Aci Castello: A commune of Sicily, in the province of Catania.
Former Names (if any): (sometimes Acicastello)
Region: Sicilia│ Province: Catania.
Coordinates: Lat. 37°33’33” N/Long. 15°8’7″ E.
Location/Setting: Located on the E. coast of Sicily 9 km NE of Catania, it is situated beside a basalt cliff, on the E. slope of Mt. Etna. Part of the Regione Agraria n. 8 – Piana di Catania.
Alt.: 15 m.
Area: 8.65 km².
Population: 18,057 (2006e); 18,084 (2005).
Pop. Density: /km².
Frazioni & Localities: Aci Trezza, Ficarazzi, Cannizzaro.
Tel. Prefix: 095
Name of Inhabitants: Castellesi.
Patron Saint(s): San Mauro Abate. Feast Day: Jan. 15.
Economy: The center has a fishing-port on the Ionian coast. Much of the communal land is devoted to agriculture (citrus fruits, olives, grapes, almonds, and cereals). Other areas are devoted to cattle-breeding. The commune has long been noted for the woodcraft practiced by local artisans. In recent times, the commune has also been developed as a seaside resort.
History: Although no archaeological evidence survives, it is known the site was fortified by a fortress throughout the Greek and Roman eras. This first citadel was destroyed in AD 902 by the Saracens under the Emir Ibrahim.
The earliest settlement arose around a Norman castle (from which the commune derives its name) built here in 1076. Soon afterwards, it was given as a fief to the Bishops of Catania by Count Roger I. Most of the original town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1169. In 1297, the rebellious admiral Roger di Lauria utilized the imposing castle here as a stronghold during his conflict against Frederick II of Aragon. An Aragonese force laid siege to the castle, but could not breech the strong defenses until they built a wooden tower (known as the “stork”) equal in height to the castle wall. Using a flying bridge, they were able to cross from the tower to the wall and captured the place.
In 1320, the castle was given to Blasco of Alagon. In 1354, a Angevin force under the command of Marshal Acciaioli attacked and destroyed the castle. Blasco, who was away organizing the defenses of Catania, sailed against the Angevins, destroyed their fleet, and retook Aci Castello. The place was inherited by Blasco’s son, Artale, and later, by Artale’s son and namesake, Artale II. In 1386, while Artale II was away, the Sicilian King, Martin attacked and burned the castle.
The castle eventually came under the control of the Spanish kings. It remained a citadel and prison until 1528, when it was granted the status of an autonomous commune by Charles V. In 1634, King Philip III ordered the restoration of the castle wall. More work was done to repair earthquake damage after the terrible disaster of 1693. The castle was not completely abandoned for official use until the beginning of the 20th century. It later came to be used as a storehouse. The structure was finally restored in 1967 – 69.
A new town did not arise on the site until c1530. This new settlement expanded to annex the neighboring villages of Ficarazzi and Aci Trezza. In 1647, the town was given to the Massa family who continued to hold it until the end of feudalism in the early 19th century.
Damage was suffered from earthquakes in 1169, 1693, 1818, 1905, 1908, 1911, 1947, 1975, and 1990.
Points of Interest: Just off the coast about 1 km to the NE of Acireale are the seven basalt islets known as the Scogli di Ciclopi (“Cyclopean Rocks”) or Faraglioni. Ancient tradition claims that as the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) sailed away from Sicily, the blinded Cyclops Polyphemus tore rocks from Mt. Etna to hurl at the departing ships. The largest of these rocks, Isola Lachea (or Isola di Aci) rises to a height of c70 m. and has a circumference of 701 m. The University of Catania has built a marine biology station here.
The frazione of Aci Trezza (sometimes Acitrezza) is located 2 km N of the communal center. It is a popular seaside resort. A fishing port and resort, it was used as the setting for Giovanni Verga’s novel “I Malavoglia” (publ. 1881).
Monuments: Although many sources report that the Normans were the first to fortify the sea-girt basalt rock, evidence shows that a Roman fortification, called the Fortress Saturnia, stood there in ancient times. The Normans did build a castle there in 1076. In 1169, however, this stronghold was destroyed by a lava flow during an eruption of Mt. Etna. The second castle was built Tancred in 1189, which was strengthened by Roger di Lauria as part of his rebellion in 1297. Today it is still possible to see the imposing remains of this structure just to the NE of the modern town. The castle now houses a civic museum containing mineralogical, paleontological and archaeological specimens.
The Palazzo Communale dates from 1659.
Museums: The 17th century Palazzo Communale houses a fine small municipal museum and library. The museum, founded 1985, has sections devoted to local Mineralogy, Paleontology and Archaeology.
The art museum (or Pinacoteca dell’Academia Zelantea) contains an ancient bust of Julius Caesar and works by Luca Giordano, Guido Reni, and Salvator Rosa.
Churches (& other religious sites): Chiesa Madre of San Mauro Abata contains some fine frescoes by Pietro Vasta (1697-1760).
Other churches include those of San Giovanni Battista (Aci Trezza), Maria SS della Provvidenza (Ficarazzi), and Immacolata Concezione (Cannizzaro).