Once upon a time in Catania…let’s discover Ursino Castle. This is one of the most representative monuments of this Sicilian city, nowadays it hostes the Civic Museum, a place where we can learn history. Are you ready for a new journey with Sicilian Secrets? Let’s go!
Castles have a unique charm, the one of the ancient manors that guard stories, legends, sometimes even ‘ghosts’ within their walls. Ursino Castle is located in Catania and the first curiosity we can reveal is that even before existence of this castle, this place was the heart of the ancient Greek town called Katane. This fortress was built by Frederick II of Swabia in the thirteenth century, it became the seat of Parliament during the Sicilian Vespers and then became the residence of the Aragonese kings. The initial purpose was very symbolic, although it had a clear defensive function, at the same time it had to represent the authority of the Swabian imperial power in the city.
The project was entrusted to the architect Riccardo da Lentini and according to what is said, this position overlooking the sea was specifically requested by Frederick II even if perhaps the truth is elsewhere. Even the name ‘Ursino’ has two different possible origins: some people think that it comes from ‘Castrum Sinus’, the ‘castle of the gulf’; but others think that is related to Ursino family who have lived there during the thirteenth century.
Ah if the walls of Ursino Castle could talk to us…
If we quickly leaf through the calendar, we arrive at 1934 when, after many restorations done by the municipality, this building became a Museum that, after some other renovations, now houses over 8000 pieces including the Biscari and Benedictine collections.
Ursino Castle was not only an ensign of the Frederick dominion, from the sixteenth century until 1838 it was used as a prison. It was structurally modified in order to adapt it to its new role, cramped rooms – known as ‘dammusi’ – were created on the ground floor, they were the cells for the damned souls. Among mice and spiders, the prisoners spent their days and today we can still see their traces: there are hundreds of graffiti that ‘decorate’ walls, doors and windows, and that represent faces, religious symbols, coats of arms but also dates and inscriptions in Sicilian, sometimes in Latin and Spanish. The observer immediately notice an inscription that sounds like the meaning life: Mundus rota est, ‘today for me, tomorrow for you’.
Moreover, they say that during the night hours in the castle strange phenomena occur, probably connected to the gloomy past of this manor. Some keepers heard some noises, screams, and saw indefinite figures that appear in the shadows…creepy! Suggestion? Imagination? Who knows…we are facing an inexplicable mystery! The fact is that some visitors claim to have found in the photos taken inside, some occult presences. ‘Let the souls who roam the Ursino Castle not be offended’, say those who work there. They are part of this history, still sprinkled by an enigmatic and dark dust.