Vicari was a fortified site recorded by the chronicler Malaterra as early as 1077.  In that year Count Roger Hauteville (d.1101), having dissolved his army at the end of his summer campaign, retired to Vicari.  The area could have been conquered by the Normans as early as the 1072 conquest of Palermo.  In the 1094 list of the monasteries later annexed to the cathedral of Palermo, the church of Santa Maria de Boico was mentioned.  Biku was the Arab name for Vicari.  In a simultaneous Greek diploma confirming his donation, Count Roger (d.1101) noted that, at the time of the conquest (probably of Palermo in 1072), he had found monks praying for his victory in the ruined church of SS. Deiparae existens ad Boicum.  Before 1154 Idrisi notes that Vicari (Biku) was a high castle (hisn) and fortalizio

When the revolt of Messina shook the kingdom in 1168, Vicari was one of the places who promised to send troops to the king to put down the insurrection.  In 1194 the castle was one of only 4 castles that remained loyal to King William III and his mother when they surrendered in December 1194.

The castle passed to King Charles after he overthrew King Manfred in 1266.  In 1271 Vicari castle was given to Joscelin Venetiis.  It was recorded in 1272 that the garrison was to consist of 1 knight or squire, backed by 20 sergeants.  This made it one of the most powerful Angevin garrisons.

With the commencement of the Sicilian Vespers on Monday, 30 March 1282, the men of Palermo fell on the French in the city and put to death all they could find.  The justiciar of Palermo, John St Remy, tried to defend the royal palace, but wounded in the face and hopelessly outnumbered, he and his men fled the 26 miles to Vicari castle.  There he was reinforced by other survivors.  The next day the men of Palermo arrived before the castle.  If this is true, they must have been a cavalry force too.  Seeing the size of the army, St Remy offered to surrender if they could pass to the coast and disembark for Provence, never to return.  At this point someone in the attacking army shot him dead with an arrow and the rest of the garrison were then massacred.

After King Peter (d.1285) had assumed control of Sicily that September 1282, he wrote asking the inhabitants of Vicari to choose two men to come to Palermo to take an oath.  The castle was held by Blasco Lancia in 1296.  Presumably he was a son of Galeotto Lancia who was beheaded in Naples in 1268 and died soon after 1296.

In either 1299 or 1300 Vicari castle was entrusted by King Frederick III (d.1337) to Manfred Chiaramonte (d.1321).  In counterpoise King Charles II of Naples (d.1309), the other claimant to the throne, offered it simultaneously to Virgil of Catania, but he never managed to take it.  In 1337 the castle was reclaimed by the new King Peter II (d.1342).  The next year he granted Vicari together with Godrano to Francesco Valguarnera and his heirs.  In 1348, at the death of the regent, Duke John of Athens (the son of King Frederick (d.1337) and Eleanor Anjou (d.1341), during the minority of his nephew, King Louis (d.1355), hostilities broke out in Palermo between the Latins and John's favoured Catalan faction.  The unsuccessful Catalans then took refuge in the castles of Vicari and Cefala and raided towards Palermo.  As a consequence Frederick Valguarnera of the Latin party was sent to take Vicari while Cefala was simultaneously attacked. 

In 1393 riots occurred in Marsala, Mussomeli, Misilmeri and Vicari which lead to an insurrection against the Aragonese.  Not being able to subdue the insurrection, in 1396 King Martin (d.1409) pardoned the rioters, but reclaimed as royal domain the castles of Caccamo, Castronovo, Misilmeri and Vicari.  He then held the castle unitl 1408 when he granted it to Simon Valguarnera, the nephew of the Francesco mentioned in 1338.  In the same year Simon sold it for 1000 gold onzes to Gilbert Talamanca.  Eventually it ended up with the Ventimiglia family and in 1556 King Philip II (d.1598) made the castle the seat of a county.  The castle was then held by the Bosco Agliatas until 1722 and was a ruin when feudalism was abolished in 1812.

The castle is set on the spine of a ridge in typical Byzantine fashion which mirrors the castles of 
Aci, Calatabianco, Castelmola, Castronovo, Cefala Diana, Rometta, Sperlinga and Taormina.  The defences consist of low walls on the inaccessible sides to E&W, while on the approach to the north is a stronger wall with towers.  To the south are a series of defences on the most approachable side.  The site is 820' long and up to 100' wide.  Entrance was gained via a ramp with 2 gates to the south.  The main gate was protected to the east by a rectangular tower.  This has been restored recently, being reroofed and having metal steps put in to first floor level.  Commanding this is another tower to the north whose remaining east face has ogival doorways at ground and first floor level.  The low curtain wall running north from here still has its battlements, every second merlon being pierced with a loop.  Blocking the north end of the site, the highest and least accessible point of the rock, stand 3 towers forming the end of the castle.  The central one of these is a rectangular keep.  The mural tower to the north has 2 lancet windows and the remains of a postern and a ladder down the rock.  Other towers were in the NW corner and the centre of the west wall, below which seems to have been a cistern.  Parts of the ruins are over 50' high. 

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