Aragonese Caste of Ischia
The Aragonese Castle of Ischia is a fortress located on the eastern side of the island and connected to the rest of the island by a bridge just over 200 metres long, called Ischia Ponte.
The Aragonese Castle stands on a tidal island, i.e. an island connected to the mainland (or to another larger island, as in this case) by a tombolo, a sandy band that is periodically covered by water during high tide. Precisely because it is a variable geological situation, there is an overhead bridge connecting the Aragonese Castle to the rest of the island of Ischia.
The construction of the first castle dates back to 474 B.C. under the name “Castle of Girone”, in honour of its founder, the Greek Hieron I, known as the tyrant of Syracuse.
Over the centuries the Aragonese Castle of Ischia was used as a defensive fort and as a safe haven for the population in need of protection against the frequent looting in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The modern appearance of the fortification is the work of the Aragonese, who gave it a quadrangular shape, with four towers at the corners, and connected it to the main island by means of a wooden bridge (which later became made of stone). The construction was inspired by the Maschio Angioino, the symbolic castle of Naples, also known as Castel Nuovo.
The castle is accessed through a 400-metre-long tunnel cut into the rock by King Alfonso V of Aragon. The tunnel is illuminated by high skylights, which at the time also served as “piombatoi”, i.e. slits used to throw water, boiling oil, molten lead, stones and bullets at invaders. After the tunnel, an open-air mule track leads uphill to the top of the island. From here, paths lead to the various buildings and gardens. Since the 1970s there has been a lift, which runs through a 60-metre-long tunnel cut into the rock.
Most of the surface of this small island, where the Aragonese Castle of Ischia stands, is covered by vineyards, vegetable gardens and ruins, while buildings cover only a small part of the space. The following buildings are particularly noteworthy.
Church of the Immaculate Conception. This building, restored in 1980, is located on the west side of the islet. The church has a Greek cross plan, i.e. four arms of equal size intersecting at right angles, with the addition of an altar and a colonnade at the entrance. In this church the majestic dome stands out, resting on a circular drum with eight large windows. From the dome there is a magnificent view of the village of Ischia Ponte. The church is currently used as a venue for temporary art exhibitions dedicated to sculptures and paintings.
Cathedral of the Assunta. What currently remains of the basilica on the islet, where the Aragonese Castle stands, is a semi-open space that hosts classical music concerts and readings of prose and poetry. The cathedral was rebuilt after the violent volcanic eruption of 1301, which totally destroyed it. At the beginning of the 19th century, during the war, it was partly destroyed by the British and what remains today is a vaulted space.
Cathedral Crypt. The crypt consists of a single central room with a cross vault. Along the perimeter are 7 small chapels (all characterised by a barrel vault), each of which symbolised one of the seven resident noble families. The origins of the crypt date back to between the 11th and 12th centuries. It originally served as a chapel, but became a crypt when the Cathedral of the Assumption was built above it.
Convent of the Poor Clares. The structure was founded in 1575 and housed the cells where the Poor Clares rested. A wing of the convent now houses a hotel and the former cells are now guest rooms.
Cemetery of the Poor Clares. The structure dates back to the 16th century and is underground. On the walls are visible stone seats, real drains, as under them the liquids lost from the corpses of the nuns flowed, which were placed in a sitting position and with an erect trunk, so that they could mummify.
Church of S. Pietro a Pantaniello. The sanctuary was built in the 16th century and was designed by one of the leading exponents of the Italian Renaissance, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola.
Maschio. This is the royal residence (which cannot be visited), located on the highest point of the north-eastern slope, surrounded by the terrace of olive trees and the dome of the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
HOW TO REACH THE ARAGONESE CASTLE
The Aragonese Castle is located in Via Pontile Aragonese, accessible by bus line 7. It is open all year round, every day of the week, from 9.00 am until sunset. The entrance ticket costs €10. At the time of purchase, you will receive free information material on the itineraries to follow, including a map of the castle. The average time for the complete visit is about one and a half hours. There are two cafeterias and a bookshop along the route.
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