until the mid sixteenth century.  In 1554, Ferramolino da Bergamo was ordered ‘to complete the work on the island of Colombara', which had been began by the viceroy Juan de la Vega by 1546 when it was noted that he had ‘also added to the tower of the Colombaia that part which overlooks the eastern side, although it is the lowest tower of it, yet it is very wide and strong' and he had placed artillery within it to keep hostile ships from the port.  Finally, in the twentieth century the sea castle was used as a prison.

While this was going on the land castle was transformed into a barracks by the Bourbons and then partially demolished in the 1970s to build offices for the Police.  Restoration and excavation began in 1992.  It has generally been believed that this current land castle, Terra, was the fortress built by Count Roger around 1072, but excavation of the current castle has found no trace of this.

The Terra Castle was originally roughly square, but some 2 thirds of it has been swept away.  What remains is the north wall and part of the east.  At the northwest corner is a rectangular tower that is set slightly back from the line of the north curtain, but projects boldly from the west one.  This odd angle suggests the tower belongs to a different phase to the rest of the enceinte.  The tower had been much altered with external doorways added facing north and south.  The structure is made of a fine ashlar and has a single barrel vaulted room above.  To the east a building lay alongside the curtain as is evidenced by 2 windows at different levels and the 2 doorways from the upper floor of the tower leading onto its destroyed floors.

Centrally in the north curtain is a D shaped ashlar tower with a single destroyed loop facing north at first floor level.  This chamber appears to have only been accessed from the chamber behind the curtain through a flat topped, now blocked, doorway.  Another internal rectangular tower lay at the northeast corner of the enceinte.  The bulk of the west face of this has collapsed, but on the north face at curtain wallwalk level is a recessed Romanesque arch surrounding a modern window.  A similar recess graces the north face of the large rectangular, keep like tower attached to the northern half of the corner tower's east face.  Below the recess is an external offset, below which is a single, narrow loop.  A blocked Romanesque recess can be seen in the east wall in the upper level, while a full one still exists in the south wall.  Within the tower at this upper level, was a tall room with a barrel vault with seats in the embrasures for the recessed windows.  The ground floor was also barrel vaulted and had splayed loops to north and south.  A garderobe was set in the thickness of the west wall, while the upper floor was reached via a mural stair in the inner wall.  Access to the tower was from the south on both levels, while the roof crease of a lean-to 2 storey building against the east curtain could still be seen on the tower prior to restoration.

From the junction of these 2 towers the curtain runs southwards, ending just after a strongly projecting pentagonal tower.  A hole in the wall gateway exists tight against the north side of the pentagonal tower, whose 2 floors were entered via doorway to the west.  The upper floor had loops on the 2 outward faces.  An old sketch of the castle before its demolition shows that the main gate was a hole in the walls type at the southern end of the west curtain, tight against what looks to be a round corner tower.  A small rectangular keep peeps over this gateway from the interior.  The whole seems to have been surrounded by an artillery fort with ravelins.

Excavation in the 1990s suggested that this was a thirteenth century castle with the keep and pentagonal tower added later.  No trace of the 1072 castle was found.

Columbarie castle consisted solely of a large, 4 storey octagonal tower some 100' high.  In the basement was a circular cistern cut into the rock and accessed via a trapdoor from above.  The next 3 levels were quite similar octagonal rooms connected by a mural stair.  The third floor had a ribbed vault resting on 8 half columns.  Quite clearly this tower bears some resemblance to the pentagonal towers at Erice outer ward (Torri de Ballo) and Giuliana as well as the octagonal Frederick's Tower at Enna.  The sixteenth century outer work consisted of an oval artillery work with a small, probably hexagonal tower to the northeast.

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


Copyright©2023 Paul Martin Remfry