The magnificent fortress of Le Castella is located on the eastern end of the Gulf of Squillace in the province of Crotone. To be precise, in Isola di Capo Rizzuto looking out over the protected marine reserve of the same name. You don't need much imagination to see the Aragonese soldiers locked in combat with Turkish pirates five centuries ago.
The main structure dates back to the Angevin period. The giveaway is the cylindrical tower which juts out over the walls. Yet, the ancient Greeks did build some defensive walls in the shallows many years before. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia, mentions various little islands such as Dioscuri, Calipso, Tiris, Meloessa and Eranusa. These collectively may be the origin of the name Le Castella.
The castle was fully restored in 2001 and I visited it as part of the SIAFT (Southern Italy Agrifood and Tourism) invitation by the Chamber of Commerce of Crotone. Our guide added some great human stories to the chronicled history.
Firstly, he told us that the Turkish pirates never really wanted to take the castle, just keep it quiet so they could raid the coast in peace. The actual tower was inpregnable and had its own cistern and ventilation system to put out fires and remove smoke. Secondly, the spiral staircase of the tower was built in the opposite direction to all other spiral castle staircases. The logic was that most pirates were right handed, so building it in such a way would force the aggressors to ascend the staircase with their sheilds behind them, leaving them open. It is not known if susbsequent left handed only armies were ever recruited.
Another story followed the attack of the castle in 1536 by the legendary pirate Barbarossa or 'Khaiad-din' from Algeria. He succeeded in kidnapping a 10 year old boy called Giovanni Dionigi Galeno. Sold as a slave in Constantinople, Giovanni was treated well, converted to Islam, married his owner's daughter and changed his name to Ali. He is credited with being the only survivor of the Battle of Lepanto and subsequently protected Le Castella politically from a distance. His bust can be seen in Piazza Ucciali.
Finally, it was here, apparently, that the Italian superstition for black cats originated. During one siege, the priates had heard of a tunnel connecting the castle to the mainland. To find it they brought a semi-starving cat with them. The poor beast was so hungry he could smell faint wafts of food from the area of the tunnel and led the priates to it. Why black? Becuase the cat could not be seen when they attacked at night!