Castello Aragonese d'Ischia

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

(18th century)

Built after 1737, in place of a previous chapel dedicated to St. Francis, the Church of the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption, also known as the Immaculate Conception, was commissioned by the Mother Abbess Battista Lanfreschi of the adjoining Convent of the Poor Clares. The burden of the construction, particularly significant given the size and architectural choices of the church (observe the structure and size of the dome), was untenable for the convent, which was already heavily indebted; they had to sell the Convent's silverware to meet the most urgent expenses. For this reason, the church was never finished and its walls are now completely blank.
It features a Greek cross plan with the addition of a presbytery and a entrance hall. The facade, as well as the building's exterior walls, is simply plastered and shows a bare lava stone portal. The interior enclosed space is richly decorated with cornices, pilaster strips and columns, and baroque stuccos perforated by 9 windowsills: the walls are plastered and there is a rustic Tuscan terracotta tiled floor. Since 1980, it has hosted contemporary art exhibitions promoted and organised by the "Friends of Gabriele Mattera" association, among many were the exhibitions of the works of Santomaso, Dix, Picasso, De Chirico, Bay, Grosz, Manzù, Morandi, De Pisis, Cremonini, Burri and Arcangelo created by Gabriele Mattera and his wife Karin of the Aragonese Castle of Ischia.

The Nuns' Cemetery

(16th century)

Located beneath the Church of the Immaculate Conception, it consists of a series of low vaulted areas which contain the drainers, high backed stone chairs on which lifeless bodies sat. The flesh slowly decomposed, the fluids were collected in special jars and finally the dried skeletons were piled up in the ossuary. This macabre practice was grounded in the need to highlight the uselessness of the body as a simple container of the spirit; a person's refusal of a burial once again underlined this conviction.
Every day, the nuns went there in prayer to meditate on death and, spending several hours a day in such an unhealthy environment, often contracted serious illnesses, in some cases deadly. The cemetery had no windows and ventilation was only guaranteed by the so-called "ventarole", long, narrow square-shaped tunnels that connect it to the outside environments. Careful observation of the plaster mortars suggests that these environments, before being used as a cemetery, were tanks for the storage of rainwater.

The Church of St. Peter at Pantaniello

(16th century)

It is said to be at Pantaniello because the statue of the saint came from a small church of ancient origins, which was later abandoned, located on a hill near the current port of Ischia, which at the time was a small lake called the pantaniello, due to its stagnant water. This lake was opened in 1851 on the side bordering the sea by the King of Naples Ferdinand II of Bourbon to transform it into a port. The church has a hexagonal plan, with a low dome and a typically Tuscan style interior with alternating natural stone frames and mouldings and large plastered areas.
The central space probably opened onto the 5 perimeter chapels depicted by historical sources which no longer exist today, this would also explain the abnormal presence of large arch windows (the original entrances to the chapels). The architecture is attributed to the architect Jacopo Barozzi, known as the Vignola. It was built by Dionisio Basso to give to his son Pompeo, a priest, and opened for worship in 1564.

The Terrace of Olive Trees

This was once the Castle's garden. From here, the eye can span 300 degrees from the Lattary Mountains to the Gulf of Gaeta, and the transparency of the sea. Behind it, is the Maschio which CAN NOT BE VISITED. Its impressive Angevin towers can be admired from the outside. It was rebuilt in 1441 by Alfonso of Aragon who gave it to Lucrezia d'Alagno, the beautiful noble woman of the Torre del Greco people, with whom he was having an affair. Later, the Princess Vittoria Colonna, a renowned poetess who fled from Rome with her father for political reasons at the age of eight lived there for 35 years. She married Ferrante d'Avalos and called the greatest artists and writers of her time to the Castle. Following the death of her husband, who fell in battle, she sought solace in various convents in Italy. She died in Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti was her friend and great admirer.

The Church of the Madonna Libera

(12th century)

The current structure of the church dates back to 1301, but the original structure dated back to the 12th century. It belonged to the Calosirto of Ischia family, from which the Patron Saint of the island was born, St. John Joseph of the Cross. It was the parish of St. Nicholas. In 1301, during the last eruption of the Epomeo (crater of Mount Trippodi) the people of Ischia made a vow to the Virgin Mary and dedicated the Church, known as the Libera, to her because the Virgin Mary had saved it from catastrophe. In fact, she is depicted with her hands stretched out in the act of stopping the volcanic lava.
The image exhibited in the church is the faithful copy of the original that exists in the Chapel of the Sacrament of the Cathedral of Ischia, where it was transferred in the early '1800s. The copy was created by the painter Antonio Cutaneo. It features a single nave covered with cross vaults. Recent restorations have brought to light precious frescoes of religious subjects dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

The sacred building was constructed after the volcanic eruption of the Arso (1301), replacing the existing destroyed cathedral on the insula major in 1239; it was built above a pre-existing chapel which became the current crypt. It had its greatest glory during the Renaissance period and, in particular on 27 December, 1509, when it hosted the wedding of Vittoria Colonna and Ferrante d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara.

During the Episcopate of Msgr. Cotignola (1692-1702), the Cathedral was restored and decorated according to the taste of the time (the choir of the canons was adored with fine stucco work, the vaults were frescoed by the famous painter Paolo De Mattheis, the bishop's throne was endowed with precious silver vestments, at the bottom of the choir there were two coats of arms, one of the reigning Pope Innocent XII of the Pignatelli family, and the other of the Royal House of the Kings of Spain). Between 25 June and 21 August 1809, it followed the fate of the Castle's other building, being bombed and destroyed by the English; the poor canons struggled to salvage the salvable, managing to retrieve a few of the Church's works of art which were transported to that of the Augustinians in the village. During those tragic events, the centuries-old funeral monument dedicated to Giovanni Cossa, father of the Antipope Baldassare, existing near the main door of the Cathedral was destroyed; four columns and three statues were scarcely saved from the rafting (they are part of the current baptistery of the Cathedral of Ischia Ponte). Not even the old wooden statue, depicting the priest Antonio Bulgari, which was full-size was saved. On 27 July, 1810, the Cathedral was brought to the Chiesa di S. Maria della Scala in Ischia Ponte (headquarters of the Augustinians), but the remains of the old structure, contrary to the majority of the buildings affected by the bombing, were not removed, leaving us with the precious testimony of a glorious past.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is a three-nave basilica whose two side aisles are covered with cross vaults; the apse was covered with a lowered dome. It is accessed via an imposing two flight south-facing staircase. There are four chapels, a sacristy, a bell tower and the underlying crypt connected to the Cathedral. The body currently faces the facade, the roof of the central nave and the apse and part of the roofing of side aisles. The remaining cross covers rest on the perimeter walls and on the square pillars that comprise the previous Romanesque stone columns. In the Baroque period, the Cathedral was decorated with numerous stuccos, ample traces of which still remain in the apse of the main altar and the side chapels which are still covered. Its current partially ruined condition has significantly altered the relationship between the interior enclosed space and the external landscape: the lack of facade and the coverage of the main space has created a direct perceptual continuity between building and nature which, on the one hand, strongly characterizes the aesthetic appreciation of the monument, and on the other creates major issues with preserving the integrity of the building and its decorations. A restoration program is currently underway aimed at recovering and preserving the 18th century stuccos and the partial reconstruction of the vaulted structures; during these restorations, the original 14th century vaulted structure of one of the chapels of the left side, with precious Angevin frescoes, was unveiled.

On summer evenings, it hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, poetry and prose readings, and film screenings as part of the Ischia Film Festival, offering the audience an incomparable setting: the atmosphere of the past discretely resurfaces on these occasions, painting the preciousness and splendour of a glorious past in the collective imagination.

The Cathedral's Crypt of nobles

The Crypt of nobles dedicated to St. Peter is found below the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, from which it can be accessed by a double flight of stairs. Built between the 11th and 12th century, it was originally a chapel and was later converted into a crypt following the reconstruction of the Cathedral above it. Consisting of a central room with two spans covered with cross vaults surrounded along the perimeter by 9 barrel vault chapels, it features a number of remarkable frescoes (13th - 17th C.). The walls of each chapel bear the figures of saints and the coats of arms linked to the noble families buried within. The rural landscapes undoubtedly represent the estates of each of the families present.

The damage done to the frescoes walls during the time when the Castle was state-owned is obvious, the removal of the marble slabs and inscriptions is also unmistakable, to the detriment of both the Crypt and the Cathedral above.

There is an in-depth restoration program underway on the frescoes aimed at the recovery and preservation of these valuable pictorial testimonies. A small chapel was recently unearthed in respect of the floor of the Crypt, located immediately to the left for those entering, long walled and used as a burial plot during the time of the plague: the Calosirto Chapel presents a valuable "Man of Sorrows" referable to the mid-fourteenth century and scenes from the childhood of Christ.

The Castle's access tunnel

Originally, prior to the Aragonese intervention, the Castle was secured by an external staircase (the remains of which can still be seen today) which led directly from the sea to the Maschio: from 1423 a large access tunnel was excavated into the bare rock using chisels, commissioned by Alfonso I of Aragon.

The tunnel was the main means of access to the Castle until the advent of a lift (built in the late 1970s) and is still used today to climb or descend; scenic, rich in views and not steep, it is still the preferred route of tourists today, especially when descending.

With an average width of 6 metres and height of 18 metres, the tunnel is illuminated by skylights that also had a defensive function, allowing stones and rocks to be thrown at enemies; it was also protected by robust gates, still partially operational, and defensible from multiple directions due to the numerous slots inside the castle, where soldiers equipped with bows or crossbows could stand.

Halfway up the hill, along the side of the tunnel, there is a chapel dedicated to Saint John Joseph of the Cross, Patron Saint of Ischia, where a celebration is held in his memory every year on the anniversary of his death (in 1734).

Ischia Ponte

From the Terrace of the Immaculate Conception you can enjoy a beautiful view of Ischia Ponte, a picturesque Ischian village, full of houses overlooking the sea and dotted with churches, and the palaces of noble families.

Ischia ponte is a place of great contrasts.
Contrasts of light, with bright sunlight and the sun playing on the water, and the never broken shade of the side streets.
Contrasts of size, with the "giant order" of the Castle, which compares with the houses of the algae square, the old shops in which you enter one at a time, the great breadth of the aisle of the Cathedral or the Church of the Holy Spirit.
It is a place of history, because it is one of the oldest villages on the Island of Ischia and, once the pirate raids ceased, those who lived in the Castle found it move comfortable.

Today, the village bears all the signs of its past, the "hard" ones and the "happy" ones, and it is precisely this constant counterpoint that makes it a place with a strong and distinctive historical identity.

The Bay of Sant'Anna

From the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and from the Caffetteria del Monastero, the view spans from the port of Ischia to the beautiful bay of Sant'Anna, with its majestic cliffs acting as a shield to what was the garden of the Tower of Michelangelo. So-called for the presence of the small church dedicated to the saint, its depths house the ancient Roman city of Aenaria, which sunk in around 150 AD due to wide reaching volcanic phenomena. The Bay today hosts systematic campaigns of archaeological investigations aimed at the historic reconstruction of the shape of the ancient Roman city.
Once a year, on 26 July, it becomes the theatre of the Sea Festival on the Rocks of Sant'Anna, founded by the popular devotion to the patron saint of women in labour.

Capri and the Gulf of Naples

From the Terrace of Olive Trees and from the "Il Terrazzo" Café, when there is no mist, in the south-east direction the unmistakable shape of the island of Capri, around 17 nautical miles from Ischia, can be admired on the horizon.

To the east, Procida and Vivara are embraced by the entire Gulf of Naples, which emerges in the background, dominated by Vesuvius and the Lattari Mountains.

Procida and Vivara

From the ancient Watchtower located near the Church of St. Maria delle Grazie, the islet of Vivara (which is less than 2 nautical miles from the Castle) can be seen in the foreground and, behind that, the island of Procida.

The islet of Vivara, a mysterious and fascinating portion of land connected to Procida by an old bridge, is a natural oasis which has been protected since 1974 and a State nature reserve since 2002. Small, wild and unspoilt, Vivara, besides being populated by rare plants, wild rabbits and numerous aquatic birds, is home to the most important archaeological finds of Mycenaean origin.

Procida was one of the first islands of the Gulf of Naples to be inhabited by man, it is of volcanic origin and still preserves partly eroded ancient craters, as evidenced by the inlets of Chiaiolella, Carbonchio and Pozzo Vecchio.