Europe entered the Baroque period at the turn of the 16th century. In January of 1693 Sicily endured an catastrophic earthquake that changed the Eastern side of the island forever. As the trembling earth quieted, many towns and villages faced the challenges of re-building or, in some cases, moving the entire town and starting over. Hence, Sicily entered the Baroque era in a MAJOR way.
Sicilians, so dramatic, exuberant and “baroque” by nature, embellished the architectural ideas from the north to create a style that became known as Sicilian Baroque. Elaborate balconies, curvilinear facades, and ornate relief work were created with gargoyles, cherubs, animals, mermaids and heads with uniquely expressive faces and personalities.
With its ubiquitous honey-colored tufa stone, the town of Noto is known as the Stone Garden. Bathed in sunlight throughout the day, its buildings look like spectacular sand castles. The architect Rosario Gagliardi did much work throughout the Noto Valley. One of Galgiardi’s masterpieces is the majestic Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla. It became the model for rebuilding in the entire southeastern part of Sicily. Another influential architect was Giovanni Battista Vaccarini who worked principally in Catania, rebuilding the Cathedral of Saint Agatha on what was originally a Roman site. The Palazzo Biscari, Catania’s most important, took 100 years to reconstruct after the earthquake.
In 2002, the entire Val di Noto, including the towns of Noto, Modica, Ragusa, Scicli, and Catania, received a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Such dazzling fanciful beauty — the by-product of a natural disaster — proving once again that Italians really know how to make limonata from limoni! And, Sicilian Baroque architecture is just one of the fascinating components of Sicily’s delicious layer cake of complex cultural history.
Many thanks to Karen La Rosa of La RosaWorks Sicily Tours & Travel for this informative post and many of the featured photographs.