Sicily’s treasures are vast and varied which is just one of the reasons this beautiful island attracts such a diverse mix of visitors every year. Sandy beaches, craggy coves and crystalline waters will put a smile on the face of any sun-worshipper. Rolling agricultural fields and sweeping national parks will appeal to the nature lover. And the fresh produce and tantalising recipes of Sicilian cuisine will take any foodie on a gastronomical journey they won’t soon forget.
But one of the elements that makes Sicily so unique in the hearts of those that fall for its charms, is the long, rich history it boasts – a history coloured with dramatic conquest and the rise and fall of mighty powers that have all left their mark on the culture and architecture of the island. This was an island that was so in demand, thanks in part to its fertile lands and key position for trading between the Mediterranean and exotic North Africa, that once an invading nation had come to power on its shores, they did all that they could to hold onto it.
One of the finest and most effective forms of defending the island, was to build imposing castles, strategically positioned to provide ample warning of an attack by land or sea. To this day, the remains of a myriad castles can be found throughout Sicily, ramparts fronting the shoreline of many a coastal town or silhouetted against the sky amongst the mountainous landscapes of Sicily’ rugged interior. Visiting Sicily’s castles will transport you back in time – you can practically feel the history reverberating within their heavy stone walls. Here are a few of our favourites to help guide your search…
Castello di Venere, Erice
The misty mountain town of Erice is a destination reminiscent of a fairytale with its cobbled streets, winding alleys and not one but two castles perched high in the sky. The breathtaking Castello di Venere, a 12th century castle built by the Romans, offers a vantage point up in the clouds with incredible panoramic views that stretch all the way to Africa on a clear day. The crenelated perimeter walls offer dizzying vistas as well as a glimpse of the nearby Torri Pepoli and its wonderful turrets.
Castello Maniace, Syracuse
Perched on the romantic island of Ortygia, renowned as the beating heart of Syracuse, the Castello Maniace takes its name from the courageous Byzantine general who takes the credit for the Normans win against the Arabs back in 1038. The castle was constructed by the Emperor Frederick II in 1240 and played host to the Angevin kings of Sicily before being turned into a prison in the 15th century. The castle has been extensively restored over the years and is now open for visitors.
Il Castello di Caccamo, Caccamo
An excellent day out just off Sicily’s northern coast, the picturesque medieval village of Caccamo lies in the mountains south of Palermo and Cefalu. Over 500 metres above sea level, the village was perfectly positioned for a defensive monument that could survey the surrounding lands for miles around. Il Castello di Caccamo was constructed by the Normans in the 12th century but added to by Manfredi Chiaramonte in the following years. It is a rather spectacular ‘textbook’ version of a castle with magnificent battlements, court chapels, a keep, impressive towers and a strategic position atop a plunging rocky outcrop that adds an atmospheric edge to the scenery.
Il Castello di Donnafugata, near Ragusa
Located a short distance from the beautiful Baroque town of Ragusa, deep in Sicily’s south, Il Castello di Donnafugata is a stunning example of a royal residence. Unlike some of the war-torn and imposing defensive castles of the island, this magnificent structure was built upon extensively throughout the 17th and 20th centuries to please the wealthy aristocrats who called it their home. Norman architectural styles blend seamlessly with Gothic and medieval influences to create a sumptuous abode boasting more than120 rooms, spacious Mediterranean gardens and a small labyrinth. Much of the castle is attributed to Baron Corrado Arezzo de Spuches, the lucky owner of the estate throughout much of the 19th century.
Il Castello di Milazzo, Milazzo
The Arabs were the first to see the defensive opportunities the rocky headland of Milazzo presented and, as is the case with many of the fortifications of Sicily, the Normans finished constructing the project the Arabs began. The result was the monumental Il Castello di Milazzo, a citadel standing proud against the sky, looking out to sea for potential threats whilst housing a cathedral and a Benedictine monastery within its strong walls.
Why not put some of these romantic, rustic castles on your must-see list today? Perhaps you're honeymooning in Sicily? We've got some more romantic ideas for you right here.