Beyond Sicily’s Val di Noto: Baroque Splendor in Four Villages near Catania

The 1693 Sicily earthquake razed to the ground most of the island’s south-eastern portion. Many towns were rebuilt according to the urban and stylistic traits of the Baroque movement, giving birth to what is now known as Sicilian Baroque style. The most famous examples are in the Unesco-inscribed Val di Noto near Ragusa, but there are magnificent Baroque towns in the Catania area as well, near the Hyblaean Mountains.

So when you visit eastern Sicily, consider adding the following villages to your itinerary.

Caltagirone – about 70 kilometres (43 mi) southwest of Catania, Caltagirone, known for its pottery production, was erased almost completely after the earthquake. The most important architects of the time were summoned to work on its reconstruction. They opted for maintaining the same urban layout the city had acquired through the centuries, with the heart of town at Piazza San Giuliano, where the Duomo dedicated to the town’s patron saint, St. Julian, stands. Other examples of Baroque style can be found at the Teatrino, and in the churches of San Bonaventura, San Giacomo and Santa Maria del Monte.

Grammichele – located at the feet of the Hyblaean Mountains, about 13 kilometers (8 mi) from Caltagirone, Grammichele was built from scratch to replace the nearby town of Occhialà, destroyed by the earthquake. The heart of town is the hexagonal square Umberto I crossed by six streets leading toward the outskirts, an idea by the prince Carlo Maria Carafa Branciforte; in rural areas, it was the feudal lords who took care of the post-earthquake reconstruction. Not to miss is the Mother Church on the north-east corner of the piazza.

Vizzini – a few kilometers from Grammichele, Vizzini preserved the maze of medieval streets and alleys after the earthquake as they suited the morphology of the place, located as it is on the northwesterly slopes of Monte Lauro in the Hyblaean Mountains.  The reconstructions in the Baroque style were done on the pre-existing architectural fabric, as visible in the Mother Church. The Church of San Giovanni Battista is a good example of the decorative models of the time, especially apparent in the altars and stuccos.

Militello in Val di Catania – On the slopes of the Hyblaean mountains about 35 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of Catania, Militello in Val di Catania in part collapsed after the earthquake; rather than rebuilding somewhere else, as was often the case, it was decided the town would be rebuilt on site. A symbol of the reconstruction is the Palazzo Baldanza-Denaro, in the central Piazza del Municipio, with a façade featuring grotesque faces and fanciful decorations, worthy of the best Baroque island tradition. The Mother Church, on via Umberto I, is another great example of Baroque style, as well as the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Stella.

Off the beaten track
Militello in Val di Catania