Walking among the streets, the squares, churches and palaces, or among the monasteries and the fountains of the Val di Noto, it would never cross the mind of the visitors the idea that these eight cities in south- eastern Sicily were all destroyed during a terrible earthquake in 1683.
Caltagirone, Militello in Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa and Scicli have been completely rebuilt on or near the medieval cities which disappeared during that natural catastrophe, a true celebration of the will to survive and go on in spite of everything. The population of the time decided to rebuilt, or better, to recreate a new world, full of beauty and splendour, according to the Baroque style of the XVIII century, thus setting a great example to the modern men and women and leaving it as a gift for those who visit this area, which was included in UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002.
Chiaroscuro, tricks of light, marble, harmonic shapes, capitals and angels made of white, local stone make of the Val di Noto a true Sicilian Baroque triumph. All Val di Noto cities were partially or totally rebuilt after the 1683 earthquake according to the style of the time, evidently characterised by splendour; this architectural homogeneity was one of the criteria that earned these same cities a place in UNESCO World Heritage List.
At the time, Sicily was officially under the domination of the Spanish Monarchy, while in fact, the true authority was in the hands of the local aristocracy, and it was strongly influenced by the clergy: this dual power is mirrored by the abundance and splendour of the religious and noble buildings which constellate this area, and reach its peak in the eight UNESCO cities, in the districts of Catania, Siracusa and Ragusa, extending between the Iblei and Erei mountains, where the time seems to have stopped.
The “Capital” of this vast Baroque region, is undoubtedly Noto, or “the stone garden”. This small city of prehistoric origin was totally rebuilt after the earthquake following the rules of the “theatrical” Baroque style, a perfect example of the enlightened creativity of the architects of the time, which shows its climax in St. Nicolò cathedral, Palazzo Ducezio, the magnificent Monastery of SS.Salvatore and in St .Francesco all’ Immacolata.
The Baroque path continues in Ragusa (once called “Ibla”), among nine churches (as those dedicated to St. Giovanni Battista, St. Giorgio, St. Maria dei Miracoli) and seven “palazzi”(Palazzo della Cancelleria, Palazzo Bertini, Palazzo Cosentini).
Palazzolo Acreide is a continuous celebration of Baroque art and architecture, particularly in the St. Sebastiano and St. Pietro and Paolo churches.
Another pearl in this magnificent “necklace” is the small city of Modica- where the taste for architecture can easily be conciliated with a more “mundane” one: the taste for chocolate. Modica is in fact widely known for its chocolate production, dating back to the 1700s. The city has two centres: the ancient one on the top of the hill, the modern one built at the bottom of it. Among the most famous buildings, St. Giorgio Cathedral, St. Pietro church and the “Duomo”, situated in the lower part of the city.
Caltagirone has always been famous for its ceramic production; its Baroque style shows its best in the beautiful churches of St. Maria del Monte, St. Giacomo apostolo or in “palazzi”, as the Corte Capitanale and the Civic Museum.
Militello in Val di Catania can proudly present to its visitors the magnificent churches dedicated to S.Nicolò and S.Maria della Stella.
Catania was completely rebuilt and it is a true gem of late Baroque period, which reveals its great splendour in Piazza del Duomo, where Palazzo degli Elefanti (Palazzo of the Elephants) and Fontana dell’Amenano stand. Other important sights to visit are Badia S.Agata, the Collegiata, the Benedictine monastery and Palazzo Biscari.
Lastly, the wonderful city of Scicli, completely excavated in the rocks following the valley’s declivity, where churches and Villas create an urban plant of impressive visual impact, particularly in the decoration of Palazzo Beneventano façade, of great artistic and architectural value.
The area of Val di Noto is not only rich in architectural and artistic treasures, but also in parks and natural reserves, as those in Vindicari or Cavagrande del Cassibile (this latter being the deepest European Canyon), the marine area of Plemmirio, the Cava of Ispica and many other green areas to visit and enjoy.
This same area also hosts feasts, fairs, cultural and folklore events all year long. Among all others, the “Infiorata” which takes place in Noto each year on the third Sunday of May (the “Infiorata” is a floral exhibition, in which one of the most important streets of the city is completely covered in flowers creating a picture, or a drawing), with many European professional in this sector participating in the event, a colourful sight which is a joy to behold and a good way to greet Spring and the incoming summer.
Scicli hosts the “u gioia”, a religious procession in which the Resurrected Christ is transported all along the city.
On a more “mundane” note, this same area has become famous for being the set of the Tv series on the investigations of “Commissario Montalbano” (Investigator Montalbano), based on the detective stories of the Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri.