Castello Aragonese d'Ischia

1. Terrace of the Immaculate Conception

Facing westward, this terrace offers a spectacular view of the village of Ischia Ponte and the Spiaggia dei Pescatori (Fisherman's Beach); the hilly landscape and summit of Mount Epomeo can be seen in the distance.

2. 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.

3. Convent of St. Mary of Consolation - Entrance hall and cloister

Founded in 1575 by the widow of d'Avalos, Beatrice Quadra, the convent was the residence of 40 nuns from the Order of the Poor Clares, who transferred from the hermitage of St. Nicholas on Mount Epomeo where they'd set up their first residence. The nuns, primarily the first-born daughters of noble families, were destined for the cloistered life from a young age to allow the family inheritance to go to the first male child. Following the secularization law introduced by Joachim Murat, King of Naples, in 1810, the Convent was shut down: the 16 surviving nuns moved first to the Palace of the Marquis Lanfreschi in Ischia Ponte before settling in the Convent of St. Anthony.

4. 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.

5. Convent viewpoint

Open to the northwest, it offers a spectacular uninterrupted view of the area from Ischia Ponte to the Port of Ischia. On clear days, you can even see the mountains of the mainland on the horizon.

6. Caffetteria del Monastero

From here, you can enjoy a privileged view overlooking a delightfully romantic scene: the ruins of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in perfect harmony with the mellowness of the Bay of Sant'Anna. An inviting place that encourages you to take a break and relax on the garden terrace, with tables surrounded by luscious bougainvillea, broom, jasmine and lantana.

7. Casa del Sole (House of the Sun)

An old Castle building now used to exhibit ancient remains and modern works of art. You can admire precious architectonic structures, which overlap, from various eras. This building also gives access to beautiful paths and terraces, the "Il Terrazzo" café, the lush vegetation of the Castle and historic churches and monuments.

8. 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.

9. Millstone for wine-making and cellars

Once the danger of pirates had passed and the people returned to the island, these amazing structures were created. Vines were cultivated on the ruins of the ancient buildings, which had collapsed due to English shelling and earthquakes.

10. Millstone alley

This alley once led to an ancient church and the various buildings transformed into a prison and its appurtenances by the Bourbons in 1823.

11. Bourbon prison

In 1823, the Bourbons of Naples turned an existing building into a prison. In 1851, political prisoners such as Poerio, Pironti, Nisco, Agresti and many other well-known people of the Italian Renaissance were imprisoned here alongside the criminals. Its sturdy doors, bulky gates, various bartizans the peepholes from which the prisoners were guarded over day and night are testament to the severity of prison life.

12. 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.

13. "Il terrazzo" Café

Situated on the highest point of the visiting area, it offers an enchanting view of the entire Gulf of Naples, Ischia and the neighbouring islands.

14. Church of Holy Mary of Grace or of the Ortodonico

Built as an extension of previous structures by Donna Costanza Carretta in the early 1500s, this Church was intended for the use of the congregation of Ischia fishermen. Because it overlooks the sea, it is also known as the Chiesa della Madonna della Punta (Church of Our Lady of the Point).

15. Ancient watch and defence tower

This tower was originally accessed via an external staircase directly below the fortified walls. Looking out, the remains of the walls, a furnace used to heat cannon balls and an area that was part of the Ortodontico field can be seen.

16. Sun Route

One of the main pathways of the Castle. Immersed in rich Mediterranean vegetation: olive trees, bay trees, carob trees, figs, medlars, pomegranates, prickly pears, ailanthus. It offers an enchanting view of the sea and the nearby islands.

17. Steps of St. Christopher

So-called because they once led to a Church dedicated to the Saint which existed in this area.

18. 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.

19. Ailanthus alley

20. Remains of the temple of Sun

21. Balcony of the temple

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. Panoramic loggia

Offering sweeping views of enchanting sight of Ischia Ponte, Mount Epomeo and the famous hill of Campagnano.

25. Exit

You will finally enter the imposing tunnel chiselled into the rock, commissioned by Alfonso of Aragon in 1441. Lit by skylights which also served a defensive function: they allowed stones and boiling pitch to be thrown at enemies. The gallery was protected by strong, sturdy doors, which are still partially functional. You exit through the last door where the drawbridge once stood.

Ischia Ponte can be reached by crossing the 220-metre long Aragonese Bridge, built by Alfonso of Aragon in wood and later rebuilt in stone. At one time, before the construction of the bridge, the Castle was accessed via an external staircase leading directly to the sea. The remains of this staircase are still visible from the water.