The Maniace Castle, in Syracuse, on the Southeastern coast of Sicily, dominates the sea and the city. From above, this part of the island looks like a stone alligator waiting for its prey. After all, a menacing look is to be expected from any fortification worthy of its name, especially if built in view of the often unfriendly encounters that occurred in the Mediterranean. The irony is that the structure, erected also as an outpost for expeditions against the Muslims, was built with the help of more than a few “Saracen” workers.
Built between 1232 and 1240 by architect Riccardo da Lentini, for the Swabian Emperor Frederick II – perhaps as a place for his recreation, perhaps as a military garrison, perhaps for both purposes – the castle defended the natural harbor of Ortigia. It was the luxurious residence of kings and queens of Aragon, but also a grim domicile for the prisoners who were held here in the 15th century.
After surviving a terrible explosion in 1704 – when a powder keg blew up and sent parts of the building flying far and wide – the castle was rebuilt, and during the Napoleonic era took on the military functions it had until after Italy’s Unification.
Today it is open to the public, and is home to a range of cultural events. The stone alligator is no longer lurking to attack its prey.