Maniace Castle - Siracusa (Italy)
Turning our backs on the mythical Arethusa spring, we can see the mighty bulk of Castello Maniace, on the extreme tip of the island. The building is one of the most important monuments of the Swabian period and certainly the one that still sees the greatest number of conjectures. The castle stands on a place where tradition tells of previous fortifications; the recent excavations, however, have not brought to light any trace of the manor that from the Byzantine leader Giorgio Maniace takes the name. It is probable that the deep excavations of the rocky bank made in the Swabian age for the new foundations have completely erased all traces of the probable pre-existing fortress ...
But what was Maniace really? Was it really that war machine that tradition handed down to us? First of all, we can say that if there is a science that has a good historical memory, that does not abandon one site for another, it is precisely military architecture. In Trapani the fortress is at the end of the city, towards the territory and not at the tip; in Messina it is at the point where the inhabited area meets the territory; in Augusta - which has a geographic conformation very similar to Syracuse, with two ports - the castle is placed to defend the port and the city. Frederick II, a very intelligent man, who knew how to build castles in the right place, would he ever build one in Syracuse for defensive purposes at the mouth of the port in an eccentric position with respect to the city? He knew that the defense of Syracuse was guaranteed on the one hand by the sea and on the other by a still efficient castle, the Marieth, located on the mainland, at the mouth of the isthmus for Ortigia. To understand the strategic importance of the site, just think of the very complicated defensive system wanted by Charles V for Syracuse on the side where the Marieth rose.
Even the constructive data increase the doubts. Baglio is missing, that is the square of arms: the internal space that allowed the maneuvers of war machines, the bulky catapults, or overflows, destined to throw stones or other. Nor does the interior come to our rescue. We have said that it was a large hypostyle hall, that is full of cruises and columns, which has only a precious courtyard in the central module, but which has nothing to do with the space for maneuvering. The towers themselves, encased inside by stairs, could not be used for defensive purposes. In addition, the absence of housing facilities, food and ammunition deposits, further increase the charm and mystery of this impressive building.
For better or for worse, in moments of glory as in those of lower decadence, the history of the castle was intertwined with that of Syracuse: it was here that Federico signed the rescript for the foundation of the University of Naples. In 1288 King Pietro of Aragon lived there with his family. Frederick II of Aragon in 1321, here he called the Sicilian Parliament which sanctioned the inheritance of his son Pietro II of Aragon.
In the period in which Syracuse was the seat of the Regal Chamber (1305 - 1536) the castle hosted the Queens Costanza of Aragon in 1362, Maria d'Aragona in 1399, Bianca d'Aragona in 1416, and the last one it had in its domain the City, Germana de Foix, second wife, now a widow, of Ferdinand the Catholic.
In 1540 Admiral Andrea Doria also stayed here during the expedition organized by Charles V against the Muslims. Unfortunately, over the centuries the structure of the building has been remodeled, having to adapt it to residence, barracks, or prison.
Throughout the 14th century the castle was not used for military purposes: as an alternative to Marieth it was used as a place of restraint. Suppressed the Chamber of the Queen, Charles V, actively collaborated by the Viceroy of Sicily Ferrante Gonzaga, undertook a wide-ranging program of consolidation of the existing fortifications and of new ramparts. In this articulated defensive system the Maniace castle had to become the strong point: no longer in a decentralized view of the city, but spearheading over the sea.
From the XVI century a new building ammunition system is started with the use of artillery. Thus begins a progressive strengthening of the castle with complementary works and structures (battery Vignazza, Bourbon casamate, powder magazines) with the risk not only of seeing the ancient structure upset but even demolished.
Other failures came from the two powerful earthquakes that in 1542 and 1693 upset the city, and from the explosion, in 1704, of the powder keg of the castle that irreparably damaged the entire North West: the entire tower and part of the walls collapsed.
Near the West tower is the Bagno della Regina: it is accessed by an open door in the wall face and down a staircase carved in the living rock. You arrive in an environment where the size and use is very fantastic