The Castle by the Sea

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Palermo isn’t great for people who enjoy jogging. The few sidewalks that exist are useless, and usually occupied by mopeds. Going onto the streets is a dangerous game of chance. And the only park big enough to serve, the Parco della Favorita, is too far outside the city. However, we’ve found a decent bicycle path which goes by the harbor, and have been making use of that. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve jogged by the Castello a Mare, but this weekend, we finally we decided to check it out.

The Castello a Mare doesn’t look like much from the bike path; just a collection of ruins. But once inside the gate, the scale of the former castle is striking. The date of its construction is unknown, but estimated to be around 1150. For 750 years, it was one of Palermo’s most important lines of defense against pirates and invaders. And during the Spanish rule of Sicily, it served as the seat of the Holy Inquisition.

I wish there was a romantic story of invasion and pillage to explain how the castle has been reduced to rubble, because the truth is just depressing. In 1922, the Port Consortium reached a deal with the city to demolish the castle, in order to claim the land for construction. Citizens and historians were outraged, but by the time their demands were heard, the damage had been done. All that remains today is a gatehouse, a circular tower and the foundations of the moat. For short-sighted greed, one of the city’s most historic treasures was destroyed.

Wandering about the grounds, we were shocked by the callousness which could lead a city to destroy its own heritage. We followed a path leading down into the dried-up moat, and were talking about human folly, when we noticed a large woman dressed in pink glaring at us from the bank, and angrily shaking her head. A second later, she disappeared. When we emerged from the moat, Scowl Woman was waiting for us with a guard, who greeted us by screaming “No no NO! Proibito!!”

There are few things more frustrating than being yelled at for something that’s not your fault. The path leading into the moat was prominent and open, and nothing indicated that it was off-limits. We tried explaining this, but he angrily waved off our protests without listening. Scowl Woman continued glaring at us, now nodding her head smugly, arms still crossed across her chest. For the rest of our visit to the castle, we were accompanied by the guard. Because we’re so dangerous.

The castle is an interesting bit of history and a sad reflection on human greed, but not one of the most compelling things to do in Palermo. But if you do go, please follow the path down into the moat. Anything you can do to help anger those workers would be much appreciated.

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