Symbol of Ischia, the Aragonese Castle stands on an island of volcanic rock connected to the island of Ischia through a bridge of about 220 meters. It is one of the most visited places of the island also because it often hosts exhibitions and other cultural events much appreciated by locals and tourists.
History of the Aragonese Castle of Ischia
The story of the Aragonese Castle begins in a very distant time: it is said that Gerone I, tyrant of Syracuse, after intervening in the battle between Tirreni and Cumani, in aid of the seconds and having helped them win, received as a gift the whole island and established the first settlement in the area where, to date, there is the castle.
In 315 B.C. the Romans conquered Ischia and founded the colony of Aenaria: the Castello Aragonese became a fort for the defense of the island, given its strategic position for the control of the arrival of enemy ships.
In 150 BC, an important volcanic eruption razed the city of Aenaria and caused a lowering of the ground level and the consequent separation between the island of the castle and the rest of the island of Ischia.
After the succession of barbarian invasions, Norman and Swabian domination, we reach the period of battles between Aragonese and Angevins until, in 1423, Alfonso of Aragon conquered the area. In the years of his rule, he made various changes to the castle that made it as we know it today.
In this period, the Aragonese Castle no longer had a defensive role for the island but had become a royal residence.
Later, during the Spanish and Austrian domination, the area of the castle saw a decrease in its population that moved to other areas of the island of Ischia: this slow but constant displacement was drastic to the point that, in the 18th century, the castle was used as a political prison. Then, with the unification of Italy, the area of the castle became an area of the new Kingdom of Italy.
The Aragonese Castle has had many “lives”, so to speak, that have seen him play different roles depending on the time. But it is thanks to a lawyer originally from Ischia, Nicola Ernesto Mattera, that the Castle returned to shine: in fact, the lawyer, in 1912, bought the castle at auction and transformed it into his own home, starting a restoration work. Then, in 1967, the castle was declared a non building zone by the Italian State and defined a national monument.
To date, the Aragonese Castle still has the status of a national monument and has never relied on public funds since it finances its maintenance and any renovation with money from the sale of tickets for visits to its internal.
How to visit the Aragonese Castle?
The Aragonese Castle stands on an island in the area of Ischia Ponte. If, initially, it was possible to reach it only by sea, today there are many ways to do it. In fact you can get to the castle from the Port of Ischia, walking for about half an hour, by bus in about 15 minutes or by taxi.
The entrance ticket has a cost of 10 euro for adults while, for children from 10 to 14 years, the cost is 6 euro. For groups of at least 20 people the cost is 9 euros each; finally, children enter free of charge. The route to visit the castle is almost 2 kilometers and includes more than 20 stages, for a duration of about an hour and a half.
What to see inside the Aragonese Castle
There are many, more than 20, attractions to see during a visit to the castle of Ischia: the most curious, probably, is the putridarium (or scolatoio). It is the cemetery of the Poor Clares, a transitional cemetery where the corpses of nuns carried out their decomposition process.
The story tells us that, in 1575, Beatrice Quadra (widow of Avalos) founded the convent of the Poor Clares, where they settled 40 nuns from another convent in the area. Along with the convent, the transitional cemetery was also born.
Inside this particular cemetery you can see stone seats with a hole in the center, carved into niches along the walls: here, the lifeless bodies of the nuns were placed in a sitting position to rest (and decompose) and the hole was used for the outflow of liquids. At the end of the decomposition process, the bones were collected and cleaned for burial in the ossuary.
During the period of decomposition, the other nuns went to the putridarium to pray and meditate on the little importance of earthly life and the meaning of death. From a purely symbolic point of view, this temporary cemetery was a sort of purgatory, a place where nuns passed away could have been purified.
That putridarium was a very common custom in southern Italy of that period that was abolished only in 1900, for obvious reasons of sanitation. However, the cemetery of the Poor Clares was closed in 1810, along with the convent, following the decree of Joachim Murat, King of Naples at the time of Napoleon, who had the aim of suppressing religious orders to appropriate their wealth.
The putridarium is attached to the Aragonese Castle so during your visit you can see it with your own eyes.
Why visit the Aragonese Castle?
Definitely, because it is the symbol of Ischia. Inside its walls you can breathe the atmosphere of the stories that have alternated inside and relive the great moments of the past. A visit to the castle is a unique cultural experience, truly unmissable.