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Sikania. I luoghi del Barocco



N°02 February 2003 - Pagg. 28-42


(text by Giuseppe Matarazzo – photos Sikania archive, G. Iacono, G. Matarazzo)

Stone as a symbol. Stone as art, culture, the history of a land and a people. Churches, palaces, historic areas: in towns and villages in the provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania, in the fascinating system of the Iblei mountains, stone is the unchallenged protagonist. Stone gilded by the sun becomes a spectacle: ledges, columns, imposing facades, cornices and friezes, or even simply alleys with unique architectonic details. It is the garden of stone, the cradle of the baroque, that has enchanted remarkable personages, and that UNESCO last June declared to be world heritage, identifying eight towns and villages seen as representing the whole area: Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Catania, Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Ragusa, Modica and Scicli. These are places in which, amid little alleys, houses leaning against one another, suddenly churches and mansions appear with wonderful architectonic features.
Very fine capitals and reliefs enrapturing the visitor. Alleys climbing up hills from which we find ourselves looking at a natural crib. Alleys, “junctions of houses that call one another softly,” as the Nobel prize winner Quasimodo – born in Modica – put it. Alleys reminding us of past times... “a loom beat in the courtyard and in the night a crying of puppies and children was heard.” Here time has stopped. Art and traditions, the environment and the people who experience it are tied by a strong, indivisible bond. These alleys contain precious pearls of inestimable value. There is a stone that speaks, telling history and stories.
Noto cathedral, whose cupola has collapsed, for years represented the image of a declining baroque, of lack of attention to this patrimony. There still remains a deep open wound, but today for the baroque it is the moment of rebirth. There is great ferment. Precisely in order to valorize the whole area, the Regional Ministry for the Cultural Heritage wants to set up a cultural district regarding the three provinces of Syracuse, Ragusa and Catania, united by common roots, by culture, by the talent of those forefathers that succeeded, after the tragic earthquake of 1693, in reconstructing whole towns, enriching them with remarkable works. The stone changes, from the honey-coloured stone of Ragusa to that alternation of calcareous white and lavic black of the Catania area, but the effect is at any rate strong, the result wonderful.
Exceptional scenographies enriching the towns of south-eastern Sicily. Characterised by masterpieces of architecture and intelligent urbanistic systems, these places represent a fundamental resource for the whole island. The future for this places is in their capacity to use to the full the riches that are preserved in their stones. Quality tourism. Cultural tourism. Tourism looking to the identity of a people that is mirrored in these stones and speaks with them, shouting out its history and culture.
A charming itinerary has been worked out through these towns and villages. When you get onto the road leading to Ragusa and you find yourself face to face with Ibla, you cannot fail to be enchanted. Going into the alleys you lose the dimension of time. Every street has something to show you: a simple aedicule, a flight of steps, a balcony, a church. You go up scenographic flights of steps into a world that seems forgotten, but which suddenly emanates presences, life.
Here everything is so simple and at the same time so remarkable. Over the roofs there looms up the little cupolaof the Idria church. Then along the route there is an endless succession of churches as you go down into the heart of Ibla with its best-known monuments. You see in all its imposingness the San Giorgio cathedral. A bijou, one of the best-known symbols of baroque architecture.
Like the other cathedral dedicated to St. George, in Modica. A surprising town, placed amid the ridges on the hills that surround it, forming a true natural amphitheatre. The Modica cathedral is rich in stuccoes and other important works of art. Something particularly precious is the 19th –century organ with over five thousand reeds, one of the most outstanding exemplars in the region. In lower Modica, something highly scenographic is the flight of steps with the statues of the twelve apostles at the San Pietro cathedral. Also very fine are Palazzo Polara and Palazzo Napolina.
At Scicli, which is at the junction of three valleys, we find an architectural treasure of particular value. The mansions and churches that stand in Via Mormino Penna are an expression of the best Sicilian baroque. Among them there stand out Palazzo Beneventano and the facades of the San Giovanni Evangelista, San Michele and Santa Teresa churches.
A pearl of the baroque in Syracuse province, in addition to the enormous number of vestiges at Ortygia, is Palazzolo Acreide, characterised by an elegant thoroughfare in which there are significant 18th – century mansions and churches. The main square is dominated by the San Sebastiano church, which you get to up a fine flight of steps. Also particularly effective are the San Paolo church and the splendid portal of the Annunziata church. One should admire the patrician mansions along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the “drawing room” of the little town in the Iblei. Palazzo Judica is very elegant and rich in decorations. As in other towns and villages, one is struck by the supports of the balconies with depictions of animals, with putti, with strange figures and monsters that, according to popular belief, kept away bad luck and the evil eye.
There is also fine baroque in Catania and other places at the foot of Etna. The provincial capital has countless churches, mansions and statues bearing witness to a high-quality artistic vitality. From lava, a symbol of destruction, people got the stone which is in fact the symbol of the reconstruction and art of the city.
The symbol of the baroque in Catania is certainly Piazza Duomo, so harmoniously surrounded by splendid mansions. One should notice the Elephant Fountain, consisting of an elephant in lavic stone holding up an Egyptian obelisk, and the Sant'Agata cathedral, with a splendid façade and a side face, in addition to the magnificent Town Hall. Also noteworthy are the superb Palazzo Biscari, the scenographic Via dei Crociferi and the Benedictine monastery.
In the Catania area, truly precious objects are preserved at Militello, a garden of seventeenth-century monuments adorning the slopes of the Iblei mountains, looking out over the Catania plain.
Other interesting expressions of the baroque, enriched by wonderful ceramics, are at Caltagirone. In sum, in the Val di Noto, following routes that are geometrically marked out by the very particular drystone walls, amid olive groves, carobs, citrus orchards and almond trees, you come across towns and villages in which everything speaks baroque.
A triumph of decorations and architectural details, a vital expression of the verve that characterised reconstruction after the earthquake of 1693. This is a land that found the strength to rise up again from that tragedy, constructing masterpieces that give the visitor the impression that he or she is an immense outdoor museum.

Visit the website

Inclusion in the prestigious World Heritage List UNESCO "Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto": Caltagirone, Militello Val of Catania, Catania, Modica, Famous, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa Ibla, Scicli.

An archaeological zone between most ancient in the Italian panorama, with a beautiful greek theatre, roman-hellenistic road.

One of the most famous and appreciated attractions of Palazzolo Acreide is certainly "House-museum of Antonino Uccello). During the years of passionate and hard work, the Sicilian ethnologist, has collected and put in order interesting testimonies and precious materials about the life and folk wisdom.

The site hosts 12 large reliefs called "Santoni". It is the greatest sanctuary to date uncovered, dedicated to the cult of the oriental goddess of fertility Cibeles.

The ruins of the Norman castle and the surrounding medieval urban planning structure.

An historical center of great architectonic value, strongly characterized from a Baroque architecture, fruit of the reconstruction post-earthquake of 1693 and, subsequently,  from the season of the Art Noveau.

The religious manifestations like the festivity of S. Paul and S. Sebastiano, known in all the Sicily.

International Youth Festival of Classical Theatre.
Every year, during May, at greek theatre many groups of highschools students from all over Italy and the rest of Europe perform tragedies and comedy by classical authors.

The several exhibitions proposed by the House-museum "Antonino Uccello", the agricultural and food- Review of the products and typical food... and more...

Carnival is very lively in Palazzolo Acreide and is one of the oldest in Sicily. As well as the parade of the allegorical cars and groups dressed up, you may taste in various food festivals the typical Palazzolo's food products like the sausage, trout pastry, macaroni, cavatieddi (a typical local pasta) and cannoli.

A extremely varied landscape, with the  Natural Reserve of Cava Grande and the Natural Reserve of the Anapo-Pantalica.

The presence, in the beam of little kilometers, archaeological and historical important archaeological zone like Kasmenai, Ancient Avola, Castelluccio, Pantalica, the several bizantine churches, etc.

The St. Lucia watermill, is one of the four water-mills started by the torrent Purbella. It dates back to the XVI century. It is perfectly kept, plunged in an uncontaminated valley, shaded by oak-trees and walnut-trees.Inside the building is the Museum of the Millstone where permanent displays and millstones of different shapes illustrate the development of the cereals grindind technique, from pre-history up to hydraulic energy.









Centro di documentazione multimediale su Antonino Uccello e sull'area Iblea e le province di Siracusa e Ragusa. Visite virtuali dei beni archeologici, artistici, etnoantropologici, storici, naturalistici.


Andrea Latina


Centro Studi Iblei


Istituto Studi Acrensi