Noto: the capital of the Sicilian Baroque.
Noto is a city in Sicily, a little baroque jewel full of beauty and harmony. Noto, like the Phoenix bird, was reborn in its baroque splendor after a tragic event. An earthquake in 1693 destroyed the old town completely.
A safer location was chosen to rebuild it. The old town of Noto, whose history dates back to the Bronze Age, lies to the North on the Alveria mountain.
A short historical reference: the history of ancient Noto started a million years ago, as evidenced by the numerous necropolises on the hill of Alveria. According to tradition, the city was ruled by Ducezio, who together with the Siculians rebelled against the conquering policy of Syracuse. In the II century BC, under the dominion of the Greeks, it was a period of prosperity and wealth for Noto. Later came the Romans, and in 866 Noto was conquered by the Arabs. At that time the city gained great importance. The process of development continued in the XV and XVI centuries, until a strong earthquake in January 1693 destroyed Noto to the ground. The new Noto was built according to the tastes dictated by the Baroque: a city with a simple and linear layout, the streets are parallel and wide, crossed by squares and imposing staircases with terraces on different levels. The magnificent palaces are made of local limestone, creating perspectives, playing with the lines and curves of the facades, they give Noto the appearance of a theatrical set.
Baroque is the main style of Noto , all the elements are well thought out and connected, the architects sought to embody the “ideal Baroque city”. Many Sicilian architects were involved in its creation, among them Paolo Labisi, Vincenzo Sinatra and Rosario Gagliardi. In 2002 Noto was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Despite the beauty of Noto, the proximity to the sea, the tasty local products and the excellent wine, the city is still far away from the mass tourism.
Noto’s main street is the straight and smooth corso Vittorio Emanuele, which crosses three squares. In each square there is a church.
Piazza XVI Maggio . It is dominated by the elegant facade of the church of Santo Domingo, designed by Gagliardi between 1703 and 27.
Church of St. Dominic. Noto. Sicily.
It is one of the most important churches of Noto . In front of the church is a delightful miniature square with the fountain of Hercules in the center. Behind the fountain is an information office where you can pick up a map of the city and get the information you need.
The fountain “Hercules. Noto. Sicily.
On the other side of the square attracts the attention of the magnificent theater of Vittorio Emanuele III.
Theater. Noto. Sicily.
We walk along corso Vittorio Emanuele to the next square.
Piazza Municipio is the most solemn and lively of the three squares, bounded on the left by the facade of the Ducezio Palace and on the right by the stairs of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral. Noto. Sicily.
The cathedral, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is characterized by a wide facade with two bell towers. Inside, it bears the stamp of the devastating earthquakes that are not uncommon in this region. The building of the cathedral began in 1694 and was completed in 1703.
The two sides of the cathedral are the Bishop’s Palace (nineteenth century) and the Palazzo Landolina di Sant’Alfano. The Palazzo Ducezio was built according to Sinatra’s design and is now the seat of the City Hall.
Ducezio Palace. Noto. Sicilia.
And the historic Café Sicilia (Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125), which every year becomes the best bar in Italy according to the prestigious guide Gambero Rosso. And don’t miss the sweets, which are on offer: pistachio ice cream, pear and chocolate cake, confit, candied citrus and torrone with almonds from Avola.
We turn left from Corso Vittorio Emanuele into Via Nicolaci . This street rises slightly to the church of Montevergini with its beautiful façade and two bell towers by Vincenzo Sinatra.
It was the first building built in the new baroque city. The church was erected in 1695-97 and belonged to a Cistercian monastery. Inside the church on the altar, note the multicolored marble from Carrara and the 16th-century ceramic floor, transferred here from the old ruined city.
The interior of the Church of Montevergine.
The paintings and frescoes are by Costantino Carazi. It is possible to go up to the bell tower of the church and admire the panorama of Noto. It is said that in clear weather you can see the sea.
Along the street are magnificent Baroque palaces. On the left side is the Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata with an abundance of balconies and a fantastically shaped console decorated with boys, horses, sirens and lions. In the center among the figures stands out a grotesque mask, a typical Middle Eastern character with a flattened nose and full lips.
Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata. Noto. Sicily.
In front of the palace, the historic winery Felice Modica is worth a visit and has a restaurant with typical cuisine. A must is to try the local wines: the red dry Nero d’Avola and the sweet white Moscato or Passito di Noto.
Felice Modica. Sicily.
Let’s continue along corso Vittorio Emanuele . Further along is the church of Santa Chiara, whose bell tower offers a splendid panorama over the city. The church was built in 1730-58 to a design by Rosario Gagliardi and once belonged to a Benedictine monastery.
Church of Santa Chiara. Noto. Sicily.
Piazza Immacolata is the heart of Noto. Here is the church of S. Francesco all’immacolata, designed by Sinatra. An imposing staircase leads to a terrace with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The church houses works of art, among them the Madonna and Child painted on wood by Antonio Monacello (1564).
Church of St. Francis. Noto. Sicily.
The street ends with the Royal Gate – a monumental entrance to the city in the form of a triumphal arch, built in the XIX century. The gate is decorated with a pelican – the symbol of the abdication of King Ferdinand. On the two sides are the bulls, as a symbol of strength and loyalty. Behind the gate stretches an alley, along which is the City Garden with palm trees, between which there are marble busts of local characters.
It is easy to notice that almost all the buildings of Noto Center are in the same color scheme – yellow tuff, often referred to as the “stones of Noto.” The vibe of light on the honey-colored stones creates a warm and luminous atmosphere. If you turn off the central avenue, you can walk along other streets along which there are magnificent palaces and churches. There are a total of 18 churches, 15 monasteries and 13 palaces in Noto.
Noto is an important center of wine production Noto DOC . Winemaking in this area has ancient roots, some sources name the XV-XIII century BC. But this is more in the realm of legends. Noto became famous in the XIX century, when the Royal Experimental winery was founded on its lands. Nowadays the wine region Noto DOC is experiencing a new rise, the most common grape variety is Nero d’avola, another popular wine is the sweet Passito of Muscato – Moscato (Passito) di Noto. It also produces olive oil, protected by the geographical name DOP Monte Iblei. Almond nuts and pistachios are grown.
At 9 km from the new town of Noto is the Old Noto (Noto Antica), where the ruins of an ancient settlement are preserved. The old Noto developed along the Alveria mountain range, until 1693 when an earthquake destroyed it.
Old Noto. Sicily.
Old Noto. Sicily.
Old Noto. Sicily.
Old Noto. Sicily.
Sicilian Baroque Baroque is one of the most expressive, vivid and distinctive architectural styles that dates back to the Italian Renaissance of the early 17th century; it is characterized by luxurious decoration, dynamically flamboyant forms and a habit of breaking the laws of perspective. The Sicilian Baroque is not a style in its own right, but a particular “deviation” from the Baroque. Sicilian Baroque is characterized by vivid decoration, theatricality and colorfulness, and is a symbol of luxury of the island nobility.
What to see in Noto, the gem of late Baroque Sicily
In each of its imaginary peaks we find Ragusa, Modica and Noto. The latter glitters like gold because churches, squares and some of the most beautiful facades seen in Noto are clustered around its main street. Its main buildings display an excess of ornamentation that is hard to ignore.
Nevertheless, it is no less true that Noto lacks the tourist glory of places like Taormina or Syracuse, but its quaint beauty and small details that it appreciates make it a unique place. It is also a World Heritage Site and is part of the towns of the “late Baroque of the Noto Valley”. The richness of art and culture spreads through the parallel streets and carefully designed recreation spaces after the 1693 earthquake.
Noto and the 1693 earthquake.
1693. A massive earthquake devastates part of the Noto valley, an important area east of Sicily. From the ashes arises the city of Noto, adopting the architectural style peculiar to the time, Baroque. This artistic practice, imported from continental Italy, underwent localist and individual adaptations. The Sicilian Baroque is theatrical, extravagant, and richly decorated with sculptures. Today, despite the abandonment of some of its buildings, it is still pleasant to wander around Noto.
Sicilian Baroque was characterized by the strategic use of light and shadow to create movement, including smiling masks on its facades, as well as putti (figures of winged, often naked children), balconies and balustrades and grand staircases. In Noto we find not traces of the Greeks and Romans, as in other cities on the island, but palaces and churches built of sandstone with their own architectural style.
A common thing for a trip to Sicily is to rent a car, so we cannot recommend this option if you are planning to visit Noto. The bad news is that finding a parking space is not easy, especially if you are traveling in high season. Pay attention to the blue zone, it is paid. An alternative is to take the train from Syracuse (28 km).
Once in the city, the most interesting places to see in Noto are concentrated along its main street. The walk along Corso Vittorio Emanuele is pleasant, there is no traffic, and it takes about 2 hours or so, depending on how caught you are by the city. Of course, Noto is as hypnotic as it is peaceful, and that’s another part of its charm.
Porta Reale, the city gate
The triumphant entrance to the city is through what is known as Porta Reale, the access arch to the main street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This gate was built as a Triumphal Arch in the nineteenth century on the occasion of the visit of the monarch Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1838. The uniformity of style is the hallmark of Noto. You soon realize that it’s like a puzzle whose tiles fit perfectly. Nothing digs in. Even if you close your eyes, you can be transported to an era of new city splendor, the exuberance beginning to be felt.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi
If you love churches in Sicily, you won’t be bored, but only in Noto will you reach the nirvana of devotion, with over 50 parishes in the city. Some are open all day and others only during certain events.
After passing through Porta Reale, we find the church of St. Francis of Assisi. Next to it rises the Church of Santissimo Salvatore behind Piazza Immaculate, which shows how a few meters away we can satiate our Christian curiosity. The path to each temple is direct, there is no loss.
Piazza del Duomo.
Piazza del Duomo is one of the four main squares of the city. There is the most important Temple to be seen in Noto, the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Its history is replete with human and natural disasters that have led to its restoration up to three times. The most recent was in 1996, when the dome collapsed due to reconstruction failures.
Its facade draws attention to its fully ornate exterior doors with scenes from the life of San Conrado de Piacenza, the patron saint of Noto. Admission to the cathedral is free. Because of its continuous reconstructions, it is not particularly eye-catching, so you can almost miss it.
St. Nicholas Cathedral is one of the places to see in Noto
Opposite the Cathedral of San Nicolò is another of the most striking buildings to be seen in Noto, the Palazzo Dukezio (eighteenth century) with its impressive columned facade, which functions as the headquarters of the city hall.
Today it is excavated because of its color, due to the need for cleaning, as it contrasts with the gilding of the other nearby buildings. There is an additional fee (2€) to enter the Palazzo Ducezio. Among its many halls, the Hall of Mirrors stands out.
City Hall or Palazzo Ducezio
In the vicinity of the Cathedral and Noto Town Hall we find several souvenir stores, cafes, restaurants and, of course, ice cream stores. In Italy, the variety of flavors, the quality of products and the high temperatures make ice cream stores very appetizing places.
But it is in Sicily that flavors are taken to extremes, and you can even find cannolo-flavored ice cream. This is one of the island’s most typical sweets, made with ricotta cheese seasoned with ground pistachios. A bit of a sweet treat.
The church and bell tower of San Carlo Al Corso
If there’s one church that stands out in the historic center of Noto, it’s the Church of San Carlo. The bell tower of this church is one of the best vantage points in the city of Noto. Access to the church is free, but to climb the bell tower, you must pay 3 euros per person. A winding narrow spiral staircase allows you to climb the bell tower and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Noto.
Access stairs to the bell tower of the Church of San Carlo – Al Corso in Noto
From the top you see the main street of Vittorio Emanuele, on the left you see the building of San Nicolo Cathedral, and directly opposite is the town hall, Palazzo Dukezio. The bell tower is a magnificent balcony from which you can enjoy every corner of the city center.
If your visit to Noto coincides with spring, namely the third Sunday in May, you will be lucky enough to enjoy a typical celebration: the infiorata di Noto. During this feast, the nearby Via Nicolaci is decorated with carpets of flower petals of different colors that are certainly worth seeing.
Piazza XVI Maggio
Piazza XVI Maggio completes the pedestrian area to the main and most important street of Noto. Cars, bustle and some chaos disturb the tranquility of the historic city center. Around the square are two important buildings: the Vittorio Emanuele III Theater, known as the Tina Di Lorenzo Theater, and the Church of San Domenico with its curved facade.
Another interesting street to see in Noto is the Via Cavour and Via Nicolacci, where some important palaces are located. One example is the Palazzo Nicolacci (headquarters of the public library), where we can observe a curious decorative decoration typical of this late Baroque period.
Nearby beaches that can be seen in Noto
A visit to Noto can be combined with towns with Ragusa and Modica to complete the baroque triangle of Sicily. Nevertheless, if it is hot, the choice of sun, sea and beach is always presented as an appetizing plan and more, given that in close proximity to places like Lido Di Noto, Spiaggia Calamosche or the Vendicari Reserve.
Lidos tend to have limited beach areas where you have to pay to use umbrellas and hammocks. Fortunately, Lido Di Noto has a large beach front where you can lay out your towel without taking out your wallet for a stroll. So it turns out to be a great option.
Accommodations in Noto.
Sicily is also known for its wines. In Noto, muscat wine made from white nutmeg grapes stands out, and near the new town you can visit some wineries such as Cantina Zisola Srl Agricola. Some tasting tours bring you closer to Sicily’s most interesting wineries.
As for accommodations, perhaps the most common is to choose one of the hotels in Syracuse, a city with more life and tourism.
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