Caltagirone is an Italian town of 37.953 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Catania in Sicily.
It is the fifth most populous municipality in the metropolitan city and the first by territorial extension. It has been a bishopric since 1816. It is the head of a vast and historic area of the province of Catania, the Calatino, located in the entire southern part of the current metropolitan body.
It is famous for the production of ceramic, of which it is the largest regional center and one of the most important in Italy. For over two millennia, it has been a strategic point of control for many peoples who controlled the plains of Catania and Gela, including the Byzantines, Arabs, Genoese and Normans. It is also a significant agricultural center, due to its extensive countryside.
The historic center was awarded the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002, part of the Val di Noto consortium. Let’s begin our tour in splendid Caltagirone!
Stairway of Santa Maria del Monte
It was built in 1606 in order to connect the ancient part of Caltagirone to the new city built in the upper part. The staircase, over 130 meters long, is flanked by balcony buildings and is today one of the identifying monuments of the city, to the point of being an emblem of it.
The Stairway of Santa Maria del Monte, consisting of 142 steps and 130 meters long, which connects the town hall square to the church of the same name, is the symbol of Caltagirone. In the second half of the 1800s, it was unified and in 1956 all the facades of the steps were decorated with majolica tiles which reproduce classical motifs from the 10th to the 20th century.
The glance is of those who do not leave indifferent the visitor who sees this stairway for the first time. During the month of May, the Infiorata takes place, with plants and flowers that are arranged in such a way as to reproduce a decorative motif.
On 24 and 25 July, and on 14 and 15 August, all forms of electric lighting are interrupted, the resulting visual result is a sort of lava flow, a river of fire that in its throbbing brightness draws elegant decorative figures, the result of the skill of a master builder. To form the singular tapestry of fire, there is a set of four thousand lanterns called “lumere”.
The “lumere” light up suddenly, one after the other, giving life to an impressive fire snake.
The tapestry has life for a couple of hours, during which a flood of spectators gathers joyfully at the feet of the stairway.
International Nativity Scene Museum of Caltagirone
The International Nativity Scene Museum “Luigi Colaleo Collection” is part of the vast civic museum of Caltagirone, which includes the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Museum of Caltagironesi and Sicilian Historic Villas, and the Civic Museum at the Bourbon Prison. The museum was born on a cultural basis offered by the ancient and prestigious crib tradition of the city of Caltagirone: renowned for the production of ceramic and terracotta artefacts, the local craftsmanship still binds to the Christmas holidays giving life to suggestive outdoor settings , which each year represent the Nativity and attract numerous visitors.
The collection, a gift from the lawyer Luigi Colaleo, includes numerous fine specimens from all over the world and a library specializing in art history and nativity scenes. The building that houses the museum was designed at the beginning of the 20th century by the Palermo architect Ernesto Basile, one of the greatest exponents of the Liberty style in Italy.
The dynamic volume of the building, the turret that emphasizes the corner connection and a refined taste for floral decoration make the building an interesting stylistic example of Liberty in Caltagirone. In the same city, Ernesto Basile builds the elegant Power Station.
The construction dates back to 1907. The premises of the museum initially house the premises of the elementary school “San Luigi” and in 1958 they became the headquarters of the municipal library. After a long period of inactivity, the building was restored and, from 2007, set up to house the permanent exhibition of the International Museum of the “Luigi Colaleo Collection” Nativity Scene.
The purpose of the Museum is to keep the nativity scene tradition alive and present, to bring out the peculiarities, material and symbolic, of international traditions and to communicate to the visitor the taste, passion and research that push the collector to collect and share. The remarkable richness and variety of the Colaleo Collection allows them to exhibit nativity scenes, changing the museum offer periodically and renewing atmospheres and suggestions.
Museum of the Capuchin Fathers of Caltagirone
A pilgrimage destination for devotees from all over Italy and abroad, the complex of the Capuchin Fathers of Caltagirone, located on the eastern borders of the city, is the current site of the homonymous sacred art museum. It housed in the former choir of the friars of the Church dedicated to the Madonna Odigitria, houses precious collections collected by the Capuchin Fathers since its foundation in today’s site, in the 16th century, for the purpose of worship and devotion.
The church was built in the simple and austere style of the Franciscan Order of the Capuchin friars minor, with a main “gabled” prospect, framed within two pilasters that reproduce the internal division of the church and culminating in a small bell tower in white stone carved with arch. In the center, there is the entrance portal surmounted by a window with stone jambs.
Inside, the single nave plan is marked in the side walls by two arches on each side, in each of which there is an altar. In the chapel on the left inside a hexagonal compartment, there is the Reliquary dedicated to all Saints. which houses the numerous relics (about 500) brought to Caltagirone by Father Innocenzo Marcinò (Caltagirone, 1589-1655) General of the ‘Order, preacher and thaumaturge, leading figure of Christian devotion and the history of the convent.
Adjacent to the church, there is the Pinacoteca, which houses paintings from the 16th to the 18th century. Among the most important works, the following are worth mentioning: S. Francesco consulate by the Angel, attributed to Pietro Novelli; S. Agata and S. Pietro referring to the Caravaggio school; The Porziuncola by an unknown seventeenth-century author.
In the crypt of the 16th century, below the church, there is instead a large and complex Nativity scene, set up in 1992 with figurines made and donated by renowned local potters, which tells the story of the salvation of humanity from Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ and which it is the object of so much admiration from the public. The monastic complex was one of the few buildings in Caltagirone not to suffer serious damage during the earthquake of 1693. In 1866, with the law of suppression of religious corporations, the convent was closed and the church came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Caltagirone. Only on November 14, 1955 the reopening of the convent was decided.
The Museum of the Capuchin Fathers consists of the only large quadrangular room located on the first floor and coinciding with the ex-choir of the church monks. The exhibition, pending the expansion of the exhibition rooms available to the museum and an adaptation to safety standards, includes various glass cases with a wooden structure, which, being particularly crowded for the large number of exhibited works, result in poor visibility.
The Church of Santa Maria del Monte
The Church of Santa Maria del Monte rises in the oldest part of the city, at the top of the famous staircase, and was once dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta.
The church of Byzantine origin was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. Rebuilt in the second half of the eighteenth century on a project by Francesco Battaglia. The bell tower is the work of Natale Bonaiuto. The prospect is on two orders and is closed by a curved pediment.
The interior, with three naves, preserves interesting works: a wooden table of the thirteenth century known as the Madonna of the Conadomini painted on both sides (on one side the Virgin is seated with the child in her arms, on the other Christ who died it rises from the sepulcher); a Madonna and Child attributed to Domenico Gagini (1492); a wooden statue representing Christ on the column by Paolo Nigro (1592). The altarpieces and vault paintings are by the Vaccaro brothers (19th century)
The vault of the central nave is decorated with frescoes made in the first half of the nineteenth century by the Vaccaro brothers.
The church Santa Maria del Monte is particularly dear to the citizens of Caltagirone because it houses the Sacred Image of the Madonna di Condomini which arrived in Caltagirone in the first half of 1200 and is painted on both sides: on one side the Byzantine image of the Condominiums and on the other the dead Christ rising from the tomb.
Throughout the month of May, the church is a destination for faithful and pilgrims who worship the Madonna who since 1644 has been invoked as co-patron along with San Giacomo.
Bridge of San Francesco
The Bridge connects two of the three hills that make up the historic center. It was built to facilitate the faiths that rose from the lower part of the city to the Church of San Francesco (today Immaculate).
Decorated with beautiful relief ceramics, built in 1626 by Orazio Torriani to connect two of the three hills on which the city stands, it was completed in 1665 by the architect Bonaventura Certò da Messina. It rests its foundations in the underlying Infermeria and Porta Veneto streets, has 5 arches, one of which is open.
In 1776, on the occasion of the opening of via Carolina (the current via Roma), the bridge, originally with two arches, was enlarged with two other blind arches by the architect Francesco Battaglia in order to open the southern entrance.
In the project, the arches were to be used both for commercial and residential purposes which allowed, with the rent, to recover a part of the huge sums necessary for the construction. Today only the external facade remains, the interior demolished for safety reasons by the Superintendency, has emphasized that the interior of the arches was also divided into 3 floors.Three only the peculiar aspects: the technique that made a demanding work possible for the epoch; the design – use of the arches; admire the internal spatiality of these large arches that sink into the clay and rise up to the street.
Church of Santissimo Salvatore
Going along via Sturzo, you will find Largo San Domenico where the church of San Domenico and the church of Santissimo Salvatore. The latter, rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, is linked to the presence of the Benedictine nuns in Caltagirone.
The building has a central plan and adorned with fine stuccos, while inside it houses important paintings and statues, in particular the splendid Madonna del Monserrato. The church acquired more prestige starting from 1962, when the Mausoleum was built inside it which houses the remains of Don Luigi Sturzo.
Since then, the sacred building, where Sturzo celebrated his first mass, has been a continuous destination for visitors and faithful who are inspired by the pro-mayor of Caltagirone. Precisely from this temple the cry of the founder of the Italian People’s Party “to the free and strong” continues to spread throughout the world.
Recently, for the works of art and the Mausoleum, the church of the Santissimo Salvatore has been included in the historical and artistic heritage belonging to the Religious Buildings Fund.
In front of the Church of Santissimo Salvatore, there is the Church of San Domenico, currently used as a musical auditorium, was erected in the nineteenth century and is characterized by two twin bell towers that flank the crowning tympanum.
Civic Museum at the Bourbon Prison
The original nucleus of the Luigi Sturzo Civic Museums occupies the Bourbon Prison, a magnificent and severe building by the Syracusan architect Natale Bonaiuto and a rare example of eighteenth-century prison typology.
The Museums derive from the “Cabinet of Archeology and Natural History”, commissioned in 1843 by Emanuele Taranto Rosso, an eminent scientist, humanist and politician from Calabria, passing from a reconstitution in 1914, by Don Luigi Sturzo, enlightened mayor of the city of Caltagirone.
The collections are currently organized as follows: Archaeological section, which offers a significant overview of the archaeological wealth of the area and the city itself; Pinacoteca, which presents a collection of high quality paintings, evidence of the city’s rich artistic activity, before and after the 1693 earthquake; historical collection of museums, which allows, through epigraphs, sculptures, paintings, objects and furniture, an important view on the role of the “Universitas”, in the sacred, secular and civil areas.
Absolutely amazing are the collection of Privileges, granted to the city since the Norman era, and that of the paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with works by Lo Jacono, Ciardi, Caprile, Bazzaro, Nitti, Esposito, Corrado and others.
The services offered to the public are housed in the nearby Libertini palace: archives, library, ethno-anthropological laboratory, teaching room, restoration laboratory.