Historical background
Castle of Roccella


The castle of Roccella, located by the sea in the town of Campofelice di Roccella (province of Palermo), retains traces of its ancient grandeur, as witnessed in the late sixteenth century by a drawing of Tiburzio Spannocchi and a watercolour by Camillo Camiliani.

They were drafted for military purposes on behalf of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Sicily, that considered necessary to proceed with urgency to the exploration of the Sicilian sea with the purpose of reorganizing the military defense against the Turkish naval fleet and pirates. The castle of Roccella was part of this defensive project because it was placed in a very strategically important site for the penetration into the inland.

The place, for its peculiar character and topographical context, can be grouped with Roccamaris, a location listed in the diploma of the founding of the Bishropic of Troina (year 1082) among those granted by Count Roger to the new Bishropic (R. Starrabba, Contributo allo studio della Diplomatica Siciliana, Palermo 1893, pp.19-20).

t is also identified with the Arabic name Saharat to Hadid – to which was given the meaning of Cliff of Iron – described by the geographer al-Idrīsī around the year 1139, who placed it twelve miles from the fortress of Brocato. He depicted it as a “picciol casale con forte in cima della Rupe, la quale si avanza scoscesa d’ogni banda su la spiaggia del mare” (Michele Amari, Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula, Edrisi, Torino 1880). That description works nowadays because the place is always a fortress on the sea. Some scholars believe that the site was built before the Normans.

Historical documents referring about the existence of a castle in Roccella are contained in a parchment stored in the Monastery of Montevergine, which Raffaele Noto described in La Roccella and its territory in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The book, written in 1218 tells that the Bishop of Cefalu Arduino granted to the Monastery of Montevergine "the place where stands the castellum of Roccella and allows to build yonder a church consecrated to the Virgin."

The site, in the early decades of the thirteenth century, was supervised alternatively by the Church and by the County of Collesano. The existence of mills, of a hospitalis (lodging for the reception of pilgrims) and two churches (the first, dedicate to Saint John and attested in 1135; the second, devoted to St. Mary) is documented.

In 1350 the Bishop of Cefalù, Nicola – as reported by Rocco Pirri – declared to be annoyed by “noble and powerful men” who want to extort the Roccella. The existence of a caricatoio (loading machine) is certificated in 1371 and also the strong influence of Francesco Ventimiglia, Count of Geraci and Collesano, whom King Frederick IV of Aragon gave the permission to pull out from the seaport of Roccella two thousand salme (an ancient sicilian measurement unit) of wheat per year. The legal possession will be formalized in December 27, 1385 with an exchange which transferred the possession of Roccella from the Church to Francesco Ventimiglia. The Bishop obtaining in exchange the fief of Albiri. This document shows that the Ventimiglia had already built (or rebuilt) the castle.

Roccella will belong to the two branches of Geraci and Collesano of Ventimiglia family, until 1418 when, after a memorable force act, the Regal Curia repossessed it.

In 1440 King Alfonso gave it back to Ventimiglia, who remained in possession until the end of the century, when the royal domain regained it.

In 1507 the Crown sold the castle and the territory of Roccella to Antonio Alliata, who in 1508 also expanded his holdings by purchasing the estate of Bonfornello.

The Alliatas introduced in the territory essential agricultural’s innovations and implanting sugar cane and building machines for the production of sugar, which was exported abroad in France, England and Flanders. The Village of the castle was the center of all the central activities of the feud. It was later introduced the cultivation of rice.

The Alliatas remained in possession of the two estates until the middle of the seventeenth century, when, for the combination of several adverse events related to both the feud’s economy and the personal sphere, they lost, in only two decades, at first the feud of Roccella and after the one of Bonfornello.

The feud and the castle of Roccella, after some judicial decisions, were finally purchased by a nun belonging to the Order of St. Francis, Sister Mary Rizzo and then appointed to Gaspare La Grutta, who requested to the Crown the licentia populandi (a special land grant). It was granted to him in December 18, 1699, allowing him to implant on the hill above the village, which was given the name of Casale di Roccella. A few years later, in 1708, the castle and barony became the property of Anthonio Marziani, Prince of Furnari.

It remained private property until the present day. On 29 January 2008, the City of Campofelice di Roccella bought the tower-fortress.

Structure of the remained Tower

The tower has a rectangular shape, a height of about twenty feet and a crown in brackets. It is crossed by three offsets that indicate outside the partition into three parts. A rubble’s reinforcement was added to the walls, for defensive reasons. The original entrance to the tower was through a door on the first floor on the north side. The ground floor, originally accessible from the top, is covered by a barrel vault and is divided into two bays by a pointed arch. A hole in the floor gives a glimpse of a tank. The loft was probably added after the building of the environment.

n the first floor you can see windows with semicircular arched profile and a wooden ceiling supported by nineteen beams supported by wooden corbels carved with motifs popular in Sicilian architecture of the fourteenth century. The original beams have been removed by vandals in the last century, when the artifact was lying in a condition of extreme degradation.

The second floor is covered by two large vaults on a square plan, with ribs and divided by a pointed arch.

In the north-west there is a fireplace with a curved hood that partially covers the rib.

In this room there are several depictions of the Ventimiglia’s crest.

A ladder leads to the terrace which overlooking a vast territory, and from which one can see the remains of the ancient village and the water supply system, a structure that proves the exceptional level of production of the barony of Roccella in the past.

by Roccamaris APS Campofelice di Roccella