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Sicily: Tour medieval fortress at no charge

Norman castle near Sigonella offers spectacular views

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 29, 2006

Here’s a quick trip that offers those in Sicily some good news, and then some better news.

The ancient Norman castle in the town of Motta Sant’Anastasia is just a jaunt from U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella, and for those who live in Motta, practically in their backyard.

That’s the good news.

Now the better news: The tours are free.

The remains of the Norman castle — a 60-foot tower — sit on the highest point of the hilltop town of Motta. The castle was built by Count Roger I of Altavilla in about 1074 as a medieval fortress and offensive post during the Norman conquest of Sicily and much of southern Italy. The Normans used the castle to establish a foothold and then fend off the Arabs and other forces descending on the nearby city of Catania and the Simeto Valley, according to Graziamaria Fusto, a volunteer who gave a tour of the castle.

Today, the castle tower belongs to the municipality. It has been turned into three large rooms stacked vertically and used for receptions and meetings, Fusto said.

To get the most out of a visit to the tower, climb up the wooden staircase to the upper levels for breathtaking vistas of the plains and hilly slopes of Catania, and the impressive, looming active volcano of Mount Etna.

At night, Fusto said, the rectangular tower is lit up with tiny bulbs that turn it into a sort of beacon for the town of nearly 10,200 residents on the southern slopes of Etna.

There is more than the castle tower to Motta, which has retained its tiny one-way streets and medieval atmosphere. During the third week of September, the town holds a weeklong festival called Estate Mottese, or “Summer Motta-style,” in which vendors line the streets and provide visitors with samples of local foods and other products. In October, the municipality hosts a poetry competition centered on the works of Carmunu Caruso, a poet who hailed from Motta and who lived from 1840 to 1914.

And every August, Motta is the site of a summer celebration called the “Festa Medievale” and a separate festival honoring its patron saint, Anastasia.

The tower overlooks the town’s main church, built at the end of the 15th century. The church originally was not as large as it is now. According to a town tourist pamphlet, it was reconfigured in the 17th century to include the addition of its current bell tower.


On the QT

DIRECTIONS: From Catania, take superhighway SS 121 west past Misterbianco to the exit for Motta S. Anastasia at provincial road S.P. 13. Follow the yellow castello road signs through Motta. When the road dead-ends at a T-intersection at the top of the town, make a right. Follow the road to Piazza Umberto, then veer left onto Via Castello. Motta is about eight miles from Catania.

TIMES: The castle is open 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Arranged tours are available on weekday afternoons or on weekends by calling the municipality at (+39) 095-755-4211, according to a volunteer guide at the castle.

COSTS: Entry to the castle is free.

FOOD: There are several restaurants and eateries throughout the town.

INFORMATION: Information about Motta can be found on the Internet at www.prolocomottasantana stasia.it, in Italian only. Staff for the Castello Normanno and the municipality can be reached by calling (+39) 095-755-4211.

— Sandra Jontz


The castle was built by Count Roger I of Altavilla around 1074 and served as a medieval fortress and offensive outpost against enemy forces.
SANDRA JONTZ / S&S

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