Castle Maniace
Top Site to See in Syracuse

13th century Castle Maniace replaced 11th century fort erected by Byzantine general George Maniakes after capturing Syracuse from Arabs; for long it served as residence for Sicilian queens… 

       Castello Maniace is a medieval fortress situated at the tip of the island of Ortigia. 

       Erected in the early 13th century by Normans it was a perfect defense spot protecting the entrance to the Syracuse’s harbor known as Porto Grande. Protected from the land by a moat (now filled with earth) and connected to the rest of the Ortigia Island by the drawbridge, flanked by thick walls with four imposing towers at each corner it seemed to be unconquerable. 

The castle bears the name of the Byzantine general - George Maniaces who’s victory over Arabs in 1038 brought Syracuse back under the control of Christian rulers. Recognizing the strategic location of the place he built there a small fort as the first line of defense for the city. 

Castello Maniace as seen these days 

Fragment of defensive system

Entrance gate shows impressive defensive capabilities much needed in the past; today it is widely open for tourist (although it will be hard to say that this is a "sign of (better) times".... 

Before we cross the gate, let's jump back in time...

Castello Maniace as seen in 1640 (Negro)

Castle Maniace (Merelli - 1677)

        Almost two centuries later at the order of King Frederick II, the castle was farther extended to better answer military needs as well as residential requirements of royal families. Indeed, for quite long it served as the residence for King Peter of Aragon and his family and later as favorite place for several queens from the royal dynasty of Aragon (Constance, Maria, Bianca….).  For short period the castle also served as the seat of the Sicilian Parliament. 

With the move of political and cultural center from Syracuse to Palermo came “darker” period for the Castle Maniace. Castle’s “dark-ages” started in 1488 with the massacre at the order of King Alfonso of Castile of all guests during the banquet held in the castle. That tragedy gave the castle a reputation of the “Haunted Place”. 

No wonder that throughout the 16th century what used to be the splendid royal residence was used as a prison, then later as the military quarters and gun-powder storage.  Maybe it was not surprising when in 1704 the powerful powder explosion leveled part of the castle – sort of destiny expected for the “bloody” place. Re-constructed, the castle served military needs until WW2. Post-war reconstruction brought it back to the magnificent shape from Norman times. The castle was opened to the public as a historical monument. 

Coat of Arms - symbol of power of some aristocratic families

Castello Maniace was not only King's residence, it was a formidable fortress 

Tower - fragment of the defensive system

Long passages 

In these days the nature adds some charm to once upon a time terrifying defensive walls

And with its soft,natural colors it blends well with the power and strength of the defensive walls

After the glimpse of the Mother Nature, we are back on the walls

The Reception Hall even by today standards is spectacular

Source: Wikipedia (author Mr. Sailko, 2009)

       One of the castle’s striking architectural elements is the entrance portal with the pointed arch reflecting Islamic influence and the coat of arms of Charles V of Spain. Although visibly damaged, the two-headed eagle still strikes with the power of Spanish royals. Interior includes the spectacular hall covered by 25 vaults resting on columns. Given the spaciousness of the hall, four large fireplaces in each corner had probably hard time to keep place warm although we have to keep in mind – this is Sicilian climate. The one-time event – snow in Syracuse is still considered as a miracle commemorated in the Chapel of “Our Lady of Snow” in the Duomo.

You are invited for the short tour of the Castello Maniace....

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