Castles in Western Sicily: which ones to visit absolutely
Castles in Sicily are not as famous as those in other Italian or European regions: the island is known worldwide for its beaches and seaside villages, and often its artistic heritage takes a back seat.
Sicily, due to its location in the center of the Mediterranean, has always been a crossroads of cultures and, due to its strategic importance, has undergone various dominations that have left their indelible mark on the region.
In particular, Western Sicily, rich in history and culture, has seen Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards come and go, producing a unique historical and cultural heritage that can still be admired today in numerous archaeological sites.
In this article, we will take a journey into the past to discover the most famous castles in Western Sicily and the people who built them. Let’s get started!
Castellammare del Golfo: Arab-Norman influences
Castellammare del Golfo is a town located on the coast between Palermo and Trapani. Its geographic location has made it influenced over the centuries by various cultures, such as Arab and Norman.
Arab-Norman influences can be found in the architecture of the historic center: among the main buildings of this style are the Cathedral of San Nicolò and the imposing Arab-Norman Castle (from which the town takes its name), located on top of a hill near the city.
The castle was built using a combination of Arab and Norman architectural styles and in the past was used as a military fortress. Raised by the Arabs, fortified by the Normans with successive additions by the Swabians who surrounded it with walls and erected towers. Today it is publicly owned and hosts the “Memory of the Mediterranean” museum route with archaeological and cultural evidence of the surroundings.
Certainly, Castellammare del Golfo is one of those places in Sicily where it is possible to appreciate the encounter between different cultures and discover the richness and beauty of this land.
A tour of the castles of Western Sicily
Due to its cultural and strategic importance, the Arab-Norman castle of Castellammare del Golfo is probably the most famous in Western Sicily. But, for the history enthusiast traveler who wants to discover other places suspended in time, Sicily certainly has a lot to offer.
Among the most suggestive fortifications, we can mention: the Lombardia Castle in Montelepre, the Calatubo Castle in Alcamo, the Venus Castle in Erice, the Salemi Castle, the Baida Castle, the Inici Castle, and the Mazara del Vallo Castle.
The Tower of the Ventimiglia is a medieval fortress located on top of a hill near Montelepre, built in the thirteenth century, it has recently been restored and is open to the public. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the valley below and houses a museum dedicated to local history.
The Calatubo Castle is located near Alcamo and dates back to the twelfth century. It played an important strategic role in its history, as it was part of a line of towers and forts located along the coast between Trapani and Palermo that was used to transmit light signals in the event of Saracen attacks. Having lost its strategic importance, it was gradually abandoned while remaining in good condition until 1968 when it was severely damaged by the Belìce Valley earthquake. In recent times, various attempts have been made to recover it by local administrations.
The Castle of Venus is a medieval fortress located on top of a hill in Erice, built by the Normans in the 12th century. It has been restored several times over the centuries and is now open to the public. It offers a unique panorama of the city and the Gulf of Trapani and houses a museum exhibiting historical and archaeological artifacts from the region.
The fortress, built by the Normans, stands on the ruins of what was originally a temple dedicated to Venus Erycina and has been used over the centuries as a noble residence and as the seat of a convent of Benedictine nuns.
The temple, surrounded by fortifications, created a citadel separate from the city. In the medieval period, much of the remains of the sanctuary had already been lost, and a small church dedicated to Santa Maria della Neve was built in the area.
The fortress has two towers connected to the castle by a drawbridge and became the “royal square” for the Aragonese viceroys and the Spanish Habsburgs until the 16th century, when it became a prison under the Bourbons. In 1934-36, archaeological excavations were carried out in search of the original temple, and most of the artifacts found are now preserved in the Pepoli Museum in Trapani.
Also in Erice, in the fraction of Ballata, we find the Maurigi Castle built around the 12th century.
The Norman-Swabian Castle is a fortress that dominates the city of Salemi, built in the 13th century by the Normans, and subsequently modified and enlarged by Frederick II of Swabia and later by the Chiaramonte family. Over the centuries, the castle has suffered numerous damages due to earthquakes and wars, but it has always been rebuilt and today is one of the main points of historical interest in the city. Today it houses a museum exhibiting archaeological and historical artifacts of the area.
Just a stone’s throw from Castellammare del Golfo, we find a treasure trove waiting to be discovered: the Baida Castle. A medieval fortress whose construction dates back to the 13th century, when it was built by the Normans to protect the city of Trapani from Saracen raids. The structure is characterized by a square shape with four towers at the corners and is surrounded by a moat.
Over the centuries, the castle has undergone various modifications and renovations, which have changed its original appearance. Today it is open to the public and can be visited to admire its architecture and the panoramic view of the city of Trapani.
If instead, you want to be literally speechless in front of an unparalleled landscape, the place to visit is the Inici Castle. The Castle of Monte Inici is one of the oldest in Sicily, located on the southern slope of the Val di Mazara.
Its origins are uncertain, some scholars think that the castle was the fulcrum of the mythical city of Inico, a pre-Roman settlement. Another theory maintains that the settlement corresponds to the city of Atala, founded by the mythical Trojan king Aceste.
The castle has had several owners, in one of its towers, built around the year 1000, Charles V of Habsburg was hosted in 1535. In 1960, the castle was still inhabited by about fifty people and was the seat of a post office, a carabinieri barracks, and a school. After the earthquake of 1968, the castle was abandoned. Today, only the ruins remain, but it is worth visiting them for their suggestive position, immersed in nature and surrounded by vineyards.
The castle of Mazara del Vallo was built in 1072 by the Normans to defend the city from Saracen raids and is now one of the most important monuments in the city. Inside the castle, one can admire numerous wonders, including the chapel of San Giovanni and the clock tower, and enjoy a panoramic view of the sea.
In conclusion, we can say that castles in Sicily are fascinating places that testify to the region’s rich past and are worth visiting to fully appreciate the beauty of the territory. What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and come to Western Sicily!