Castle of Santo Niceto
At only ten kilometres from Reggio, between the Macellari and San Giovanni Rivers, lies the Sant’Aniceto Valley which Monsignor Antonio De Lorenzo, at the end of the nineteenth century, described as a cone, its point crowned by the walls of the ancient castle.[i] Today, at the top of a steep hill, at 670 metres above sea level and facing the Strait of Messina, stand the ruins of an imposing castle which is the most intact of all Calabria’s pre-Norman fortresses.
It is unique in structure. It resembles a ship, with its stern facing the Strait, its bow, the Aspromonte massif. The outer walls and the so-called “land gate” are still intact. This entrance, in Byzantine kastra, gave access to the upstream side of the fortress, as it was located on the side opposite the one providing access from the coast, and known, therefore, as the “sea gate”. Remains of the latter are still visible.
Santo Niceto is a late-Byzantine construction standing on a hill dominating the southern inlet of the Strait of Messina. It is recorded in a document from the year 1000 as belonging to the Byzantine Thema of Reggio. It was built to sight Turkish incursions and provide the population of Reggio with refuge in case of attack. Certainly, Sicilians were involved in the foundation of the castle, as testified by the fact that it was dedicated to Saint Niceto, a Byzantine admiral who lived between the seventh and eighth centuries and to whom Sicilians were particularly devoted. When scores of Sicilians were forced to flee the island, invaded by the Arabs during the first half of the eleventh century, they landed in Byzantine Calabria and, along with the local population, built this fortress, giving it the name of their holy patron, Niceto.
Building began between the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century and continued right into the twelfth.
During the thirteenth century this garrison-fortress was a key command centre, constantly involved in wars between the Angevin and Aragonese dynasties. From the early sixteenth century on, it belonged to the fiefdom of Motta San Giovanni under the Aragonese. In the early seventeenth century – when the castle was already a dwelling – the fiefdom became the property of the Ruffo di Bagnara family until the abolition of feudalism.
The defence of the Strait of Messina continued to be a priority – though the task was assigned to fortifications on both coasts which hosted shoreline batteries – so much so, that even after the Unification of Italy (1861) the need was felt to build fortifications at strategic points along the coast to control maritime traffic.
Inside the walls, at the centre and in a dominant position, stands the quadrangular keep containing a cistern for collecting rainwater. At the heart of the castle stands the donjon residentiel or residential keep, protected by a second wall and now containing remains of graves, millstones and cisterns. Originally, the castle was equipped to withstand long-term sieges.
Later, a palace was built along the northern and central walls, while the area was divided to create a second defence sector with the addition of anti-escalade escarpments.
Recently, two restoration campaigns were carried out under the direction of Francesca Martorano, full professor of the History of Architecture of the State University of Reggio Calabria.
Source: Parole Greche come Souvenir, Teresa Pietropaolo – Pubblicazioni del Parco Culturale della Calabria Greca
[i] Antonio M. de Lorenzo, Le Quattro Motte estinte, Laruffa ed. 2001, Reggio Calabria, p. 17
Source: Rivista Cronache Castellane – giugno/dicembre 2015