Castello Sicano

Useful Information

Location: Contrada Calicantone Scalepiane, 97015 Modica RG.
A18/E45 exit Rosolini or Ispica, to Ispica, SS115 through Ispica, after 8.5 km turn right on SP32 1.4 km after roundabout turn half right, 1 km, turn right 850 m, turn left, parking at the Casa al Castello. Follow the footpath down into the gorge.
(36.8343617, 14.8436534)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCave House
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Castello Sicano, Tel: +39-0.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Claude-Louis Châtelet (*1753-.✝1795). Castello Sicano, Cava d´Ispica, Sicily, Italy. Public Domain.
Castello Sicano, Cava d´Ispica, Sicily, Italy. Public Domain.

Castello Sicano (Sicano Castle, Sicilian Castle) is a unique structure of artificial caves cut into the middle of a cliff face. The cliff is 30 m high, the caves are located right in the middle, they form four levels, connected by internal stairs, with recesses for climbing, and by external stairs, most likely of wood, which are long gone. The rooms are rectangular or square in shape, with niches in the walls. They are connected by a long corridor along the external wall. The easy to defend strategic location was probably the reason why it was dubbed a castle, although it is actually not a castle in the Medieval sense. It is also called Castello d'Ispica or Castello Cava Ispica.

«These dwellings form different stories, excavated in the rocks on each side of the valley; some at so considerable a height, as to be accessible only by ladders, or by a connexion with the lower story. Of such communications a perfect specimen exists in the rock called Castello d'Ispica. It is formed by a circular funnel, or aperture, cut through the rock, with holes on each side for the feet.»
Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1817): Recollections of Travels Abroad, in the Year 1790. Sicily and Malta. Bath (United Kingdom): Richard Cruttwell. 247. p. 66. pdf

The name Sicano is often wrongly translated with Sicily. Actually, Sicani is the name of the Sicilians, the people who lived on the island before the Greek arrived. The Greek historian Thucydides describes them as the native population. The name is a result of the legend, that this castle was actually built by these natives. There are strange similarities between some caves, and especially the spiral patterns dug into the cave walls, with the megalithic structures in Malta, vor example the SubterraneaĦal Saflieni Hypogeum. The resulting theory is that the ancient people lived in a certain region including Sicily and Malta. They produced similar megalithic structures in those regions. However, it is impossible to verify those theories, as it is impossible to date such artificial caves. The famous traveler and artist Jean-Pierre Houël visited the gorge in the 18th century, and he wrote a description and made detailed drawings. He probably reported the local oral tradition, as he described the site as an ancient Sican castle. Since then, the name and story stuck. But a Medieval origin is more likely, the caves are much easier to dig with iron tools than with stone or bronze tool.

This type of cave houses is called ddieri in Sicily. The term is of Arab origin, from Al diar (house). The island has been raided by the Muslims since the mid-7th century, and it was occupied by the Muslims from 827 to 902. Typical is not only the form but also the inaccessible location in cliff faces of gorges.