Castello Aragonese d'Ischia

The most notable events in the history of the Castle, from antiquity to the present day.

The name

The origins

Castrum Gironis

The Castle was originally named Castrum Gironis: according to some taken from Girone (Hiero) of Syracuse (the first settlement dating back to the fifth century BC), according to the fortified "round walls" surrounding the trachytic rock island.
The Middle Ages

Insula Minor

In the Middle Ages it was always referred to as Insula Minor to distinguish it from Insula Major (the island of Ischia) which was slowly becoming populated.
It is at this time that the present crypt of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption dates back to with its precious frescoes.
The Renaissance

Aragonese Castle

Its current name originates from the dynasty that most influenced the characteristic appearance of the island: Alfonso I of Aragon in the 15th century AD. The pre-existing Maschio Angiono, constructed with mighty defensive walls, led to the digging of a tunnel in the rock for pedestrian access.

Today

The third generation of the Mattera family now takes care of the Castle, guaranteeing the public access 365 days a year, carrying out any necessary maintenance and restoration work and promoting cultural events which bring it to life.

In fact, the most important work, beyond the restoration, is to keep the Castle alive: it's not simply the exhibition of historical artefacts, but a living being from which an energy pulses that can be used to understand the past and the future: of course, it no longer has the laboured movement of a fortress that defends itself, the tumultuous daily life of 1,800 who work and meet there no longer exists. Today, an unrivalled serenity and peace envelops the Castle, animated by exhibitions of ancient and contemporary art, studied by historians and admired by the thousands of tourists that visit it and commit it to memory.

The art interacts with the Castle and brings it to life; after having held so many roles, the manor takes on the privileged role of interlocutor of all art forms and once again asserts its presence as essential to the balance of the entire "kingdom" that surrounds it.

The lawyer Nicola Ernesto Mattera's initial intuition is still found today in his heirs, the complete enthusiasm and confirmation of the righteousness of an act that, seemingly inexplicable at the time, has ensured the rebirth of a protagonist of the History of the island and the entire Kingdom of Naples.

Modern history

1912
On 8 June, 1912, the Aragonese Castle of Ischia was sold at auction by the State to a private individual, the lawyer Nicola Ernesto Mattera, who made it his residence and began a long series of restorations of all the assets and historical ruins which had survived the destruction and neglect of the recent past.
1967
In 1967, the State and, in particular, the then Ministry of Public Education, imposed an absolute ban on building on the Castle, deeming it a national monument.
1970-2000
Some of the heirs of the first buyer, in particular Gabriele Mattera (1929-2005) with his wife Karin and Antonio Mattera (1927-2013), passionately dedicated their lives to the restoration work of the manor by promoting cultural events and carrying out restoration works.
In the years between 1965 and 2003, the Castle was reborn: from the mass of ruins overgrown by brambles, every year the Castle regains some of its architectural dignity while retaining the romantic charm of the signs of its history; the restorations are carried out with great sensitivity and taste, always in keeping with the "light hand" method that preserves the patina of Time and the Spirit of the Place. During these years, the restorations took place at a relentless pace, ensuring the opening of the highest part of the Castle to the public by the late '90s.

Ancient history

5th century BC
Hiero of Syracuse, who came to the aid of the Cumaeans in the war against the Tyrrhenians in 474 BC, built a first village in the Castle.
4th century BC
In 315 BC, the Romans founded, the city of Aenaria at the foot of the castle, replacing the ancient city of Pithekoussai and extending from the beach of Cartaromana to the current Cathedral of Ischia Ponte. Even though there is no definitive evidence, it is clear that the Romans used the Castle as a defensive fort and built houses there.
2nd century AD
Following the eruption of the Montagnone (150), Aenara ceased to exist and the subsequent lowering of the soil isolated the Castle from the rest of the island. From this point on, the Castle was referred to as "Insula Minor" (Small island) to distinguish it from Ischia "Insula Major" (Big island).
5th-6th century AD
The sudden and disastrous barbaric invasions (410, 574 the Lombards) besiege the island and the Castle is chosen by the Ischians as an ideal retreat.
8th century AD
The Saracens' raids led to death and destruction on the Island of Ischia, but they failed to storm the Castle.
12th century AD
In 1137, Ischia and the Castle came under Norman rule by the hand of Prince Ruggero II.
In 1194, Henry VI of Swabia conquered Ischia and the Castle. During the Swabian domination the Castle completely lost the exclusive characteristics of a military fortress and became the headquarters of the Island's institutions and the residence of the noble families.
13th century AD
In the following years, there were battles between the Swabians and the Angevins, then later between the Angevins and the Aragonese which, tragically, involved the Castle and the whole island of Ischia. On the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Aenaria, the Angevins built their port, which reached its greatest splendour following their definitive victory in 1299. The Angevins were the first to build a bridge between the Castle and the insula major and to build Maschio Angiono on the highest part of the island which was then wonderfully strengthened and enlarged by Alfonso of Aragon in the first half of the '400s.
14th Century AD
The crater of Mount Trippodi (eastern side of Epomeo) awakened (1301) and the resulting flow of lava destroyed a large area between the current church of St. Peter at the port of Ischia and the Church of St. Anthony of the Friars Minor. The Ischians took refuge in the Castle and turned it into a true town, erecting the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Many noble families settled in the Castle and built magnificent palaces there. Among the families, was that of the Baldassare who became Antipope John XXIII born to the Giovanni Cossa family.
15th century AD
In 1423, Alfonso of Aragon besieged and conquered the Castle. With its kingdom, the Castle assumed a dual function: a stronghold in times of war, and a royal residence in times of peace.
With the Aragonese domination, the Castle reached its greatest splendour under the careful and enlightened guidance of Constantine d'Avalos and Vittoria Colonna.
Among all the families who followed the King of Naples, the most important, noble and valiant in weapons and literature was certainly the Avalos, who governed the Castle for two centuries.
16th century AD
On 27 December, 1509, the ancient Cathedral of the Castle hosted the solemn wedding of Vittoria Colonna and Fernando d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara.
Vittoria Colonna spent 35 years of her life on the Castle, dedicating herself to literature and poetry, and created a distinguished literary coterie around her charismatic presence, which includes poets such as Bernado Tasso among its members.
This was the greatest period of splendour for the fortress: some sources refer to the presence of 1892 fires (families).
In 1541, Costanzo d'Avalos, governor of the Castle and beloved chatelaine of Ischia, died. In 1547, Vittoria Colonna also died in Rome.
17th century AD
With the end of the long and difficult Aragonese history, the Castle first came under Spanish rule and then Austrian: little is known of the political events that affected the Castle at this time.
In 1637, the Castle had only 250 inhabitants, including the Poor Clares. The decline of the Castle's population was due to the political stability achieved and the pressing need to find new land to cultivate: the Castle was an excellent military defence tool, but it was completely inadequate for meeting the daily needs of its inhabitants in times of peace; the Ischians spread across the island to manage their farming and fishing activities more directly and efficiently. The nobles and public institutions were probably the last to abandon the Castle.
In 1655, a terrible plague contributed to the depopulation of the Castle. Even Carlo Gaetano Calosirto, later known as Saint John Joseph of the Cross, patron saint of the island of Ischia, contracted the illness and miraculously healed himself in the place where the chapel dedicated to him stands today (along the pedestrian access tunnel) and where a celebration is held in his memory on the anniversary of his death 5 March.
18th century AD
In 1737, the Spanish resumed possession of the Island and the Castle. In the first few decades of the century, only a few public buildings remained, such as the Maschio, used as a military fortress and a prison for common criminals, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, the Episcopal building and the Poor Clare's St. Mary of the Consolation Convent.
In 1770, the number of inhabitants of the Castle decreased to 63.
Following the Bourbon restoration, shortly after the birth of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799, the Castle became a political prison.
19th century AD
In 1809, there were violent clashes between the Anglo-Bourbon and French forces; the damages were so vast that the Castle was forced to surrender after a heroic resistance. Bourbon soldiers occupied the Castle for a few days and then inexplicably abandoned it again. Those harsh attacks only served to reduce the Castle to a pile of rubble.
With Gioacchino Murat's edict of secularization on 7 August, 1809, the 16 surviving Poor Clare nuns were forced to leave the Castle.
In 1817, the Fortress, no longer capable of defensive functions due to its precarious condition, was used as a residence for old retired soldiers.
In 1823, Ferdinand I transformed the Castle into a place of punishment for convicts, and in 1825, his son Francis I turned it into a prison for common crimes.
In 1851, the prison was transformed into a place of punishment for political prisoners, including Michele Pironti, Carlo Poerio, Nicola Nisco, Silvio Spaventa and others who opposed the power of the Bourbons.
With Garibaldi's entry into Naples in 1860, the political prison was abolished and Ischia joined the Kingdom of Italy. The Castle buildings became part of the state's heritage and the farmland was entrusted to the military orphanage to make best use of it.