The charming capital of the Madonie is set amid ancient manna ash and chestnut forests. It owes much of its building stock and character to the Ventimiglia’s family, a powerful noble family who ruled the town between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Some History about Castelbuono
Construction of the Castle began in 1316, by order of Count Francesco I of Ventimiglia, over the ruins of the ancient Byzantine town of Ypsigro, high on the San Pietro hill. Hence its original name, Castello del buon aere (“Castle of good air”), from which the name Castelbuono is derived – literally meaning “good castle”.
Numerous drastic alterations were made in the 17th century for reasons of accommodation when a number of Ventimiglia families moved here from Palermo – the castle never served any real strategic purpose, owing to its geographic position down the valley. The construction presents Arab-Norman and Swabian features: the cube shape recalls Arabic architecture; the square towers, although incorporated into those of the façade, reflect Norman architectural style, as also the battlements; and the round tower recalls aspects of Swabian architecture.
The Castle of Castelbuono
The construction of the Castle mixes Arab-Norman features with others typical of the castles built during the Hohenstaufen rule of southern Italy: the cube shape recalls Arabic architecture; the square towers, although incorporated into those of the façade, reflect Norman architectural style, as also the battlements; and the round tower recalls aspects of Frederick II’s times architecture.
The structure is on three floors, the first floor for the servants, with the essential services, the second for the nobility, with the sumptuous Cappella Palatina, and the third for the court and for guests.
The Cappella Palatina (“Palace Chapel”) was built in 1683 by the brothers Giuseppe and Giacomo Serpotta, with a great profusion of precious marble, stuccowork, putti, and friezes that commemorate the most resplendent moments in the history of the House of Ventimiglia. Here is kept the holy relic of the skull of Saint Anne, in an urn that acts as the pedestal to the sculpted bust of Castelbuono’s patron saint.
There are also the traditional underground dungeons and a tunnel that leads to the Church of San Francesco.
Other things to visit:
The church of Matrice Vecchia was built in the 15th century on the ruins of a pagan temple. It has a Renaissance portico added in the 16th century, and a central portal in the Catalan-Gothic style. On the left side is a bell-tower with a Romanesque mullioned window culminating in an octagonal spire covered with majoilica tiles. The interior of the church, originally divided into a nave and two aisles, received another aisle at the end of the 16th century. It preserves prized works, most remarkably, above the main altar, a splendid polyptych depicting The Coronation of the Virgin , attributed to Pietro Ruzzolone or possibly Antonello de Saliba. On the bottom right is the unusual figure of a Saint wearing spectacles. On the right is a statue of the Madonna delle Grazie by Antonello Gagini. Below the nave is a fresco depicting the Betrothal of the Virgins showing a strong Senese influence in the elegant features and the symmetry of the composition. Some of the columns separating the nave and the aisles are painted with frescoes, including the figure of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Other sights include:
Church of Nativity of Mary (late 16th-early 17th century)
Church of St. Francis, which has maintained a 14th-century
Church of Sant’Antonino Martire, including the original Gothic portal
Fountain of Venere Ciprea (15th century), which decorated the entrance to the ancient Ypsigro
Civic Museum of Art, located in the castle
Museum of Nature “Francesco Minà Palumbo”