Baroque Towns of Sicily
The South East is definitely Sicily’s best kept secret and full of unspoilt and enchanting towns, breath-taking baroque architecture, and one of the most important cities of ancient Greece, Siracusa, (home to Caravaggio’s Burial of Santa Lucia) and the peninsula of Ortigia. The delightful towns of Noto, Scicli, Modica & Ragusa are all worth visiting & Catania offers some of Sicily’s most imaginative baroque buildings.
The area is far more accessible now and each town, with its own character, offers beautiful churches, tempting trattorias and friendly locals.
All tours are tailor made to suit the itinerary and budget of the society. However we highly recommend the following:
- Travelling April, May, September or October for 5- 7 days
- Including a few meals in the local farmhouses & local restaurants – the food and wine is wonderful!
- Being based in Siracusa, where from mid May to late June the Greek Theatre stages classical performances
- Visiting the totally unspoilt Vensicari Nature Reserve for some variety to the tour
What to Do
Noto is, quite simply, the apotheosis of Baroque town planning and architecture. Completely destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake, it was rebuilt from scratch. The main building material used was local compacted limestone, a substance that seemingly absorbs the sun’s rays and transforms them into a soft golden-honeyed glow. The effect at sunset is quite something. The Monastero del Santissimo Salvatore with its graceful tower, the inspired Palazzo Ducrezio, the Cathedral, the Church of San Francesco, the Jesuit Church and College and Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata are all Baroque in style but each is unique with its own fascinating design. At the end of May, Noto celebrates the marvels of Spring and the coming summer with a colourful “Festa”. The streets become home to flower artists who create the most beautiful mosaics using petals. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Noto is not to be missed.
Siracusa & Ortigia
Siracusa was the most important city of Magna Graecia. It defeated the mighty Athens in 413 and was home to many a great Greek, including the inimitable Archimedes. A visit can be split into two easy parts: one dedicated to the archaeological site, the other to the peninsular of Ortigia. The archaeological site is home to a staggering number of well-preserved Greek (and Roman) remains. The main attraction is the Greek theatre that dates back at least until the 5th Century BC & the famous “Ear of Dionysius”. The name was given by Caravaggio, the excellent Cathedral-like acoustics meant that he could hear conversations from outside. The Archaeological Museum is just a stone’s throw from the archaeological park and contains a great collection of exhibits from all over the Syracuse area.
Modica is divided into two parts; “higher” Modica and “lower” Modica, connected by numerous flights of steps. Palazzi and houses rise from the bottom of the gorge seemingly stacked one on top of the other. Magnificent churches, with their inspiring domes, bell towers and intricate facades punctuate the red-tiled roofs. The centrepiece is the beautiful Church of San Giorgio, though the “Castello dei Conti”, surveying the town from the top of a rocky outcrop, is also very impressive. Modica is custodian of a 400 year tradition of Sicilian chocolate-making. Being part of the Spanish kingdom for so many years meant that Sicily was often one of the first recipients of the new foodstuffs being brought back from South America. Cacao was one of these and today Modica still specialises in making chocolate that is based on Aztec methods and recipes.
This small but beautiful peninsular is packed with over 2,500 years of history. Architectural styles vary widely from Greek and Roman remains, to Mediaeval, Norman buildings and understated Baroque. Restaurants, trattorias and bars abound and it is especially nice to sit out on the western side in the late afternoon, warmed by the sun and with a view over the lagoon. The historical highlights include the fountain of Arethusa; the remains of the Temple of Apollo which, being built in the 7th Century BC, was supposedly the first great Doric temple of its kind in Sicily; Piazza Archimede, named after the town’s most famous son; the delightful pedestrian square of Piazza del Duomo, home to the wonderful Cathedral. You can enjoy the colourful daily morning street market, which sells a fantastic array of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat.
While the upper part has its fair share of architectural delights, it is the smaller Ragusa Ibla down below that really draws visitors. The sight of the jumble of houses, churches and civic palazzi piled on top of each other, clinging to the walls of the gorge, is really quite breathtaking. Although seemingly Mediaeval from a distance, once you enter the town’s heart, the Baroque logic of its plan becomes more obvious. The town is part of the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage site and 18 of its buildings are protected by UNESCO patronage. It would be excessive to list them all, but a few gems to look for include; the Basilica di San Giorgio; Giardino lbleo – The Hyblean Gardens; Chiesa di Maria delle Scale (St. Mary of the Stairs); and The Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista
Less well-known than its prestigious neighbours but just as fascinating and beautiful, Scicli is well worth a visit. It sits in a gorge and is overlooked by a towering rocky mass on which the Church of San Matteo sits. The town shares much of its history with Noto, most specifically the fateful earthquake of 1693, during which over 3,000 of the town’s population died. Scicli, like the towns in the area, was totally rebuilt in pure Sicilian Baroque style. Today, it is a joy to wander round. There are a number of lovely churches such as those of Sant’Ignazio, San Matteo and Santa Marìa la Nova. This latter has a Byzantine wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. The many aristocratic palazzi are brimming over with characterful gargoyles, elegant swirls and decorative fancies.
Catania was founded in the 8th Century BC by Greeks from Chalcis. It subsequently became a Roman city and amazingly, considering the dramatic series of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that have so afflicted the area, three theatres have survived from this period. The Teatro Romano, Odeon & The Amphitheatre. The area around the amphitheatre is home to a series of churches and the Museo Belliniano, dedicated to Catania’s most famous son, the composer Vincenzo Bellini. (The opera season runs from around October to June and is well worth a visit). The Cathedral is a very impressive, imposing Baroque structure that incorporates Roman columns taken from the amphitheatre and underneath are Roman baths. Inside the Baroque theme continues with several ornate chapels and a fresco recording the 1693 earthquake. Bellini is buried here, as are three Aragonese kings.
Any of our tours can be tailored to suit your particular groups requirements.
For further details please contact one of the team on 01225 764205 or firstname.lastname@example.org