Paternò – Norman Castle

Via dei Normanni, 95047, Paternò, CT, Italia
Castello a Paterno - Castello Normanno

The Norman Castle in Paternò, nowadays, only the main tower remains, called donjon, of a complex fortification built in 1072 on the initiative of Grand Count Ruggero De Hauteville, one of the two architects of the Norman invasion, with the aim of defending the territory and their residence. It is configured as the largest donjon of the three existing in the Simeto Valley and is positioned according to the cardinal points, a characteristic that would also give the castle the significance of an astronomical observatory. This hypothesis would not be surprising if one were to think that the court of this and other manors, especially during the reign of Frederick II of Swabia, was teeming with mathematicians and scientists. Thanks to its significance, today the tower has become the symbol of the city of Paternò.


Through the Benedictine monk Goffredo Malaterra, historical documents have come down to us affirming the construction of the castle in Paternò, around the second half of the 11th century AD, of a castrum according to the will of Grand Count Ruggero De Hauteville, the same who promoted the birth of the castles of Adrano, Motta, Troina, and Nicosia, all for defensive purposes. According to these writings, the castle of Paternò would have been built on some remains of an Arab construction owned by the Muslim emirate of the time.

The Norman castle of Paternò also served administrative and residential functions. Among the characters who lived there, the most famous is Frederick II of Swabia, who lived there from 1221 to 1223. The castle was then the residence of Queen Eleonora D’Aragona and, later, of Queen Bianca of Navarre, who, in 1405, promulgated the Customs of the Paternò community here. The castle in Paternò finally passed into the hands of the Moncada family, who ruled the city for four centuries and who, in some periods, destined it to the functions of public prisons.

External structure

Built of irregular lava stone blocks and mortar, the rectangular tower stands mighty on the northernmost part of the historic hill and develops on three main levels, reaching a height of 34 m. The plan has an irregular parallelepiped shape with dimensions of 24.30 x 18 meters.

Since the Swabian era, the fortress was crowned by a Ghibelline battlement (as observed in the seventeenth-century Drawing of the view of Paternò), of which only the stumps remain at present. A peculiar element of the building is the contrast between the dark color of the monolithic walls and the white limestone of the squared blocks of the corners and of the varied openings (slits, single and double lancet windows).

Internal environments

On the ground floor, after the entrance accessed by a staircase located on the north side, there are a series of service rooms (including warehouses and the gendarmerie) and the chapel of the palace dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It consists of a rectangular room (6 x 3.90 meters) with a single nave with a semicircular apse, carved into the thickness of the eastern wall, and is characterized by a vaulted roof decorated with golden wooden stars that transform it into a starry sky. The walls of the chapel are adorned with remains of tempera murals paintings with an epic-religious theme, dating back to the period between the late twelfth century and the first half of the thirteenth century.

On the first floor, the large hall of arms (19.25 x 5.97 meters) hosted large honorary banquets and exercises for the nobles who lived in the castle. Three square rooms overlook it, probably used as a kitchen, accommodation for the castellan and chancellery. Jutting out on the north-east side, there is the first of the four guard towers.

On the second and last floor, four large square rooms, once used as the residence of the rulers and their guests, are separated by a gallery of the same size as the underlying hall and arranged transversely to it. From this room, two large Gothic mullioned windows (the white one facing east and the black one facing west) open up to the Simeto Valley and Mount Etna. Above, after climbing 131 steps, there is the large roof terrace, used at that time as a drying area for clothes and dried fruit. From here, two trapdoors lead to as many walkways with probable military functions, carved into the interstices of the vaults below.