Today a cylindrical tower and part of the walls remain of the Castle of Annunziata. We walk through the stages of the long and troubled history of the fortifications of Massa Lubrense.
The Sorrento Duchy
A first “castrum” – or small fortified citadel – was built on an easily defendable part of the coast during the Sorrento Dukedom (10th-12th centuries A.D.).
Unfortunately, after the bloody events which ended in the dismissal of the Swabian Monarchy and the rise to the Neapolitan throne of the Angevin dynasty, those fortifications were almost completely razed by order of the king Charles I. He issued the destruction of the castrum in 1266 as a punishment for the Massa people for having supported the old dynasty.
For this reason, Massa town lost not only its fort but also its freedom, as it was subject to the authority of the nearby Sorrento.
The Angevin period
Only in 1389, king Ladislaus of Durres let Pietro Acciapaccia, a noble from Sorrento, build a new castle. The project reached the nearby townlet of Santa Maria, creating the “corpus civitatis” (the body of the town).
This fortified building survived until 1465. After the Aragonese siege, Massa Lubrense had to yield because of the lack of supplies, but also for the fear that the whole Annunziata would be destroyed by the mortars that were brought to the town with great efforts in 1463.
This time Massa Lubrense was loyal to the Angevins. But Queen Isabella, spouse of king Ferrante of Aragon, despite having granted an honorable surrender, ended up destroying the castle anyway two years later. The king “settled an old score with the people of Massa” in 1465 by reducing the fortifications to rubble, as recorded by the historian Riccardo Filangieri.
The Turkish invasion
For almost one hundred years the town of Massa Lubrense was defended by only four coastal towers (built by the Angevins and with a round section) and three or four internal watchtowers, built and maintained by rich inhabitants of the town such as the Liparulo, Palma and de Turris families.
The dreadful sack of the Turks (June 13th, 1558) showed everyone how defenseless Massa was, without any main fortification on its territory. This prompted the University (the old local administrative organ), whose members met in the mansion of the bishop Giovan Andrea Bellone, to fortify again the Annunziata location in order to have a place for the population to recover if another invasion happened.
The project was created by the mathematician and engineer Giacomo Lanteri from Brescia and approved in Madrid by the “Real y Supremo Consejo de Italia”, which was headed by Emperor Philip II. In Lanteri’s idea, a town wall with four bastions would prevent what happened in 1558, when the pirates climbed up from the Cantone beach without encountering any resistance from the defenseless townspeople.
The irregular shape of the hill and the place itself was not an obstacle, as the project of the engineer included and took advantage of it. His principles about fortifications were also organized in “Two books about how to build land fortifications” in 1559.
A solemn ceremony on October 29th, 1564 conducted by Mons. Bellone marked the beginning of the construction of the castle. 3000 ducats were the expected cost, one-third of which was to be provided by a charity organization called “Pio Monte dei Poveri di Massa”, created in Naples in 1559 by emigrants who went from Massa Lubrense to the capital of the reign and made their fortune there but still had ties with their hometown.
Two masters from Cava de’ Tirreni were entrusted with the construction. They were Giovan Marino and Paolo de la Monica, who were famous for building roads and fortifications at the time. The works started immediately with a good pace, most probably in the western part, where the cylindrical tower is located today. In 1565 the foundations and the huge cistern had already been excavated and the first part of the fortifications was completed.
The construction stopped later for a lack of funds; only in 1577 it was resumed, to be halted again in 1583. Until 1636, works lasted with alternate fortunes. Then the old church of San Nicolò was demolished in order to build the cylindrical tower. The latter was equipped with a bell and changed into a clock tower in the 19th century.
What remains of the Castle of Annunziata
To this day only the western bastion of the ancient fortification survives, preserved thanks to the efforts of the administration of Massa Lubrense. Visitors will see, upon entering the site, a well where rainwater gathered in the cistern could be taken. Then, following the bastion, they will have a panoramic view of most of the “southern” townlets composing Massa Lubrense.
It is then possible to reach the majestic tower. The different stages of its construction can be clearly recognized by looking at it from the inside, where is still preserved part of what was built before the end of the 16th century.
In his “Description of the town of Massa Lubrense”, Persico, a local historian, reported the demolition of the church of San Nicolò. He wrote it was probably located along the western wall, right where the tower is. In fact, in the tower was found some evidence of this, consisting of parts of remaining frescoes and structures belonging to the old building.
The humungous structure holding the bell on top of the tower is not visible anymore as it was demolished in 1940. But it offers a breathtaking view over the island of Capri and Naples bay. In the back of the tower, the last restorations promoted by the administration found more interesting structures: some service rooms and an oven, which were to be used in case of a siege by people taking refuge in the building.
Torre Turbolo and Villa Murat
Going back to the village center of Annunziata, behind the old tower belonging to the Turbolo family (which was used for storing the money and pawns of the family pawnshop), there is the famous terrace over Capri. Aside from the beautiful view, it is also possible to find evidence of the old shape of the fortification, highlighted during the restorations using stones in different colors.
Visitors will be able to see the plant of the western bastion which, according to the project by Lanteri, was star-shaped in order to have a better defense against siege weapons.
Some remains of the bastion can also be found in the back of the spectacular Villa Murat, where King Gioacchino supervised the famous siege of Capri in 1808.
An invincible fortification, in theory: but in the end, after the victory of Lepanto (1571), pirates did not reach the coast of Massa Lubrense anymore. The cost of the castle was an expensive and useless initiative, only sustained by the government so the fearful sack of 1558 would not happen again.
Written by Gennaro Galano