The Castles of Frederick II in Sicily
Of all the castles built in Sicily, the fortified
constructions of Frederick II constitute the most homogeneous and representative series of such buildings,
original purposes were strategic and defensive yet reflect the life of a society and an age which in addition to
military considerations was also inspired by the rich and fertile culture which Ferdinand promoted throughout his
Absolute monarch of his empire, Frederick dispossessed the feudal lords of their fortified dwellings, which, having
become crown property, were enlarged and altered by his engineers and transformed into impregnable fortresses for
the exercise of local power. A number
of imposing castles were thus built which reflected not only defensive needs
but also the spiritual inspira-tion of the principles of Cistercian monasticism, the order founded by Bernard of
Chiaravalle and dear to the king.
Through this rigorous school, which excluded all vanity in art for the greater benefit
of the spreading of knowledge that might help to explain the mysteries of the universe, the castles of King Frederick,
externally fortified citadels on the outside but spacious and bright inside, are the symbolic image of the will
and the principles of absolute power which marked the Emperor's spirit and characterized his reign.
In 1229, on his return from a Crusade in the east, the Emperor initiated his vast
program of defensive architecture, creating in eastern Sicily the most homogeneous group of "castri regia",
constructed ex nihilo by the "protomagistri regi", of whom the most celebrated was Richard of Lentini.
The castles of Augusta, Syracuse and Milazzo were quickly built, together with the Castello Ursino in Catania. The castles of Enna,
Terranova (Gela) and Scaletta Zanclea rose in central and western Sicily.
These have in common the feature of extreme regularity in their square design, similar to fortified architecture
of the same period in northern Tunisia and Persia, which Frederick and his architects never actually saw.
The similarity would seem to be due to the common model of the Roman castrum. The
design of the interior spaces is however completely new, though to a large extent inspired by Cistercian monastery
architecture. The castles on the coast present some variations from these models: at Augusta and Milazzo the towers
are quadrilateral towers, while at Catania and Syracuse they are circular.