Placed on top of a hill at the height of 220 meters, Calatabiano's Castle is an extraordinary cultural heritage. Inside of it is treasured the historical syntesys of the dominations and the architectonical styles through the centuries. Indeed, the castle is the result of modifications made by the different owners, who used it for various purposes. This is the reason why it isn't possible to establish one exclusive date of construction. We ought to considerate the manor as the result of various stratifications, setting it into a temporal arch which goes from the period of the first greek colonial migration, until 1693, when a devastating heartquake destroyed, other than most of Sicily, part of the castle's external walls.
The first phase of the life of the manor is the greek one. The Hellenic populations took advantage of a flat zone out of the external walls to use it as a place of worship. The area (23x9 meters) has been identified as a small temple. The Naos has been made out of blocks of igneous stone, with a cornice of calcareous stone. In the same zone there is a tank which is 8 meters in depth, place of numerous finds: 30 terracotta vases from the Greek/Hellenistic period, a greek lantern, a golden fibula, some shingles, calcareous stone ashlars and ruins of the temple. The presence of bovine bones and a statue of female goddess, indicates the habit of making votive sacrifices to divinities of the lower world: Ade, Persefone, Demetra. Greek finds have been also brought to light in the upper part of the castle, inside of a rectangular hole at the base of a big cistern: pieces of vases, a section of column and several coins dated 343-337 B.C., as shown by the finding of a Siracusan stater with Athena 's face on the front and Pegasus on the back. In fact, the presence of Pegasus in decorations is a phenomenon limited to the second half of the IV century. Anyway, a lot of coins present a tripod, a greek firepan. Togheter with these findings, the pointy end of a bronzed spear is one of the elements that confirm the population of the site before the greek Era.
The Roman presence inside of the castle is testified by reperts such as amphoras and bricks from the roman ovens in Naxos, other than structural elements like a triangular arch, very similar to those of the greek theatre in Taormina. This arch is set above a stone compartment at the very beginning of the Byzantine fortitude, it was used by the Greeks as storage for food or by the Byzantines as a prison. On the external stone walls, it's noticeable a stylized fish, the ancient Christian's Ictus, a symbol of identification. The term Ictus is in fact the acronyms for Iesus Cristos Theu Ios Soter, which means "Jesus Christ Son of God the Savior". This drawing also is proof of the Greek/Roman presence in the site
Neither the Greeks nor the Romans ever had the idea of closing the perimeter of the hill. The Byzantines, instead, created circular walls to protect the highest point of the manor, the Castrum. Also, the Byzantine walls kept having the same function during the following centuries, being gradually improved and adapted by the Normans, the Swedish, the Angioins, the Aragonese and finally by the Cruyllas.
The Byzantines defined themselves romaioi, which means "heirs to the Romans". After the downfall of the Roman Empire, in 476 a.D., the Oriental Empire remaind stable for other thousand yars. The Byzantine kings and in particular the General Belisario, sent by the emperor Giustiniano, conquered Sicily again in 535, which became a district of the Byzantine Empire. To defend the Calatabiano's Castrum, the Byzantines built a slant, visible nowadays on the left side to the entrance door of the castle, once used by the defenders to throw big stones to the enemies. This means that the walls facing the canyon did not exist in the Byzantine period because it wouldn't have made this defence tecnique possible. Indeed these walls were built in 1677, year of the last battle fought in the famous war of Messina, when the French tried to invade Calatabiano's village from the valley and 150 Spanish soldiers defended Calatabiano, obliging the French to retire.
The circular area facing the entrance is called rivellino. Rivellinos, in general, had a concave shape for the weapons to be put in and to allow attacks to any direction.
The Castrum has been built 13 meters over the court. The perimetral walls give the idea of a rectangular space, defined laterally by two great half-cilindric towers which were probably used for the defence.
The walls still show signs of the so called saettiere, thin tall windows fundamental to the archers. Originally the wooden roof was constructed to make sure that raining water was collected inside of a wide cistern, to be used as drinking water for the soldiers. Inside of the castle there also was an escape that directly lead to the Alcantara fluvial valley. Today, out of the few breaks in the walls, is possible to actually have an amazing view of the Alcantara Park.
Around the year 820, the Byzantine Empire became in contact with the Normans. The Byzantines included the Normans in their army, creating the so called Viking guard, a special guard of the Byzantine army. One of these soldiers has been identified with the corpse found in the tank outside the castle, under a layer of burnt soil 4 meters down the opening. The radiocarbon dating collocates it around 840 a.D.. The man, 1.90 meters tall, presents two holes, on the skull and on the jaw, probably his mortal blows. The resin mold is exposed in the weapons room. Next to the skeleton have been found several coins used during the reign of Leone VI and Irene of Bisanzio. Amongst these, one goes back to Eraclio, Roman Emperor of the East from 610 to 641 a.D..
In 652 and in 669 there were two Muslim incursions in Sicily. During these attacks the Byzantine emplacements have been fortified and became unapproachable. In 701 the Arabic population came back for the third time to invade Sicily and after a short while it was entirely occupied. Taormina fell in 902. As wrote by the munk Giovanni E. De Blasi, scholar of the XIX century:"... destrutta Taormina, devastò Ibrahim i vicini castelli..." (after the downfall of Taormina, Ibrahim destroyed the castle's next to it). Ibrahim was the leader of the expedition and probably the destruction of Taormina also affected Calatabiano's Castle, together with Francavilla and Castiglione.
The Arabic population remained the owner of the Island until 1060, when the German warriors lead by Roberto Guiscardo and Ruggero D'Altavilla came to Sicily invading Messina.
During the Medieval Era, Calatabiano belonged to various lords and in particular to the Episcopate of Catania and to the Episcopate of Messina, because of itsnstrategic position. Starting from the Norman Age, the castle belonged to the De Parisio. The territory has been assigned to them in 1135 by Ruggero II. This assignment wasn't clear , as reported by the scholar Maurici, according to a contract in which, in 1162, Bartolomeo De Parisio, the King's executioner and Lord of Mascali, bought the Castle at the price of 100.00 tarì.
During the Norman domination, Calatabiano goes from Bartolomeo's eldest child, Pagano De Parisio, to the other son Gualtieri. Both Earls of Avellino, after the contrast against the ruling dynasty ad with the accusation of <<ingiury>>, they soon lost Calatabiano. The same destiny to their successor, Roberto of Calatabiano under the reign of Guglielmo I. Accused of cruelty against the rebels, he is condemned to jail in Palermo ' s Castle were he dies in 1167. Calatabiano's Castle and his territories, under Guglielmo II, were reassigned to the Crown.
With the Swedish domination, Federico II assignes the castle to the Messina's Bishop, Berardo, with a privilege conceded by Palermo in June 1201. In 1208, Gualtieri De Parisio once again obtains Calatabiano and is accused for the second time of lese-mayesty: for not deponing weapons as ordered by Federico II, he is deprived of his goods but dies before being captured by the authorities. Meanwhile, the castle had been assigned to Arnaldo Da Reggio, identified as Earl Armaleo Monaldeschi, son-in-law of Gualtieri De Parisio, who obtained Calatabiano thanks to his right to succession. Anyways, the castle goes to Gualtiero De Pelar, Bishop of Catania. This is one of the privileges of Costanza D'Aragona, wife of Federico II, who reigns from 1212 to 1216, during the husband's absence. Catania's church obtains the castle thanks to a document in March 1213. The Bishop Gualtiero De Pelar, after receiving such a privilege, to confirm its validity pays 15,000 tarì to Arnaldo Da Reggio. This is a period of welfare for Calatabiano: the castle is expanded; the Bishop's ownership lasts for 9 years. Soon a fight between the Church and the Crown restarts; Around 1256, Pietro Ruffo, counselor of Federico II, becames the owner of Calatabiano, Taormina, Castiglione, Francavilla, and other territories. Just two years later, Ruffo is kicked out the island after some discussions against the king and some nobles. Calatabiano is reassigned to public domain and then goes to the Church of Messina. At the beginning of Carlo D'Angiò's reign, Vassallo D'Amelia becames the Lord of the castle with the title of Baron. Against him, the Church of Messina requires the apostolic ambassador, the Bishop Rodolfo, who in 1268 reassigned the Castrum to the Church of Catania, precisely to Ottone Capece. Maybe because of some burocratic issues, in 1272 the castle still results being amongst the Crown ' s possessions. During the Evenstar War the Admiral Ruggero Di Lauria, thanks to the success against the Angioin navy, receives from the court, in 1285, Calatabiano's territory. After a plot against the Crown, all his belongings, except Aci, are confiscated: with Caltabellotta's Peace in 1302, indeed, Carlo and Federico II confiscated all goods to the nobles guilty of rebellion. Calatabiano is given by Ruggero Di Lauria to his daughter Margherita but it is reclaimed by Ruggero III. Around 1303, Ruggero III gifts Calatabiano to Brancaleone Doria of Genova. In the Doria ' s family the owners of the castle were just two: Brancaleone and his son Manfredi, until 1350. Few years later, the king Federico IV reassigned the castle to Artale Alagona, who wanted to take control of the entire valley. Near Calatabiano in 1357 the Aragonese won against the Angioins. After Artale this territory changed owners through succession 'till Martino. The Martinos fought against the Alagona's heir Maria for the ownership. After this fight the castle was reassigned to Guerau Querault, then to Bartolomeo Aragona, Earl of Cammarota, who wanted the entire Alcantara Valley. He attached Taormina, which was under Martino's dominion. In 1395 Calatabiano was reassigned to Tommaso Romano, Baron of Cesarò who soon exchanged it for the territory Montalbano of Berengario Cruyllas.
The Cruyllas, a Catalan family, were the lords of the castle from 1396. What nowadays is the Cruyllas' room, once was a tower with battlements, as demonstrated from the presence of saettiere. The Cruyllas used this space as a Dance Hall, modifying the original shape that probably presented two elevations. Facing the two windows there is another window, way taller, which suggest that the floor once used to be higher. The amazing and original white arch made of calcareous stone from Siracusa, above the Hall, still shows the ancient stem of the family: 9 crosses on a shield. At the bottom of the Hall, indeed, emerges a rectangular space that hosts a fireplace. Next to the Cruyllas' Room, there are two panoramic spaces on the Alcantara Valley, once used as bedrooms.
This family is also attributed the small church. Inside of it, the apse ' s restoration brought to light a beautiful Byzantine painting representing Christus the Creator, surrounded by four angels.
A precious skeleton, maybe Giovannello Cruyllas, Giovanni's son, one of the last owners of the castle, is exposed inside the Weapons' Room. The hypothesis of the identity of the skeleton is confirmed by the burial contest , the radiocarbon dating (around 1450) and by hystorical considerations.
A few meters away from the castle, is located the Gothic church of the Saint Crucifix, built in 1484. Commonly defined "S. Filippo church" because of the relics custoded, is the starting point for the traditional procession; the name of the Church also derives from the cult of the Crucifix to which has been dedicated the wooden crucifix realized by Giovanni Salvo D'Antonio, put on the major altar of the St. Annunziata Church. On the nose cone-shaped front door is possible to see the Cruyllas' stem.
The Castle is reachable in two ways: the ancient path, formed by stone stairs, which goes from the central square to the village; the inclined panoramic elevator that reaches the top of the castle at the height of 220 meters in two minutes and a half, allowing the visitors to simultaneously see the Etna, Taormina, the Alcantara ' s Valley and the magnificent sea.
The restoration of the castle has been obtained thanks to the European founds and thanks to the enormous commitment of the Acireale's Church, owner of the site. On the 23 of July 2009, after two years of work, the castle opened to the public. The intervention included the realization of some wooden and glass structures, to respect the previous location. Indeed the interior design is studied as a compromise between the old and the new.
A spectacular nocturnal lighting makes the castle visible from the highway, creating a surreal atmosphere: a long line of lights seems to be suspended in the sky defining the limits of the castle.