Stone laces and stories carved in ornate facades. Theatricality, sumptuousness and grandeur make the Sicilian Baroque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, stand out as a unique treasure in the Italian artistic heritage.
To discover the fascinating history of Sicilian Baroque, we need to go back in time to 1693, when a devastating earthquake hit the Val di Noto, an area in the south-east of Sicily. It was a cold January evening, when a sudden rumble startled the inhabitants. In a matter of seconds, everything collapsed: houses, churches, piazzas. The quakes grew more and more violent and kept shaking the land in the following days, resulting in entire towns being razed to the ground.
Two months later, Giuseppe Lanza, Duke of Camastra, and Carlo Grunenberg, a military engineer, were chosen to oversee the reconstruction of those towns. Most of them were reconstructed on their ruins, while others, such as Noto and Ragusa, were moved to a different location and rebuilt following sophisticated urban schemes and geometries that could satisfy the fantasies of the architects.
Noto, today considered the capital of Sicilian Baroque, was reconstructed eight kilometers from its original site. Like many other towns that were hit by the earthquake, Noto welcomed a variety of new styles, leading to an extraordinary flowering of eighteenth-century architectural forms from Rome and Naples that were however remodeled according to a new taste revolving around pomp and theatricality.
Concerning the city planning, the newly reconstructed city of Noto differs from other urban centers that were rebuilt on level ground, in that it comprises two separate areas: the upper part of the town, placed on top of a plateau, and the lower part, located on the slope of the hill. Institutional buildings were located in the upper part of the town, while the lower part became a residential area.
The town was given a regular structure, with parallel streets replicating the plan of another Sicilian town: Palma di Montechiaro. The main street thus became the pivot around which new, majestic aristocratic and ecclesiastical palaces were built. Their facades, some of which were designed by the architect Rosario Gagliardi, embraced the lavish adornments carved by skilled artisans in the friable stone of Syracuse, a gray-white limestone that, at certain times of the day, offers suggestive chromatic reflections.
However, the Sicilian Baroque is not the prerogative of the town of Noto, also called “stone garden”: many other towns, such as Ragusa, Scicli, Catania and Modica welcomed this new style. Spacious squares, majestic perrons and facades turned those towns into impressive open-air scenographies.
The characteristics of Sicilian Baroque
Following the reconstruction of those areas affected by the earthquake, Baroque in Sicily has expressed itself, above all, in the field of architecture.
Sicilian Baroque resorted to a completely new and original language, the result of an unbridled imagination and of the necessity to create a style that local people could identify with.
Among the main features of Sicilian Baroque architecture, we can admire the evocative power of its chiaroscuro, its dynamic shapes and the abundance of ornamental elements that decorate the facades.
Squares, perrons and buildings are arranged in close dialogue with each other, like scenic microcosms that suddenly disclose themselves, arousing astonishment and wonder. The stone of Syracuse, calmly moulded by stonemasons, gives shape to curls, volutes, mascarons and putti, offering visitors unique and astonishing details in the form of stucco decorations and refined marble cladding.
Discovering Sicilian Baroque
Discovering Sicilian Baroque, clustered in the south-eastern area of Sicily, means exploring a territory that offers suggestive and unique treasures, a portion of history to experience with your eyes pointed up/looking up. The Val di Noto, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, encompasses eight cities: Ragusa, Modica, Scicli, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Caltagirone, Militello in Val di Catania and Catania.
You can start by visiting Ragusa and its two historical centres: the medieval one and the one that has been reconstructed after the earthquake, where you can also find most of the baroque churches and (noble) palaces of the city. Move then to Modica, where the San Pietro Cathedral and the San Giorgio Cathedral with its majestic 250-step perron are surely worth a visit. Walking through the city, you will also be able to enjoy other elements of the Sicilian Baroque, such as Palazzo della Cancelleria Vecchia (the old Palace of Chancellery), Palazzo Cosentini, Palazzo Battaglia, Palazzo Bertini, Palazzo Zacco and Palazzo Vescovile.
The most beautiful holiday villas in the Val di Noto
If you want to discover Sicily and its Baroque wonders, we suggest renting/choosing one of our beautiful holiday villas located in the south-eastern part of Sicily, from which you can easily reach the Val di Noto and visit its wonderful Baroque centres.
Blumarine in Modica
Wonderful, exclusive villa with private swimming pool, situated in a splendid sea-front position.
Brezza Marina in Calabernardo (Noto)
Beautiful Mediterranean-style villa overlooking the sea and close to the Vendicari nature reserve.
Dimora Pura in Scicli
Exclusive villa with pool immersed in the countryside but a short drive away from the sea.
Casi o Cantu in Modica
Stunning villa set amid Modican luxuriant countryside, right at the heart of south-eastern Sicily.
Le Edicole in Ragusa
Exclusive villa with private swimming pool set in the suggestive rural landscape of Ragusa countryside.
Contrada in Noto
Luxury villa with private pool. This property offers enchanting views of the surrounding countryside and the sea.