Sicily Noto duomo

Noto, the Sicilian “capital of Baroque”

April 30, 2021 By Bellarome Travel

Noto is an Italian town in Syracuse, Sicily. It is the first Sicilian municipality and the fourth Italian by territorial extension.

Episcopal seat, called the “capital of the Baroque”, in 2002 its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, together with the other late Baroque cities of the Val di Noto.

The meaning of the word Noto is uncertain. In order to better understand its origin, it can be useful to remember that the site of ancient Noto dates back to the age of ancient bronze (III millennium BC) and is therefore linked to the Castelluccian civilization.

According to some, the pre-Hellenic name would have been Neas. What is certain is that its name in ancient Greek was Νέητον (Néēton), which later became Latin Netum.

The current name was instead given by the Arabs and registered added in the classical Arabic as Nūṭus or, more likely, Nōṭus, starting from the aforementioned ancient Greek, through the Byzantine Greek Νέτος.

Known as we know it today, it represents the “new” city, the one built after the earthquake of 1693. It is therefore incorrect to speak of reconstruction, but of “construction of a new city”, construction that was done further downstream, with the characteristics of baroque city that made it famous all over the world.

The ancient inhabited center of Noto, known as Noto Antica, was a center of considerable importance. Municipium under Roman rule, Capovalle from the Arab domination onwards and decorated with the title of ingenious civitas by Ferdinand the Catholic, was one of the main military and economic cultural centers of south-eastern Sicily between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Noto Antica can still be visited, an area rich in information covering a time span from the prehistoric period until 1693, the year of the earthquake.

Noto is a perfect place to visit at any time of the year: in summer, where you can combine cultural visits with trips to the beautiful sea of Sicily, in autumn and winter, perhaps along the Val di Noto wine route which it winds among six municipalities of South Eastern Sicily, such as Palazzolo, Avola, Noto, Rosolini, Pachino and Ispica.

Anciently called Neas by the Sicilians, Neaton by the Greeks and Netum by the Romans, it was the Arabs who gave it the definitive name of Noto. The term which in Arabic has the same meaning as in Italian, wanted to be a tribute to the beauty and importance of the city.

Let’s begin our tour in this splendid Sicilian gem!


Cathedral of Noto

The Cathedral of San Nicolò is the most important Catholic place of worship in the city of Noto, as well as the episcopal seat of the homonymous diocese, in Sicily. It is located on the top of a large staircase, on the north side of Piazza Municipio (domus-ecclesiae area), and is dedicated to San Nicolò, bishop of Mira.

The construction of the temple began in 1694, and was completed in 1703, the year in which it was opened for worship with the solemn dedication. Over the centuries, however, both the facade and the interior have undergone numerous changes, which have given it its current appearance only at the end of the nineteenth century, with the construction of a new dome, the work of the netino Cassone.

The interior, with three naves, houses numerous works of art, some of which come from Noto Antica, including the silver urn containing the mortal remains of San Corrado Confalonieri. The disastrous collapse of 1996, however, caused the loss of the entire iconographic apparatus, whose renovation, still in progress, makes the temple one of the last great sites of contemporary sacred art. On January 21, 2012 Pope Benedict XVI elevated the cathedral to a minor basilica.

The facade is in late Baroque style, made of soft limestone with a marked neoclassical note. The type of side towers of the facade can be traced back to some French buildings of the eighteenth century, which inspired the architects of the time.

Crowned by the 4 Evangelists by the sculptor Giuseppe Orlando in 1796, it presents in the first order three majestic portals, delimited by Corinthian columns: the central one in bronze, the work of the sculptor Giuseppe Pirrone, depicts some scenes from the life of San Corrado da Piacenza.

The interior, almost completely unadorned until the mid-1950s, was frescoed by Nicola Arduino from Turin and Armando Baldinelli from Bologna between 1950 and 1956, for a vote by the mayor of the city of Noto in San Corrado Confalonieri, during the war.

After the earthquake of 1990 and the collapse of 1996 due to a serious construction defect never noticed before the pillars of the central nave, with the subsequent reconstruction phase, the original candor of the past was restored to the interior.

Real Gate

The Royal Gate is the symbol of entry into the city of Noto.

It was built in 1838 with the arrival of King Ferdinand II of Bourbon in Noto, by the Marquis of Cannicarao at his own expense and designed by the architect Orazio Angelici. The neoclassical door has two pilasters with Corinthian capitals, inside the archway, two coats of arms represent, on one side, the city of Noto and on the other side the emblem of the Cannicarao family.

The material used is the typical golden limestone which was used in the construction of churches and palaces and which gives the buildings a yellowish hue. At the apex of the gate there are three symbolic sculptures: a crenellated tower which means power and strength of the city; on the other side a Cirneco or greyhound a Sicilian dog breed, a symbol of loyalty and in the center a Pelican that means sacrifice, or, it is also thought that it may be a stork, a symbol of fertility.

Initially Noto was separated by a large muddy valley with trees, beyond the valley was the Capuchin convent. The designer of the work is the Neapolitan Angelini who also built the statue of Ferdinando which later became a monument to the fallen. It was completed in the same year with the aspect it still preserves today.

The creation is by the Neapolitan Orazio Angelini, in neoclassical style with two elegant pilasters and Corinthian capitals that streamline the square mass of the monument on the top of which there are three symbolic sculptures: the tower, the strength shown by the city over the centuries, a greyhound or cirneco, however a dog, finally loyalty to the center a bird on which two hypotheses have been formulated: pelican, self-denial, generosity, or stork fertility.

The Piazza della Porta Reale was restored in 2014 by the Municipal Administration which together with it has undertaken numerous restoration projects in the city, bringing it back to its former glory.

Church of Santa Chiara

Officially named as the church of Santa Maria Assunta, the church of Santa Chiara is located in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, adjacent to the former Benedictine monastery of the Holy Cross and represents another example of Baroque architecture of the highest level.

Designed by the Syracuse architect Rosario Gagliardi in 1730, it was completed in 1758 and annexed to the former convent of the Benedictine Sisters, now a civic museum in Noto.

Designed by Rosario Gagliardi in the years around 1730, it was completed in 1758 and was annexed to the monastery (now used as a museum). The central plan is elliptical in shape, modeled on the Roman elliptical churches built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The “real” facade of the church of Santa Chiara was located in Corso Vittorio Emanuele and has a portal surmounted by a broken arch, where in the center stood a window with a large circular tympanum enriched with battlements. After excavating the ground during the 19th century, this entrance was raised above the street level, thus becoming impractical. The same also happened for the portal of the Convent, now walled up but easily identifiable by the sumptuous baroque battlements and pyramidal pinnacles still present.

The current rectangular-shaped facade has the entrance portal located on a small staircase, in via Capponi. This is framed by two imposing Tuscan-style columns, each of which is surmounted by a sort of iblea stone cup. Higher up we find the bell tower, adorned at the corners by two capitals.

The central plan is elliptical in shape, inspired by the model of Roman churches from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The interior of the church, with its numerous decorations, cherubs and stuccos, is considered one of the most important in Sicily for its Baroque architectural style.

It has a single ovoid-shaped nave surrounded by 12 stone columns. On each column there are the statues of the Apostles, made by the decorator and plasterer Basile.

The church has undergone extensive restoration works, completed in 2006, by the “Stancanelli-Russo” engineering office in Catania and the architect Giovanni Amandorla in Palermo.

Nicolaci Palace

After the restorations that involved the Cathedral of Noto and the mosaics of the Roman villa of Tellaro, the recent restoration of Palazzo Nicolaci and the consequent opening to the public, has added another jewel to the Capital of the Baroque, a heritage returned in all its beauty!

The palace of the princes is a symbol that today, brought back to its ancient splendor, gives the dimension of the artistic wealth and opulence of the Netino center, in a bygone era.

The palace of the princes is something spectacular and today, restored to its former glory, it gives the dimension of wealth and opulence that the city has experienced in a long gone era.

In purely Baroque style and with about 90 rooms, on a project attributed to Rosario Gagliardi, it dates back to the early decades of the 1700s, although the works, which also participated in Vincenzo Sinatra (a pupil of Gagliardi) continued until 1765.

The building was born as an urban noble residence of the Nicolaci family who maintained the ownership of one wing, transferring the other to the Municipality of Noto. The palace is decorated with several balconies with magnificently made decorations and enclosed by the sinuous curved railings. Among the figures of the decorations we find mermaids, sphinxes, hippogriffs, winged horses and more. All these decorations give a particular harmony to the whole building.

One wing of Palazzo Nicolaci houses the Municipal Library, founded by the Town Hall in 1817 with the munificence of private individuals, especially of the Prince of Villadorata, and now rich in thousands of volumes and various Latin and Spanish manuscripts to which a portrait gallery must be added of the illustrious names of Noto, gift of the baron Astuto. The Library is only one of the links that Noto has with its cultural tradition. Just to give an example, Ferdinand the Catholic in 1503 gave the city the title of Ingegnosissima, for the erudition of many of its citizens, but it was also called the Celebre e la Dotta.

Rau Palace

Palazzo Rau della Ferla is located behind Palazzo Ducezio, at Via Silvio Spaventa, in front of Piazza Trigona. It was part of the noble Rau family, Marchesi di Ferla (a mountain town located in the Syracusan hinterland not far from Palazzolo Acreide overlooking the Pantalica site) but originating in Noto.

It takes the name of the noble Rau family, marquises of the Feudo della Ferla in Noto. The late Baroque palace has a remarkable facade fragmented into two orders and marked by bas-reliefs with floral motifs. The frescoes of the French school with a bucolic setting are also valuable inside the party hall.

Of late Baroque design and construction (1740), the building is characterized by a beautiful arched portal framed by stepped pillars that support a beautiful balcony enclosed by a beautiful domed wrought iron railing which overlooks three openings topped by arched semicircular gables ( the central one bearing the heraldic coat of arms of the Rau della Ferla family). Next to the entrance portal there are other small doors and balconies with rounded railings (all surmounted by semicircular gables). At the Via Ducezio there is a beautiful arched porch belonging to this building.

The interior (always used for exhibitions, conferences and receptions of a certain refinement) features rooms furnished with nineteenth-century stuccos and precious period furniture even if a large part of the building has been divided into lots and houses shops and meeting places.

Villa del Tellaro

The villa del Tellàro is a rich extra-urban residence of the late Roman imperial age, located near Noto, in the province of Syracuse.

The central body of the villa, smaller than that of Patti, is articulated around a vast peristyle. The stretch of the portico on the northern side had a mosaic pavement with laurel festoons that form circles and octagons with inflected sides including geometric and floral motifs and two other rooms overlooking the figurative mosaics overlook it.

In the first of these rooms, the mosaic, very damaged, preserves a panel with the scene of the redemption of the body of Hector: Ulysses, Achilles and Diomedes, identified by inscriptions in Greek, are engaged in weighing the hero’s corpse. The figure of Priam is lost; the fragmentary body of Ettore was on a weighing pan; the gold of the ransom was in the other plate. This episode, not mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, probably derives from a tragedy by Aeschylus. The mosaic floor of the second room presents a hunting scene, with an open-air banquet among the trees and a female figure interpreted as the personification of Africa.

The scenes of the second room recall the hunting mosaics of the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, but with more stylized and two-dimensional figures, with uncertain proportions, which make the effect very different. The mosaics are probably the work of African workers.

Based on the numismatic evidence, the mosaics were made after the middle of the 4th century AD.

The Tellaro villa has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, thanks above all to a series of renovation and redevelopment projects in the area concerned. On March 15, 2008, over thirty years after the excavations, the Tellaro villa was finally inaugurated and made available to the public.

Behind the Villa there are the splendid and sometimes ancient vineyards, where the traditional grapes of the area are still cultivated: nero d’Avola, muscat and albanella (or albanello) increasingly difficult to find.

Calamosche Beach

Calamosche beach is located between the archaeological remains of Eloro and the wildlife oasis of Vendicari.

Calamosche, better known by the locals as “Funni Musca” is a sandy cove that stretches for about 200 meters, delimited by two rocky promontories that shelter currents, with the result of a sea that is always calm and crystalline.

An enchanting natural swimming pool ideal for snorkelling. Swimming towards the reef on the sides of the golf course, where the seabed is deeper, caves, cavities and ravines host a varied marine fauna.

Direct access to this beach is guaranteed by a dedicated entrance, reachable from the SP19. Once you arrive at the equipped parking, you have to take a path of about a kilometre. A small sacrifice widely rewarded once you arrive, when an enchanting place, a true natural paradise, opens before our eyes!

In 2005 it was awarded by the Blue Guide of Legambiente with the title of “most beautiful beach in Italy”.

The charm of the beach is due to the variety of vegetation and the presence of an equally varied panorama: the small beach is in fact between two rocky promontories which, in addition to ensuring that the sea is almost always calm, offer visitors unexpected beauty. Another feature of the beach is the presence of numerous ravines, cavities and caves in the two promontories.

To reach it, just take the provincial road 19 (Pachino-Noto) and turn right (following the indication “Calamosche beach”) approximately 11.40 km from Pachino.

It is certainly the most suggestive beach in the reserve and one of the most beautiful in Sicily. Characterized by a small gulf limited by two rocky promontories rich in caves and natural coves, the cove fascinates with its crystal clear sea and the surrounding landscape. The beach is uncrowded and ideal for those who love to enjoy the beauty of Mediterranean nature and these pristine waters.

Palazzo Ducezio

Palazzo Ducezio is located in Noto and is the seat of the town hall, the name is in honor of Ducezio, founder of the city.

It was designed by the netino Vincenzo Sinatra in 1746, inspired by some French buildings of the seventeenth century, but it was completed only in 1830, and the second floor was built in the first half of the twentieth century by the architect Francesco La Grassa.

The convex facade is characterized by twenty arches supported by columns with Ionic capitals in the lower section, and by thirteen rectangular windows in the upper section. Inside, the Hall of Mirrors is worthy of note, an ovoid hall furnished with Louis XV style furniture and large mirrors carved by the avolese Sebastiano Dugo. In the vault of the hall stands the Foundation of Neas, a neoclassical fresco by the painter Antonio Mazza which depicts the foundation of Noto by the Sicilian leader Ducezio.

The central painting on the vault, attributed to Antonimo Mazza, was made in 1826, and depicts an allegory of Ducezio, king of the Sicilians, to whom a genius officer shows the site of Neas on Mount Alveria. Site on which in the pre-Hellenic age, the fortified city of Noto Antica will be rebuilt, to defend itself from the attack of the Greeks. In the side squares there are inscriptions regarding the glories of the city of Noto; and expressions from Diodoro Siculo, Littara and Randazzo. On the left side there is also a telegram from Garibaldi to the patriots of Noto from 1860.

The Hall of Mirrors is the city’s representative hall, and continues today to host illustrious delegations and prestigious events, such as the signing of the protocol of understanding between the Eight UNESCO Municipalities for the creation of the cultural district. The salon was used to receive many heads of state. After the closure in the nineties, after the restoration it was reopened on 14 July 2001, on the occasion of the visit of the Hungarian government delegation, for the twinning between the city and Hungary, for the two poets Sador Petofi and Giuseppe Cassone, the latter Italian translator of the Hungarian poet. On that occasion the Hungarian government gave a marble bust placed at the entrance of the Town Hall.

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