a region populated by olive and almond trees, Noto sits on a plateau
dominating the valley of the Asinaro and its citrus plantations.
This tiny Baroque jewel endowed with an opulent beauty is the result
of a single tragic event: the earthquake of 1693, that, despite
bringing death and destruction to this part of Sicily, also sparked
a huge effort to rebuild. Previously, the town that stood some 9-10km
away (see below Noto Antica) had its origins way back in Antiquity.
lt witnessed the birth of Ducetius who, in the 5C, made the Greeks
quake in their shoes for having incited the Siculi against his Sicilian
nationalist movement. The 1693 earthquake completely destroyed the
old town. A broader and less vulnerable site was chosen for the
new town, one that might accommodate a straightforward, linear town
plan, with intersections at right angles and wide, parallel streets
in accordance with the new Baroque taste. Three of the main streets
run on an east to west axis, so that they might always be bathed
different social categories were catered for: the highest part was
reserved for the nobility, the centre for the clergy (all except
the hundred-year-old Palazzo Landolina), while the ordinary people
were left to fill the rest of the town. Uniformly, the buildings
are majestic: all are built of the soft, compacted limestone found
locally that loses its glaring whiteness with time as a glorious
patina develops imparting a magnificent golden or rosy hue to each
facet especially when
are caught in the last rays of the setting sun. Many Sicilian artists
co-operated in the reconstruction of Noto conducted under the supervision
of the Duke of Camastra, the acting representative of the Spanish
viceroy; these included Paolo Labisi, Vincenzo Sinatra and Rosario
who, being a close follower of Borromini, was perhaps one of the
most inventive. The town was built like a stage set might be: its
perspectives were configured and implemented in an entirely original
way, flattered and enhanced with curvaceous forms and curvilinear
accents in façades, decorated brackets and keystones, curlicues
and volutes, masks, cherubs and balconies with gracefully bulging
wrought-iron railings. Although Noto was rebuilt entirely by local
craftsmen, it fits
into a much larger picture as Italian hands modelled, fashioned
and realised expressions of the Baroque movement all over Europe
and beyond to the new Russian capital, St Petersburg.
main axis is provided by Corso Vittorio Emanuele which runs through
three piazzas, each with its own church. The street extends from
Porta Reale, a monumental gateway modelled on a triumphal arch,
erected in the 19C. Above the entrance is a pelican, the symbol
of self-denial – a reference to King Ferdinand Il, who visited
the town in 1838; flanked on either side with a tower – shorthand
for a fortress and thereby a symbol for strength, and on the other
a cirneco – an old Sicilian breed of dog symbol of loyalty.
Beyond stretches an avenue of trees and to one side the public gardens
(Giardino Pubblico) dotted with patches of purple-flowering bougainvillaea
and palm trees, and the occasional marble bust of a famous local
figure. This is a common meeting-point for the townspeople to congregate
around and a good spot from where to watch the daily passegiata.
Immacolata – The square is overlooked by the fairly austere
Baroque façade of San Francesco all'immacolata (designed
by Sinatra). An important stairway leads up to a terrace with a
statue of the Virgin in the centre, stretched out before its dependent
monastery. The church contains several notable works of art removed
from the Franciscan church abandoned in the old town of Noto: these
include on the main altar a painted wooden Virgin and Child attributed
to Antonio Monachello (1564), and, set into the floor of the nave
on the right, the tombstone of a Franciscan priest (1575).
the left of the church, by the entrance to Via San Francesco d'Assisi,
sits the lovely Monastero del Santissimo Salvatore marked by an
elegant tower rising tall above the curved frontage, once a watchtower.
The windows are graced with the most wonderful pot-bellied wrought-iron
balconies, echoed across the street at the Convento di Santa Chiara,
Municipio – This is the most majestic and the busiest of the
three squares, overlooked on the left by the eye-catching elevation
of the Palazzo Ducezio, and on the right by the broad flight of
steps to the cathedral entrance, flanked by two beautiful horse-shoe-shaped
– The broad façade with its two tall bell-towers does
not completely obscure the remains of the dome which tragically
collapsed destroying a large section of the nave in 1996. The wide
stairway appears to sweep up from the piazza with a great movement,
accentuated no doubt by the two tall exedra side hedges, each with
paved area above echoing and thereby emphasising their serpentine
line. Alongside the cathedral, on the same level, stand the 1800’s
Palazzo Vescovile (Bishops
Palace) and Palazzo Landolina di Sant’Alfano, both sober in
their countenance in contrast
with the exuberant style of the other buildings in the square.
sits the Palazzo Ducezio, a well-proportioned buildings with curvilinear
elements, enclosed by a Classical type of portico designed by Sinatra.
The upper section was added in the 1950s. The main feature on the
east side of the square is the façade of the Basilica del
Nicolaci – Right off Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The eye is naturally
drawn along the street as it gently rises up to the Chiesa dl Montevergine
with its fine concave frontage framed between bell-towers, designed
by Sinatra. Both sides of the street are lined with fine Baroque
buildings: on the left, note Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata with
its fabulous balconies. See how the richly carved brackets are ornamented
with arrays of fantastical cherubs, horses, mermaids and lions,
grotesque figures among which in the centre, a figure with distinctively
Middle-Eastern features (snub nose and thick lips). It is intended
that the interior will be opened to the public once restoration
the middle of May, the citizens recreate brilliantly-coloured tableaux
of flowers inside the doorways of the palazzi: these panels composed
entirely of petals are in celebration of the infiorata festival.
The cobbles of Via Nicolaci are trasformed into some gigantic canvas
onto which the artists apply their multicoloured brushstrokes picked
from palettes of petals: each year the designs are different.
to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, on the left stands the imposing complex
of the Jesuit Church and College attributed to Gagliardi. The fine
central doorway is enclosed between four columns and, at the top,
XVI Maggio – The most striking feature on the square is Gagliardi’s
elegant convex façade for the Chiesa di San Domenico designed
with an emphatic use of line and boldly contained by two tiers of
colunms separated by a high cornice. The interior, predominantly
white and encrusted with stucco, is graced with polychrome marble
front of the church lies the delightful Villetta d'Ercole, a public
garden with a 1700’s fountain in the centre named after Heracles.
Opposite, stands the 1800’s Teatro Vittorio Emanuele III.
second street on the left off Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Via Ruggero
VII, leads to the Chiesa del Carmine; a church with an elegant concave
frontage and a Baroque doorway.
to Piazza XVI Maggio so as to turn up Via Bovio, which passes, on
the right, the former Carmine convent known as Casa dei Padri Crociferi.
Cavour – This noble street runs parallel to, but on a level
above, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, between a series of interesting
buildings: Palazzo Astuto (no. 54) has wonderful balconies with
bulging wrought-iron railings; Palazzo Trigona Cannicarao (no. 93).
Beyond the palazzo turn left into Via Coffa, then left again at
the end so as to pass before the late-Baroque Palazzo Impellizzeri,
and turn right into Via Sallicano. This in turn leads right up to
the Chiesa del Santissimo Crocefisso designed by Gagliardi and containing
Francesco Laurana's sensitive painting entitled the Madonna della
glimpse with a difference
the streets – Throughout the 18C rectilinear town centre layout,
popular districts have sprung up (Agliastrello, Mannarazze, Macchina
Ghiaccio, Carmine) among the tightly-knit, tortuous and often maze-like
streets more usually associated with medieval towns. The Allakatalla
not only provides guided tours of the historic quarters, but also
organises "alternative" routes coloured with local stories
and popular legend. These veritable leaps into the past are even
more captivating in the evening, when the subdued light casts an
almost magical atmosphere. Allakatalla, 10/3 Largo Porta Reale tel.
where to eat
Trattoria del Carmine at 1/A Via Ducezio, near the Carmine church,
serves real home cooking at very reasonable prices.
Antica – 9-10km northwest. Along the road to the site of the
original Noto there is a sign for Eremo di San Corrado fuori le
Mura: this 1700’s sanctuary set in among the green countryside
is built beside the cave where St. Corrado lived in the 14th century.
The main road then continues past the Santuario di Santa Maria della
Scala which preserves a lovely Arabo-Norman arch behind the font.
The road leads on to the site where the town of old Noto stood before
the terrible earthquake of 1693; stretched along the ridge of Monte
Alveria, squeezed in between two deep gorges making it easily defensible.
Beyond Porta Aurea, the gateway to the now deserted, picturesquely
overgrown city, the street system remains intact: how strange, therefore,
to think of it as bustling with people in the 17th century. A few
eerie ruins protrude from the rubble and weeds.
Grande – 19km north. An excursion to Cava Grande provides
the opportunity of exploring a small and forgotten corner of the
lblei Mountain landscape, that karst range dominating the southeast
part of Sicily. This itinerary off the beaten tratl will be of particular
interest to nature-lovers.
off the road from Palazzolo Acreide to Noto for Avola; then take
the secondary road signposted for Cava Grande. Leave the car at
the viewpoint from where there is a magnificent view over the Cava
Grande Gorge plunging down between impressively tall and sheer limestone
cliffs. Along the valley bottom winds the river which opens out
intermittently to make a succession of tiny lakes, accessible by
a path leading down into the gorge. Slightly to the left, a cave
may be seen excavated from the rock: this is the so-called Grotta
dei Briganti (Bandits Cave), just one of the many rock-hewn dwellings
in this settlement, and another example of the type so commonly
found throughout the rocky landscape of south-east Sicily. lt is
thought that this particular cave was used as a tannery.
– It takes half an hour to walk down to the river, or cava
as it is known locally – allow twice that time to climb back
to the top. The track, which at times becomes quite difficult to
follow, cuts its way along the river through luxuriant vegetation.
After a few hundred metres, the bush gives way to an open clearing
around a series of natural rock pools created by the river, complete
with flat rounded slabs of rock ideal for whiling away a moment
or two in the sunshine. In summer, the cool water is very tempting.
Furthermore the rock pools are surrounded on all sides by the most
idyllic scenery far removed from anything else found elsewhere in
Sicily, and so providing an unusual and highly recommended alternative
to a swim in the sea off the Syracuse coast.