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Via Arcaria: the prisons of the ancient castle

From Piazzetta Scala, you will discover an alley hidden by a stone drinking through where a cobblestones street opens up at the foot of the ancient fortress. From that widening you can still catch a glimpse of what remains of the ancient castle as well as the view of the bell tower of Matrice Vecchia. This is Via Arcaria, which probably takes its name from the arches or galleries underneath the original castle.

It is said, indeed, that in this area there were underground passages and the prisons of the ancient fortress of Ventimiglia were located there. These prisons are known for the dark story of Don Antonio Ventimiglia who had the bishop of Cefalù Niccolò De Burellis kidnapped by some of his thugs. He was starved to death in that prison in 1359 for having vigorously defended the church’s property and in particular the grain loader of Roccella (Di Francesca, 2000, p.15).

It is said that his body was found lifeless on his knees and with his eyes to the sky. A story diametrically opposed to that of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca told by Dante in the Divine Comedy, who was cruelly imprisoned by the Archbishop Ruggieri in the tower of the Muda of Pisa and starved to death in the dark in 1289.

Once the bad news of the death of the bishop spread, all the clergy and a large crowd of people from Cefalù went to Gratteri to pick up the corpse that was moved to Cefalù.
His body is buried today in the sacristy of the Cathedral of Cefalù (Scelsi 1981, p. 100).

The bell tower, on the other hand, was part of the personal chapel of the Ventimiglia Lords and was renovated in 1925 by the emeritus Carmelo Cirincione. It houses as many as seven bells which were rung at the same time during holidays, also with special chimes for the “ntravate” for the call of the confessionals.

Every morning at dawn the Lord’s Prayer was sung and at dusk the Ave Maria. One of these bells still bears the date 1390. Until the middle of the last century, the Lord’s Prayer was still played at dawn and the Hail Mary was played at sunset with a long rope that reached Piazzetta Scala where the sacristan’s house was located. The Rosary bell, on the other hand, dates back to 1712 and comes from a church of the same name which no longer exists today.

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