Sicilia - Places to Visit - Noto
Completely rebuilt after the disastrous earthquake of 1693 by all of three generations of craftsmen and architects - among whom Roberto Gagliardi and his pupil Vincenzo Sinatra - Noto is considered a true jewel of eighteenth-century Baroque architecture, a "garden of stone" as it has been nicknamed, distinguished by a striking unity of style and the materials used over long decades of its reconstruction.
The original city, the so-called Noto Antica, grew up around an ancient nucleus founded by the Siculi (ca. 9th century BC) on a site, inhabited since the prehistoric era, surrounded by steep cliffs and thus safe from the Greek incursions, on the Alverean or Hyblaean highlands. And here it remained, until the earthquake of 1693 - after which the city was rebuilt from ground up on the nearby Meti Hill.
Among the vestiges of the Greek period are Hellenic walls, the remains of a gymnasium and of the places of worship of the heroized dead (heroa), while of the Roman Netum very few remains have come down to us.
It was not until the Arab era that the city gained an inexpugnable fortress and enjoyed a period of economic rebirth that saw it the administrative center of the Val di Noto, with the Va di Mazara and the Val Demone one of the three great valleys into which the Islamic government had divided the island.
In the 15th century a castle and other fortifications were added. The city's economy continued to flourish and its cultural life prospered - so that Ferdinand II "the Catholic" dubbed it "Urbs Ingeniosa" in 1503.
The new Noto rises fifteen kilometres from the old city, in a panoramic position nearer the Ionian coast. The fulcrum of the city is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, on which the major buildings and the lively Baroque facades of the churches face.
Coming from the east we encounter Piazza XXX Ottobre, on which, at the top of a broad staircase in elevated positions of considerable visual impact, stand the Church of San Francesco all'immacolata, by Sinatra, and alongside it the Convent of the SS. Salvatore, incorporating the beautiful Torre del Belvedere with its cuspidate bell tower.
The elegance of the 18th century faade of the convent is unique, with two orders of pilaster strips and 13 windows with convex grates. The Museo Civico annexed to the monastery houses the finds from Noto Antica, among which many from a sanctuary dedicated to Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility of the earth worshiped in the ancient rupestral settlements.
The Cathedral, completed in 1770 probably to palns by Gagliardi, stands on the vast Piazza del Municipio; the broad faade, distinguished by classical elements and delimited by two bell towers, dominates the square from the top of a huge three-ramp staircase. Following the cathedral are the Bishop's Palace and Palazzo Ladolina.
The Salita Nicolace - theatre of the spectacular "Infiorata" held every may - which culminates in the striking concave faade of the Church of Montevergine facing on Via Cavour - starts from the Corso.
Facing the Cathedral is the seat of city government, Palazzo Ducezio, with its explicit forms recalling the Classical style (also by Sinatra).
Further west are the Church of San Carlo and, on the Corso, that masterpiece of Baroque art that is Gagliardi's San Domenico, with its entrance on the salita o the same name. It is a typical example of noble Sicilian residence, perhaps the most spectacular in the city thanks to the elaborate balconies with their curved grates and boisterous carvings of human and animal figures.