Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
The Beautiful Noto Valley of Southeastern Sicily
Often overlooked by visitors to Sicily is the Noto Valley, a wonderful collection of ancient Baroque towns in the southeastern corner of the island. While visitors will flock to Siracusa on the eastern shores of Sicily, many skip the opportunity to see a very unique slice of Sicilian history. One such town is the community of Noto, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Noto was inscribed in 2002 along with seven other late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto.
The ancient community of Noto was originally known as Netum and actually lies about eight kilometers to the north of the current town of Noto on Mount Alveria. Dating back to at least 263 BC, the community changed hands numerous times over the millennium and was at one time the capital city of this district of Sicily. Tragedy would strike this region of Sicily in1693 and the entire town of Netum and many surrounding communities were completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake. Today, portions of the ancient amphitheater and a few buildings are all that remains of the old town of Noto.
The current town of Noto was rebuilt after the earthquake in the early 18th century and was located closer to the Ionian Sea to the south of the original town. The community was reconstructed using the popular Baroque architecture of this period. This reconstruction has given Noto and some of the other communities in this region of Sicily a very distinctive look. The Baroque style was very popular in Sicily during the 17th and 18th centuries and when the communities in this region of Sicily were destroyed by the earthquake in 1693 they were all rebuilt using this sophisticated architectural style.
Noto is a wonderful town to spend a day in and the simple grid pattern of the community makes it very walkable and hard to get lost. One of the more impressive structures in Noto is the Cathedral of San Nicolo di Mira, otherwise known as the Noto Cathedral.
This particular church has a long and storied history, which dates back to its construction following the 1693 earthquake. Commencing in the early 1700s, the church was not completed until 1776. This long interval of construction allowed for some inconsistencies to creep into its design and construction.
The dome of the cathedral had to be rebuilt twice in the 19th century due to its collapse following earthquakes. Most recently in 1996, the dome and a portion of the cathedral roof collapsed. Experts suspect that an earthquake six years prior in 1990, and improper repairs from previous earthquakes caused the structural weakening that contributed to the collapse. It took eleven long years to repair the damage and the cathedral finally reopened in June of 2007. Today, the Noto Cathedral sits prominently in the heart of Noto and certainly is a testament to the resiliency of this community.
Directly across from the Cathedral is the Ducezio Palace, which is the current town hall of Noto. This beautiful building, in addition to housing the local government of Noto, contains some frescoes by Sicilian architect and artist Antonio Mazza. The Piazza Municipio separates the two stunning structures and makes for a great spot to unwind for a bit. In the early evening, this piazza is a popular spot for the young and old alike to meet friends and observe the comings and goings of Noto.
The main road through Noto is the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This is a very popular road name throughout Italy and you may be wondering why? Vittorio Emanuele II was the first king of Italy having ruled from 1861 until his death in 1878. Corso is the Italian word for course or avenue. Almost every major city in Italy has a Corso Vittorio Emanuele to honor Italy’s first king.
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At the west end of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Noto is the Church of San Domenico. In addition to being another superb example of Baroque architecture, there is also the Piazza XVI Maggio and the Viletta d’Ercole garden with its statutes, fountain of Hercules, and Mediterranean landscape. This is just another beautiful spot in this stunning community and makes the walk along the Corso Vittorio Emanule a fascinating trek.
If you happen to be visiting Noto during the third weekend of May then you are in for a treat. Noto celebrates the splendor of spring and the arrival of summer with a lively and colorful festival known as the Inflorata Flower Festival. The Via Corrado Nicolaci is a street that runs off of the main Corso Emanuele and it becomes adorned with color as local artists use flower petals to shape creative looking mosaics that run the entire length of the street. The entire street literally looks like a carpet of colorful flowers. When the festival ends, the children of Noto get to run through the flowers destroying the mosaics and bringing the festival to an end.
If you miss out on the festival don’t despair. The Via Nicolaci is home to some of the most beautiful and unique balconies to be found in Noto. On one side of the Via Nicolaci is the Palazzo Villadorata with its interesting and curious buttressed balconies. Displaying both a humorous and intricate side to Noto, you will enjoy checking out these guardians of the Palazzo as these mythical creatures stare down on you.
Noto is home to numerous other beautiful churches and palaces, and the highlight of any visit to this unique community is to simply stroll its streets and admire the amazing architecture. The soft tufa stone, which was used to rebuild Noto, almost seems to absorb the color of the sun's rays and most of the town takes on this warm honey-like color. Noto is particularly stunning in the late afternoon and early evening as the setting sun casts a golden hue upon the town. The flamboyant curves of the Baroque style are very identifiable here and the town is dotted with beautiful churches and palaces built with this architectural style.
For a great place to stay in nearby Modica
- B&B Review - Villa Quartarella, Modica, Sicily
For a true Sicilian experience check out Masseria Quartarella located in nearby in Modica. This beautifully restored farmhouse makes a great base for exploring this corner of Sicily.
When it's time to sit and relax for a while head to the Caffe Sicilia located right on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This fourth-generation owned café opened in 1892 and is rumored to be among the best bar/cafes in all of Italy. We stopped in for a granita and were not disappointed. Granita is a semi-frozen dessert that originated in Sicily and it is both very good and very popular. It’s almost like a frozen Italian ice that comes in many different flavors. Give it a try!
Just down the street is the ceramic shop of renowned artist Sebastiano Caristia who can often be seen here crafting his work. Stop in for a look at some of his amazing creations.
If you’re looking for the perfect Baroque town that can be seen in a day and is completely walkable, then consider a visit to Noto. Noto is located about sixty miles south of Catania and approximately twenty miles south of Siracusa. The A18 autostrada is the most direct route if traveling by auto. Noto can also be reached by both train and bus from Catania and Syracusa. Enjoy your visit to the beautiful Baroque community of Noto.
Ciao for now.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio