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The History of Sicily

Rule Britannia - Nelson and his castle in Sicily

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Nelson's Column is one of the most famous monuments in the world, but have you ever heard of Nelson's Castle? Well, it exists, and it's in Sicily!

1798 was a decisive year for England in their long-running battle against Napoleon: Nelson scored a famous victory over the French in the Battle of the Nile and was awarded a Baronetcy for his efforts.

On his return to Naples, where he had been posted for several years, Nelson immediately received a call for help from the King of Naples, Ferdinand I, who was under attack from the French. The King and his family were taken on board The Vanguard and swept off to safety in Palermo. The Royals, however, were not the only people to be saved: Lady Hamilton was also a passenger and it was in Sicily that she became Nelson's mistress.

As a token of his thanks, on 3rd September 1799, King Ferdinand I made Nelson the Duke of Bronte (a small town on the north-western foothills of Mount Etna) where still today it is possible to visit Il Castello di Nelson.

The so-called castle started its life in around 1173 and was built as a monastery by General Maniace, who had recently defeated the Saracen forces. As was the case with most religious buildings of the time, the monastery was somewhat fortified, thereby leading to its later denomination as a castle. It is almost sure that Nelson never placed foot there, though it remained in his family for several generations.

King Ferdinand returned to Naples in May 1800 where, probably with the help of Nelson (though his involvement is still open to debate), the French Republicans remaining in the city were massacred, despite having received promises of mercy.

Sicily officially came under British control in 1806 and remained so until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. During that time the governor, Lord Bentinck, set about abolishing feudal privileges and introducing a two-chamber parliament based on the British model. He dreamt of Sicily becoming a permanent British protectorate with a new constitution, an idea that had great support from many influential Sicilians. In 1815, however, Napoleon was finally defeated and the island was returned to its Bourbon rulers.

Bronte and its castle, meanwhile, are well worth a visit if you're staying in the Etna area, especially if you have a sweet tooth: apart from its connections to Lord Nelson and, apocryphally, to the Bronte sisters, the town is famed for its pistacchio nuts and its delicious pistacchio cakes and ice-creams!

Top 3 photos produced with the kind permission of www.bronteinsieme.it

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Il Castello di Nelson | Think Sicily

The entrance to Castello Nelson  | Think Sicily

The garden of Il Castello di Nelson | Think Sicily

Approaching Palermo from the sea as Nelson did... | Think Sicily

Pistachio pie - Sicilian recipes | Think Sicily