A baroque itinerary of Sicily

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A baroque itinerary: Val di Noto and more

The unmissable destination for this tour is Val di Noto, with the towns of Ragusa Ibla, Modica, Scicli, Ispica, Palazzolo Acreide, Noto, all clinging to hills and spurs, with their mimetic colour perfectly fusing with that of the rock.

These villages have very old origins, but the devastating earthquakes which repeatedely hit Sicily in various ages completely cancelled the ancient testimonies of the past, with the exception of a few Renaissance ruins. The towns as we know them today were reconstructed after the earthquake of 1693, when illustrious architects the likes of Rosario Gagliardi, Paolo Labisi, Vincenzo Sinatra, Antonio Mazza, Filippo Iuvarra spent the whole XVIII century giving new life to the urban centres. Some of the towns were rebuilt exactly where they stood before, while others were raised up in newer and safer areas.

Architecture in this age aimed at mirroring the strength and richness of the Church and the aristocracy, therefore all buildings, either religious and civil, were the tool used to represent this grandeur. Most of the buildings were built in ductile fine stone, which was easy to mould and allowed to obtain the most extravagant shapes.

Noto is a unique town of its genre, with its squares and monuments that represent one of the highest peak of the European creativity in the 18th century. The church of San Domenico and that of Santa Chiara, as well as the Cathedral which separates the square from the Town Hall.

Modica and Ragusa Ibla keep other precious examples of the baroque art, with the Church of San Giorgio in Modica, restored between 1761 and 1850, boasting one of the finest facades of the European Baroque; the other Church of San Giorgio in Ragusa is also a fine monument and the symbol of the town, with the bell tower and the spectacular facades. Ispica deserves a visit for the beautiful Church of the Annunziata, finely decorated inside. In Palazzolo Acreide stands the church of San Paolo, with the beautiful facade and the loggia; in Scicli lies the spectacular Church of San Matteo which looks as if embedded in the rock standing right behind it.

An interesting way to visit the Sicilian baroque towns is by train: the Baroque Train is a dedicated railway itinerary which allows to enjoy the natural landscape of the Iblei Mountains and the architectural jewels of Val di Noto.

The towns and villages in Val di Noto are certainly unique in their genre, but if you love baroque art there are many other towns especially in eastern and southern Sicily which urban tissue and architectural structures have nothing to envy to the others. For instance Acireale, on the Ciclopes Riviera, with the Basilica of San Sebastiano, the scenographical Cathedral square, the Basilica of Saint Pietro and Paolo, dating from 1642, the Town Hall (1659).

Grammichele is another beautiful village in the province of Catania. Founded after the earthquake to take in the survivors. The urban structure was designed according to a hexagonal scheme, with a large square in the middle. Particularly worth of note is the Chiesa Madre, dedicated to San Michele ,which was built between 1735 and 1765.

Avola is a village with a cross-shaped structure. The most interesting monuments are the Chiesa Madre, the Churches of Santa Venera and Sant’Antonio. Buscemi was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt straight after. The Chiesa Madre, situated on a flight of step in lava stone, and the Church of Sant’Antonio are the main buildings Palma di Montechiaro is situated in the province of Agrigento and was ordered by the prince Carlo Tomasi of Lampedusa who founded it in 1637. The Chiesa Madre (1666-1703) is the most precious building.

Ferla has ancient roots, and its baroque architectures, built after the earthquake, have replaced the pre-existing Hellenistic structures. Among the religious buildings stand out the Chiesa Madre, dedicated to San Giacomo, and the church of San Sebastiano.

Finally Niscemi, with the beautiful Church of Santa Maria dell’Odigitria and the church of the Addolorata.