History of Castroreale


See Castroreale guide for highlights and historic monuments

In the Middle Ages Castroreale was just one of many "anonymous" hamlets of the plain of Milazzo. In a document dating back to 1263, under King Manfred (1232-1266), son of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), its ancient name, "Criccine" appears next to the names of other hamlets in a donation to the Monastery of Santa Maria di Monialium of Messina:

“[...] "Then the lands that are within the territory of Nasari and third parts of the wood and hamlet of 'Criccine'[...]"

Then, towards the middle of the 14th century, it appears in a document prepared by the Chancellery of King Frederick II of Aragon (1272-1337). In this document, dating back to May 1324, the hamlet of Castroreale (called "Criccina" or "Christina") was "rewarded" with the construction of a castle for its loyalty to the king during the War of the Vespers and recognized as the most important hamlet of the surrounding area:

“[...] We, considering the loyalty and sincere devotion of the inhabitants of the "Cristina” land on the plain of Milazzo, provided that a fortress was built" [1].

So the "castrum" ["citadel"] of Castroreale was built on the Plain of Milazzo, which already had a fundamental importance because of the fertility of the soil (hence why it was spread with hamlets) and was also considered a strategic point of primary importance for these food supplies. In fact, already with Frederick II and:

“with the advent of the Swabian dynasty in the island, the territories located in the plain of Milazzo continued to have considerable importance in the local market, thanks to the clever invention of Frederick II, who (...) by a decree of May 6, 1240 required that in eastern Sicily the only harbours enabled to sell or export the food supplies were Milazzo and Augusta " [2].

Medieval Castroreale

In medieval (and more recent) times Castroreale played an important administrative and political role in the local and strategic territorial links, especially in the control of the plain of Milazzo, so it had a very active economic life, although not without internal strifes among the various political factions.

In the 15th century, for example, the city was torn by violent political clashes that forced the Viceroys Ruggero Paruta and Battista Platamonte to request a very urgent peacemaking gesture to curb the "Delinquentes" ("criminals") with just “puniciones” ("punishments") because the “habitatores possunt in pace vivere et sub quiete” ["because the people could live in peace"].

A "Capitaneo" ("Captain") was therefore left in the city, who:

“forced the main representatives of the factions and their followers to establish a truce, swearing an oath of loyalty to it" [7].

16th century Castroreale

In the 16th century some privileges were supplemented by a grant of Charles V (1500-1558), who in 1525 assigned to Castroreale a territory separate from Milazzo, giving it the title of "city", with two letters (dated Nov. 16, 1525 and May 21, 1527), where he began with the words "To all our faithfuls and to the City Council of Castroreale" [8].

The relations between Emperor Charles V and Castroreale were very close, not only from a political, but also a cultural and artistic point of view. During the 16th century the city grew larger and new walls were built, which included the village and other houses built along the sides of the hill.

In the second half of the 16th century and into the next century new buildings, especially religious, were built inside the walled city. Unfortunately, many of them were destroyed by the earthquakes that followed during the 17th and 18th centuries, thereby depriving the city of outstanding architectural and artistic heritage, although fortunately we still have ample evidence of this.

Recent centuries

Some of the buildings were rebuilt after the earthquake in the 17th century, but a new earthquake in the second half of the 18th century had new and devastating destructive effects. Major planning work was begun in the 19th century, giving the city more space to roads and large squares.

Even after the Unification (1861) the city continued to be an important administrative center and a market that is highly related to the products of agriculture; today the economic life of Castroreale knows a further impetus from tourism and the promotion of a noteworthy heritage.

Origins of the name Castroreale

Castroreale is one of the few place-names that kept its original name "Castrum" unchanged, (normally "castrum" was replaced with "castellum"). Meaning "the fortress" the persistence of the name "Castrum" gives us a clue to the importance of the town and its surrounding area.

Frequently, the "castrum" became synonymous with "city". This particular linguistic phenomenon was nicely explained by G. Rohlfs, when he illustrated the meaning of "Castro" in the place-names of southern Italy:

"[...] Instead of thinking about the Latin 'Castrum' ['fortress’'], we must consider that there is also in Greek 'Kastron'. In Italy almost all place-names compounded with 'Castro' belong to Southern Italy, such as ‘Nicastro’, ‘Pagliòcastro’ , ‘Palecastro’, ‘Catocàstro’ , ‘Genicòcastro’, all located in Calabria, and then (others in Sicily)... On the other hand, the Greek word 'Kastron' appears 16 times in Greece, with ‘Palaiòkastron’ (11 times), ‘Sideròkastron’, (4 times) and ‘Neokastron’ ...

... In the Medieval Diplomas of  Southern Italy (X-XI century) 'Kastron' is the term used instead of 'Polis' ['city']. See for example the Greek expression "En Tò Kàstro Tàrantos" (' In the ‘city’ of Taranto')[...]" [3].

Among other things, there is also a Sicilian dialectal expression in which ‘Castro’ must be interpreted as ‘city’:

“Sciamu a Ccasciuor,” or  “let's go to Castro”, to indicate precisely the city. [4].

"Castro" is therefore "the city". As explained in the "Treccani" Vocabulary:

"[Castro is] a naturalization of the Latin 'castrum', properly 'castle, fortress', used as a historical term (alternative to the Latin form) in the sense that the word had in the Middle Ages, that is to denote  a 'legal and territorial center'.”

With regard to the second part of the name, “reale” ["royal"], the term refers to the fact, historically established, that Frederick II of Aragon granted to the city many “royal” privileges, namely that they came directly from the King, which thus became a state property.  As V. D'Amico wrote, Frederick II granted 'Castro' “Royal insignia and privileges" [5].

With regard to the ancient names ('Criccine', 'Criccina', 'Christina') the names probably referred to a gate and a special area of the city:

“Castroreale was decorated with various and unique privileges by King Frederick II (...) Surrounded by walls, it had two gates to the East, called “Legni” and “Rocca” and a third gate to the West that was called 'Cintino' or 'Cristino' (...) I firmly believe that originally there was an area on the hill called 'Crizina' or 'Cristina', from which  the western gate is named." [6].

According to V. D'Amico, Frederick II built:

“the castle, and then the place was inhabited by the ancient inhabitants of 'Cristina', from which comes the name of Castroreale”, a "city" which raised itself to a greater administrative importance than other hamlets that were under its authority".

See the guide for Castroreale if planning a visit.

References

1. See F. Imbesi, “Terre, Casali e Feudi nel comprensorio barcellonese” ["Lands, Hamlets and Feuds in the Barcelona area"], Trento, Uniservice, 2009: 277 note 776;  283 note 789

2. ref 1, see p. 276

3. G. Rohlfs, “Nuovi scavi linguistici nella antica Magna Grecia”, Istituto Siciliano di studi Bizantini e Neoellenici, 1972: 45-46 note 84

4. See Gianni Lazzari, “Da Castro a Ferrandina”, in Terze Giornate di studi elimi”: 160

5. “Topographical Dictionary of Sicily”, Vol. I, 1858: 275

6. V. D'Amico: 275

7. See “Chancellery, f. 73 r. 10 9” in “Actas Volum III”, F. Titone in “El mon urbà a la Corona d'Aragò del 1137 als decrets de nova planta”, Barcelona-Leida 7-12 setembre 2000, Edicions Universitat Barcelona, 2003: 968 footnote 28

8. see S. Di Bella, “Caino Barocco. Messina e la Spagna (1672-1678)” , Cosenza, Pellegrini, 2005: 45 footnote 21