The ancient Cristina, perched upon a series of spurs among the Peloritani Mountains, became a dominion of considerable importance with jurisdiction over an extensive area following Frederick II of Aragon’s concession of sovereignity in exchange for loyalty during the war against the Angevins. Re-named Castroreale, it retains many medieval features, with little streets and alleys that open onto delightful little piazzas, and many churches, many of which containing a wealth of artworks that testify to its glorious past.
Chiesa Madre – An elegant baroque portal graces the front of the main church in stark contrast with the massive 1500’s campanile, which was probably used as a watch-tower. Inside are a charming St. Catherine of Alexandria, dated 1534, and Santa Maria di Gesù (1501) both by Antonello Gagini, and a Saint James the Great by Andrea Calamech in the north aisle. From the terrace, on the east side of the church, there is a magnificent panorama consisting of the Milazzo plain. An inscription records the privileges granted to this “royal town” by King Philip IV of Spain in 1639.
Continue along corso Umberto I, than turn left towards the 1400’s Chiesa della Candelora, with a plain brick façade graced with a Durazzo portal. Proceeding along Salita Federico II, you get to a round tower which is the all that remains of the castle built by Frederick II of Aragon in 1324. From its top, a beautiful view extends on Castroreale, the little Moorish dome of the Church of the Candelora and the town’s surrounding landscape.
Return to Piazza Peculio, deriving its name from the Peculio Frumentario (meaning wheat reserve, which was kept to cope with famine periods) that rose where now is the Town Hall. Here probably was the Jewish Quarter: the arch, re-built on the viewing terrace behing the Monte di Pietà, likely comes from a synagogue located nearby. The square is flanked by the 1400’s Chiesa del SS. Salvatore, alas heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1978, with a semi-collpsed tower, which once probably formed part of a chain of watch-towers with those of the cathedral and the castle.
Further along Via Guglielmo Siracusa (formerly Via della Moschita), is a small art-gallery on the right hand side.
Pinacoteca di S. Maria degli Angeli – The art-gallery displays outstanding paintings and sculptures, including a panel of St. Agatha (dated around 1420) in the Byzantine style, a Flemish tryptich depicting the Adoration of the Magi with SS. Marina and Barbara, a fine polyptich of the Nativity from the Neapolitan studio of G. F. Criscuolo, a marble statue of St. John the Baptist by Calamech in 1568) and a silver altar-frontal by Filippo Juvara (18th century).
Museo Civico – Housed within the former oratory dedicated to San Filippo Neri, the Town Museum displays wooden and marble sculptures, among which is a splendid funerary monument of Geronimo Rosso (1506-1508), by praised Antonello Gagini. A number of paintings are equally worth-seeing, consisting of a 1300’s Cross with scenes from the life of Christ, a lovely Madonna and Child by Antonello de Saliba (1503-1505) – with the infant portrayed with the face of an adult – a Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) panel by Polidoro da Caravaggio betraying the clear influence of Raphael, and an altarpiece depicting St. Lawrence by Fra’ Simpliciano da Palermo.
Further along the via, stands the Chiesa di S. Agata, remodelled in the 19th century, containing an Annunciation by Antonello Gagini, dated 1519, a statue of St. Agatha by the Florentine Montorsoli, dated 1554, and the expressive 1600’s plaster and papier-maché image known as the Cristo Lungo, which is carried in procession on a 12 metres-pole so as to be visible from every corner of town. Nearby stands the 1500’s Chiesa di Santa Marina that incorporates masonry from the Norman epoch and vestiges of fortifications typical of Spanish defences.