Noto (1 July 2024)

From Siracusa we visited Noto, famed for its Baroque architecture, before heading north to Catania to fly on to Albania.

On 11 January 1693 an earthquake devastated south-east Sicily.  Noto was almost completely destroyed and over half the population perished.

The town was rebuilt in a slightly different location, which meant a blank canvas as a starting point.   Several of the greatest Baroque architects of the age each designed multiple buildings, and because construction occurred so fast, there’s a uniquely homogeneous look to the whole town.

Noto is famous as one of the most typical and highly preserved examples of late Baroque architecture in the world.  Together with seven other towns in the Val de Noto which also saw a frenzy of reconstruction in Baroque style, it’s listed by UNESCO for its outstanding cultural value.

Entry is via Porto Reale.

It leads directly to a pedestrianised zone filled with Baroque architectural treasures, many of them constructed in tufa, a volcanic stone that turns a marvellous shade of honey in the sun.

The old town really only consists of three parallel boulevards approximately one kilometre long, linked by cross streets.  The centrepiece is Noto’s Cathedral.

Noto has 33 churches, which is remarkable for its size.  It’s because every noble family built their own church as well as a palazzo.  Competition to have the most impressive meant they were far from simple affairs.

Directly opposite the cathedral is Palazzo Ducezio, modelled on the palaces being built in France at the time.  It’s now the Town Hall.

The streets are just one beautifully preserved building after another.

Many of the churches and palazzos have towers or terraces with views.  We climbed the bell tower of Chiesa di San Carlo.  A steep and narrow spiral stone staircase with a rope to hold onto leads up to a platform where once the bells were rung.

Now, a fine view over the city unfolds.

Noto was built down the side of a slope to give all of the main boulevards great views.  Connecting them are steep streets and staircases.  These have had some modern decoration.

In a backstreet we saw some groceries being delivered the old fashioned way.

The downside to visiting Noto in summer is the heat.  It seems like the stone buildings and cobblestone streets bounce the sun right back at you.  There’s gelato, granita and fresh juice stands everywhere but the heat is sapping.

Noto’s old town is small, easily visited in a day, but maybe best at a cooler time of year.

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