The baroque cities of Val di Noto, a World Heritage Site

Located in the south east of Sicily, Val di Noto includes eight late baroque cities recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

The eight cities included in the valley are: Noto, Catania, Scicli, Ragusa, Militello in Val di Catania, Modica, Caltagirone and Palazzolo Acreide. These cities existed back in the Middle Ages, but then the earthquake of 1693 nearly destroyed them completely and they had to be rebuilt according to the stylistic and architectural style of that time.

If you are in Sicily, Val di Noto is a destination you must include in your itinerary: so here are some recommendations to make the most of these cities.

Catania, the city on the slopes of Mount Etna

On the slopes of the majestic Etna stands Catania, one of the most important Sicilian cities and the second largest in the region.

Declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Catania has many monuments and buildings deserving a visit. Among these, the main square with the Duomo has to be mentioned for sure. The square, surrounded by sumptuous palaces, is a splendid example of Baroque style, characterized by the chromatic contrast between limestone and lavic stone.

Photo by Livia Cefaloni

In addition to the Duomo, at the center of the square you can admire the “Fontana dell’Elefante” (“Elephant Fountain”), one of the most symbolic monuments of the entire city of Catania. The main street of the city is Via Etnea, through which many other monuments of Catania can be reached, such as the Ursino Castle, the Greek Roman TheatreCorso Italiaand the famous Fish Market.

Modica, the Chocolate City

Another major city of Val di Noto is surely Modica, famous all over the world for its chocolate.

Also known as the “city of the one hundred churches”, Modica is located in the province of Ragusa and has been defined, as the other cities included in the Valley, World Heritage Site in 2002.

The city is divided into Upper Modica and Lower Modica and the best way to visit it is definitely on foot, to lose yourself in its alleys, stairways, churches and stores. Among the various places to visit in Modica there are the Duomo of St. George, the patron Saint of the city, the Castle of the Counts of Modica, with the annexed Clock Tower, the house of the famous author Salvatore Quasimodo and the Chocolate Museum.

Noto, the capital of Sicilian Baroque

In the province of Syracuse, Noto is a splendid jewel in perfect Baroque style. The famous art critic Cesare Brandi defined this city as “the stone garden” because of its peculiar beauty. In 2002 the historical center of Noto was included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Among the monuments to see there is definitely the Cathedral of San Nicolò, the emblem of the city, the Royal Gatefrom which you can access Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main street of Noto. And again, Ducezio PalacePiazza XVI Maggio and the majestic Church of San Domenico, work of the architect Rosario Gagliardi, one of the highest expressions of Sicilian Baroque.

Noto is also famous for the Infiorata, one of the most popular in Italy, organized every year on the third Sunday of May.

Ragusa, a Baroque gem among the Iblei Mountains

Ragusa is a gem embedded among the Iblei Mountains, in the south east of Sicily; it is also the southernmost provincial capital of Italy. Ragusa, like the other cities, is considered one of the highest expressions of Sicilian Baroque and it is also known as the “city of bridges”, for the presence of three famous bridges: Ponte dei Cappuccini or Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Nuovo and Ponte Giovanni XXIII or Ponte San Vito.

The city is divided in two parts. Upper Ragusa is the most modern one, built after the terrible earthquake of 1693 that caused numerous victims and extensive damage throughout the area of Val di Noto. The other, historical part, is known as Ragusa Ibla and rises on the ruins of the ancient city, rebuilt after the earthquake.

Definitely worth seeing are the Duomo of San Giorgio, the Ibleo Garden, the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista and the Castle of Donnafugata, which is about fifteen minutes from the historical center of Ragusa.

Scicli, an enchanting Baroque town

In the province of Ragusa, lies the beautiful Scicli, a small town recognized, like the others in the Val di Noto, World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

In Scicli one must admire the beautiful Church of San Bartolomeo, a genuine Baroque treasure. Precious frescoes, weaving and decorations make its interior an authentic masterpiece. Moreover, the Church houses an important wooden crib, dated 1573, work of the Neapolitan school.

Moreover, the fans of Commissario Montalbano can visit the police station of Camilleri’s famous character! In fact, the twentieth-century Town Hall of Scicli hosts on its ground floor the Commissariato di Vigata, the imaginary place where the famous Sicilian Commissioner’s adventures take place.

Caltagirone, world-famous for its pottery

It is located in the province of Catania, between the two largest plains of Sicily, those of Catania and Gela. The city of Caltagirone is famous and appreciated all over the world for the production of its peculiar ceramics.

Today it is an important urban, agricultural and tourist center: its historical center, built in late Baroque style, was awarded the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002.

A must visit, among the various monuments and historical buildings, the beautiful Cathedral of San Giuliano and the Regional Museum of Ceramics.

Militello in Val di Catania, a beautiful village-museum

Militello in Val di Catania is a small town in the province of Catania and its particular beauty makes it an open-air museum.

For the great historical importance of its center, UNESCO has recognized Militello in Val di Catania as a World Heritage Site.

The village has more than 20 churches and numerous noble palaces. It is worth mentioning the Barresi-Branciforte Castle and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Stella.

Palazzolo Acreide, a Baroque city of Greek origins

Palazzolo Acreide is located in the province of Syracuse, between the mountains Iblei, and its roots are very ancient: suffice it to say that its name appears in the Peloponnesian War of the Greek historian Thucydides.

Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the city of Palazzolo Acreide has several churches and buildings to visit.

The archaeological area with the remains of the ancient Akrai, the Basilica of San Sebastiano and the Municipal Villa are worth a visit.

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