Sicily has always been considered a key location for its strategic position between two continents, hence the number of populations and emperors that have been trying (whether successfully or not) to conquer the island since the age of Magna Grecia. Its territory has always been perfect for building strongholds and fortresses: the coastline is studded with ancient watchtowers, and the countryside is rich in castles located in strategic points of observation providing wide overlooks of the surroundings. Plenty of these castles are still well preserved and create impressive and fascinating landscapes: perched on hilltops, surrounded by medieval little towns, clinging to steep cliffs overhanging the sea… Let’s see our top 5 castles – those you really should not miss if you’re looking for some out-of-time atmosphere!
1. Castle of Caccamo
Not only is this striking castle the biggest one in Sicily: it is also one of the most gorgeous and interesting of the whole island. Built on top of a steep crag by the Chiaramonte family during the Norman empire, the castle provides a really dramatic atmosphere as it overlooks the little town of Caccamo and the whole fascinating landscape all around. The building is imposing and a large part of it is open to visitors. Together with the stunning panorama, the castle’s prisons are probably going to be the most thrilling part of your visit: their walls are covered with prisoners’ graffiti. Other interesting areas of the castle of Caccamo include the armory room, the chapel and the theatre room; moreover, we definitely recommend a visit to the little medieval town, with its streets of cobblestone, lovely tiny squares and – of course – local restaurants serving the most typical recipes from the countryside of Palermo.
2. Castle of Erice (Castle of Venus)
One of the most famous and visited hamlets of Sicily, Erice provides the atmosphere of a place lost in time. Walk through its narrow alleys, breathe its clean fresh air: you’ll feel like you’re being taken back to the Middle Ages during your whole visit. The Castle of Venus (Castello di Venere) of course contributes to create such a magical atmosphere: it rises in the highest site of Mount San Giuliano and is graced with an extraordinary jaw-dropping panorama over both the Western shore (from Trapani to Marsala, with the Aegadian islands in the background) and the North-Western coastline and countryside. The castle was built during the 12th Century right on the remains of an ancient Roman temple dedicated to Venus, hence the name. After a walk around the castle let your sight get lost within the colors of the beautiful landscapes you can observe from here, and then take some rest in the lovely gardens set right in front of this Norman stronghold.
See also: 3 most romantic destinations in Sicily
3. Castle of Lombardia (Enna)
“Urbs inexpugnabilis”, unconquerable city, is how the Romans used to call the city of Enna, most known nowadays as the “Navel of Sicily” or “Sicily’s belvedere” as it provides an astonishing 360-degree panorama over the whole countryside of the island, up until Mount Etna in the east and the lands of Agrigento in the south. Its “Castello di Lombardia”, located on top of the mountain where the historical centre of the city is set, is considered the most important and imposing of Sicily – and it’s really not hard to wonder why. Its majesty is beautiful and impressive at one time, and leaves visitors completely speechless; its history is eventful and really interesting, as well as perfectly perceivable by looking at the different architectural elements of its structure. A visit to the castle is highly recommended (and free!), and make sure you save some time to just enjoy the remarkable panorama.
4. Castle of Palma di Montechiaro
Majestic and imposing, the Fourteenth-Century castle of Palma di Montechiaro (about 25 kilometres east of Agrigento) is the only stronghold built by the Chiaramonte family on the coastline of the island. The fortress is dramatically outlined against the beautiful surrounding seaside landscape: it rises on top of a steep rock covered with typical Mediterranean shrub and overhanging a lovely sandy beach, which makes the visit to this site utterly astonishing. Its strategic position made it a key stronghold in the fight against pirates; inside, the most noteworthy site is the chapel with its beautiful marble statue depicting the Madonna di Montechiaro, probably realised by one of the most talented Sicilian artists of all time, Antonello Gagini. We definitely recommend a visit to the castle to appreciate the outstanding panorama in the early morning, and then spend the rest of your day soaking up the sun in the beautiful beach below!
5. Castello Maniace (Syracuse)
Located at the far end of the gorgeous little island of Ortigia, the historical centre of the fantastic ancient Greek colony of Siracusa, this is not just a castle but also a citadel, one of the most extraordinary examples of Svevian architecture in the city as it was built during the Thirteenth Century by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. The castle was once accessible only through a drawbridge, which made it almost impenetrable to enemies; nowadays, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Syracuse. Even though part of the castle was re-built during the Eighteenth Century after an earthquake, and provided with plenty of typical elements of baroque architecture, it still boasts a remarkable medieval imprinting and structure; one of the most noteworthy features of the fortress is its portal with its outstanding decorations, quite uncommon for a building with military purposes.
See also: What to see in Syracuse: our top 5
Have you ever visited one of these castles during your holiday in Sicily? Share your experience in the comments!