The small island on which the castle was built appeared after an eruption occurred over 300,000 years ago. The island reaches a height of 113 meters above sea level and covers an area of approximately 56,000 square meters.
The construction of the first fortification on the island dates back to 474 BC, and was entitled Castrum Gironis (Castle of Hieron), after the tyrant of Syracuse, Hieron I, who conquered Ischia. Later, the fortress was occupied by the Parthenopeans, and in 315 BC by the Romans, who founded the colony of Aenaria.
During the following centuries, the fortress was radically transformed, and used to defend the island against the Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Arabs, Normans, Swabians and Angevins.
The current appearance of the fortress dates back to the Aragonese period, more precisely to the year 1441, when Alfonso V of Aragon built a castle very similar with the Castel Nuovo of Naples. A wooden bridge connected the castle with the island of Ischia.
The period of maximum splendor of the structure came at the end of the 16th century. At that time, the castle housed 1892 families, the Convent of the Poor Clares, the Abbey of the Basilian monks of Greece, the Episcopal Seminary and a garrison.
In the second half of the 18th century, once the danger of pirates’ attacks diminished, the people began to abandon the castle, looking for a more comfortable home on the island.
In 1809, during the siege of the castle by the English troops, the structure was almost completely destroyed by bombing. In 1823, Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies and exponent of the Bourbon dynasty, converted the fortress into a prison. In 1860, with the invasion of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Ischia was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and the prison was closed.
On June 8, 1912, the administration of the state property placed the Aragonese Castle on auction. Since then, the island was managed by private individuals, who took care of the restoration of the structure. Today, the castle is open to the public.
The castle covers a small part of the islet’s surface, which is mostly occupied by ruins, orchards and vineyards. The dense constructions depicted in 18th-century paintings were largely destroyed by the events that affected the island under French rule, in the early 19th century, and later by neglect and abandonment.
Inside the castle, we can find the Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in the 18th century and abandoned in 1809, when Joachim Murat, King of Naples, abolished the religious orders.
Also, here we can find the Convent of the Poor Clares, founded in 1575 by Beatrice Quadra. The convent was closed in 1810 following the aforementioned secularization law issued by Joachim Murat. Today, a wing of the convent houses a hotel.
On the island, there is also the Cathedral of the Assumption, partially destroyed in 1809 by the English troops, and the Church of San Pietro a Pantaniello, whose construction is attributed to the architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola.
Inside the castle, we can also mention the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie from the 16th century, the panoramic Terrazzo degli Ulivi (Terrace of the Olive Trees), the prisons and the Abbey of the Basilian monks of Greece.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Aragonese Castle is located about 2.4 kilometers from the Port of Ischia. To get to the castle, you can take the bus Line 7. A trip from the port to the castle takes about 10 minutes and a single ticket costs 1.5€.
The castle is accessed through a tunnel dug into the rock, built around the middle of the 15th century. The tunnel is 400 meters long and the path is illuminated. Starting with 1970s, an elevator is also in operation.