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Milazzo Castle:

Surviving Through The Ages

Randy H. Sooknanan Elvira Valentina Resta

Art & History Writers

The fortified citadel, known as "Castello di Milazzo", was built on Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, and Spanish settlements and is the largest castle in Sicily and covering almost 14,000 square meters. It is also the most important historical monument in the area and an impressive site in position and stature, while perfectly illustrating the last thousand years of Sicilian history.


Milazzo Castle

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Castello di Milazzo is located on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Milazzo in Sicily, Italy. This castle and adjoining structures, along with the land it sits upon itself has a very storied history. It is an archaeological site that has spanned many eras and has been subjected to many different ruling nations, just like the beautiful island of Sicily.  Around the waters surrounding the cliffs, archaeologists have found shipwrecks dating back to the earliest of ship faring times. It was during these times without the advent of lighthouses that the site was a most dangerous place to approach in the night, adding to the strength of its location. These wrecks also show us the amount of history connected to the area, which is astounding.

The castle is surrounded by the ocean on 3 sides, which is interestingly a great analogy for the island of Sicily itself, as it is locally known as a land being surrounded by "the three seas". The cultural symbol of Sicily is in fact Medusa with 3 legs extruding from her head, which represents the three seas. 

This particular site was first fortified all the way back in the Neolithic era near the very end of the stone age nearly 12,000 years ago. Its location and geographical traits have always made it an ideal spot for fortification. The first intricate fortifications were built around 4000 BC. 

Over the centuries we can see the ancient Greeks, who modified it into an acropolis. In ancient Greece, an acropolis was a settlement or 'a citadel, built upon an area of elevated ground—frequently a hill with precipitous sides, chosen for purposes of defense.' (1) 

Later in the world of antiquity, the site of Castello di Milazzo was enlarged into a fortified military camp, known as 'Castrum' in Latin, by the Romans and then the Byzantines. After the dark ages and fall of the Roman empire, the Arabs eventually came along and 'built a castle, which was further modified and enlarged during the Medieval and Early Modern periods.' (2) 

The castle was in Habsburg hands for the first half of the 18th century, before being taken over by the Bourbons. They controlled the castle until losing Milazzo to Giuseppe Garibaldi in the year 1860. Then the castle was subsequently converted into a prison in 1880, and underwent a number of alterations.

Even though this fortified citadel was built on Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim settlements the first documents date back to the Norman era (11th-12th century AD).

In the 13th century, King Frederick II of Swabia took care of the defensive structures of the island of Sicily and entrusted Richard da Lentini with the task of expanding the fortification of the Milazzo Castle which became a fortified citadel.

In the second half of the 14th century, Sicily became part of the Kingdom of Aragon, at the behest of Alfonso the Magnanim the castle was modernized. Ferdinand the King of Spain then built the "Aragonese town wall" encompassing the medieval structures.
In 1525, during the Empire of Charles V of Spain, under the Viceroy Ettore Pignatelli, work began on the construction of the Spanish Belt that enclosed the medieval village, civil and religious buildings, military structures. Spaces for stables and warehouses were built within the new walls; there were also numerous water cisterns distributed throughout the large territory. Archive documents inform us that at the end of the sixteenth century there were 1200 civilian inhabitants with a slow movement out of the walls towards the lower part, towards the sea.

 In 1608 the construction of the Old Cathedral began inside the fortification.
In 1718/19 with a great siege on the fortified city, Spain loses the island of Sicily that becomes part of the Austrian kingdom.

From 1734 to 1860 Sicily is part of the Bourbon kingdom with capital Naples (Crown Bourbon of Spain).
The Citadel was no stranger to the Liberal/Republican revolt movements of 1820 and 1848.

After the creation of the Kingdom of  Italy in 1880, the Castle, losing its military function, was converted into a men's prison. 'The prison then closed in 1959 and the castle remained abandoned for a couple of decades.  The structures are still in good condition and open to the public now.

All in all this impressive site and has passed ownership from Antiquity with Phonetician, Greek, Roman rule to Arab, Norman, and Swabian rule to Aragonese and Spanish rule to finally the Bourbons. The castle we see today was erected as a result of the strategic importance in 'the Milazzo peninsula, which commands the Gulf of Patti, the body of water that separates Sicily from the Aeolian Islands.' (3) To this day, commands one of Sicily's most important natural harbors.

1. Acropolis - Wikipedia.
2. Castello di Milazzo - The World of Castles.
3. Castello di Milazzo - Wikipedia.

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