Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Castle of Caccamo

Unlike Germany, where castles are a dime a dozen, Sicily has only a handful of them, and, of that handful, the vast majority were built by the Normans in the 12th century. (Some notable exceptions are the Greek castle in Siracusa and an Arab one at Donnafugata.)

So, once again, who were the Normans, and what were they doing in Sicily? Looking back, I see that I wrote a pretty good description of them HERE. The came from Normandy and won Sicily over from the Arabs and then proceeded to rule it and bring it to its greatest glory under just four rulers. And I mean GLORY! Sicily was richer than all of England and the seat of pre-Renaissance learning and culture. In the words of John Julius Norwich: "Norman Sicily stood forth in Europe --and indeed in the whole bigoted medieval world-- as an example of tolerance and enlightenment, a lesson in the respect that every man should feel for those whose blood and beliefs happen to differ from his own." You can read the whole story in detail on this PAGE by Vincenzo Salerno. (Point of interest--it is said that the red-haired, blue-eyed Sicilians you sometimes see are direct descendants of the Normans.)

Back to the castles . . . I recently visited the largest and best-preserved Norman castle in Sicily, and one of the largest in Italy, at Caccamo, east of Palermo. It is impregnable and was never even seriously attacked. I can see why, since it sits on a sheer rock 521 meters (1,709 feet) above sea level. Another reason it is so well-preserved is that it was inhabited by the descendants of the Dukes of Caccamo until the 1960s!

Take Dramamine after leaving the autostrada at Exit Termini Imerese for the ride up the mountain, but then it's easy enough to find right at the entrance of the town of Caccamo. There is even parking and it's even free! You can't miss it. It only costs one euro to enter, but my friend Michael had the nerve to ask for a discount for teachers. They just laughed at him.

The castle is a classic white stone structure with castellated walls, a moat, towers, courtyard, and an interior that is a maze of rooms and stairways, some open and some not. The structure is used nowadays for conferences and meetings, but a few rooms are semi-furnished to give visitors an idea of their use. The "antiques" and displays are pretty pathetic, but he castle itself and the views from up there are spectacular!

The most famous room in the castle is the Sala della Congiura (Conspiracy Hall), where here, in 1160, a bunch of Norman barons hatched a plot against William I (known as William the Bad). I guess he WAS bad, because when the rebellion failed, the leader was captured and "taken to Palermo, where he was hamstrung and blinded and left to languish in a dungeon." So much for tolerance!

Anyway, this is a pretty cool castle, a classic, really, and worth your time for a visit. The town of Caccamo is also very picturesque. Warning: do NOT drive off the main street! You'll find yourself in a maze of ever-smaller streets that lead to nowhere!
See all photos of Caccamo HERE.

Labels: , , ,


At October 27, 2016 4:32 AM, Anonymous Rex said...

Spent two months in Sicily but did not hear of this castle until tonite when it was featured on House Hunters International. According to your article this was the largest Norman castle in Sicily. Enjoyed your article.


Post a Comment

<< Home