Squillace is a medieval town founded in the second half of the 11th Century by the Normans. The medieval village of Squillace is spread over a hill naturally defended on three sides (east, south and north), while the west side kindly descend towards the inland. The defense is also guaranteed by the presence of the river Alessi and its tributary, the Ghetterello, which surround three sides of the hill. The top of the hill has two high points where are located the Norman-Swabian Castle and the tower called "Old Castle", originally joined by the surrounding wall. On the lower east level there is the Cathedral, focus of the medieval town which was developed with the typical spiral style with narrow streets and alleys full of houses. The consequent scarceness of the space creates a further defense for the castle which is the last and the most powerful bastion of the village.
The Castle of Squillace dominates the town from the highest point of the hill . It was built by the Normans in the second half of the 11th Century, at the end of the campaign of conquest of Calabria made by the Byzantines who occupied the region, and in general southern Italy, for over five centuries. Squillace during the Norman era is the administrative, political and religious centre on the Ionic coast. It’s here that Ruggero d’Altavilla gives to San Bruno from Cologne the land where it will be later built the Carthusian Monastery of Serra San Bruno. The Norman period is definitely the most important for Squillace, living a moment of great political, administrative, economic and religious fervor.
The beginning of the 13th Century is crucial for the story of Squillace because for the first time the settlement was given as a fief to a count and at the presence of a castellanus. Under Frederick the 2nd, which most probably wanted the construction of the polygonal tower on the east side of the fence, the castrum Squillacii is held by a castellanus non habens terram and ten servientes. The situation looks the same under the Anjou dynasty.
Since 1256 the castle was consigned to several families: Lancia, Monfort, Del Balzo and Marzano until 1485, when the castle went back to the direct control of Frederick of Aragon, the future king of Naples. In 1494, the castle passed by marriage to the Borgia family, whose marble emblem dominates the main portal. The Borgia family is a very important noble dynasty of Castilian origin which moved to Italy in the 12th Century and they set themselves in Florence, Perugia, Siena, Rome and Naples. The marriage establishes the alliance between Pope Alexander Borgia the 6th and King Alfonso of Aragon the 2nd: in fact the wedding is between Goffredo Borgia, brother of the more famous Lucrezia, only 13 years old and Sancha of Aragon, natural daughter of the king. The Borgia family will hold the castle until 1729, when for lack of heirs, will be again under the royal supremacy. Downgraded to a march, Squillace in 1755 went under the De Gregorio family, who owned the castle until 1783, when a violent earthquake devastated and destroyed the whole village.
From an architectural point of view, the Castle is expression of the typical Norman style of construction: they build with local stone (which here is granite) and not with brick (like mostly Romans and Byzantine were building) and adopt their castle’s model organized around the Donjon, a large rectangular tower of more than 10 m wide that is a fortress itself (1). The building was immediately made of stone unlike other castles in Calabria, as the Motte of Scribla and San Marco Argentano, which hosted first a wooden tower replaced at the end of the 11th Century with one of stone.
The tower consisted of a closed ground floor, most probably used as a storage place for food, the first floor, to welcome guests and to host meetings, a private area at the second floor and a crenellated terrace. The Donjon gives us an outstanding image of the fortification that protects and look after the underlying city as a symbol of the feudal power.
The written documents confirm that the first Calabrian castella were turres or domus defensabiles the construction of which was strictly a task of the Count or Duke. At the beginning of the 13th Century under Frederick the 2nd, during a period of political disorder, the tower was reinforced, the perimeter was enlarged and a new defense wall was built partially following the current one, and reinforced with a polygonal tower. It was also built a rectangular room, the Palace, equipped with bathrooms where people could bath with hot and cold water. At this purpose, the emperor made two large tanks for storage of rainwater, one located on the ground floor of the Norman tower and one between the tower and the palace. With the advent of the Angevins, the defense wall was still modified with the addition of a circular tower to protect the entrance to the castle.
The last to make major changes to the castle is the Borgia family, who built a large palace on the ruins of Frederick’s one. Equipped with large rectangular windows that overlook the south and west sides, the building was not ever finished.
THE NECROPOLIS OF THE 6th - 7th CENTURIES A.C.
In 2008, the archeological excavations allowed to trace a necropolis of late Roman empire under the Norman castle (second half of the 11th Century). Its extension is not defined, but currently consists of 22 graves of adults and sub-adults (mostly), oriented with the head to the west and the legs to the east. The graves have rich grave goods (gold earrings, ivory combs, ceramic pitchers) that let us suppose a high social extraction of the buried. The remains of the funeral feast were also found inside and this practice was prohibited by the Church from the 8th Century because it was too linked to the pagan Greek-Roman tradition.
This is the oldest archaeological evidence of the occupation of the hill of Squillace