Situated in southeastern Sicily, Val di Noto (the Noto Valley) – with its eight gorgeous late-Baroque cities – became one of the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2002. The eight cities are: Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli. These cities already existed during the Medieval Age, but were rebuilt (in part or entirely) after the catastrophic earthquake of 1693. Having followed the stylistic model predominant during the era, the cities’ architecture, urban plan and decorations constitute the culmination of one of the last periods of Baroque’s flourish in Europe.
Known in Antiquity as Ibla, Ragusa features two rather different city centers, one re-constructed from the ground up, in the new style, after the events of 1693, and the other according to its original Medieval look. An itinerary through the Baroque in Ragusa winds among nine principal churches (e.g. San Giovanni Battista, San Giorgio, Santa Maria dei Miracoli), and seven palazzi (including the Cancelleria, Bertini, and Cosentini).
Palazzolo and Modica also have two urban centers. The first one in Palazzolo is a Medieval center, around which the old city was rebuilt after the earthquake. The new city subsequently developed around another town center. Of particular importance are the Churches of San Sebastiano and of Saints Peter and Paul.
Of rare beauty, Modica and its old Castle center is located high on one of the hills running in the Iblei Mountains, while the other, newly-constructed one lies down in the valley. Among the spectacular urban monuments, the Cathedral of San Giorgio and the Church of St. Peter (the “Duomo” of the lower city) certainly merit a visit.
Caltagirone also testifies to the remaining strong ties between the periods pre- and post-earthquake. Its rich architecture and the beauties of its facades are born by churches like that of Santa Maria del Monte, San Giacomo Apostolo and in the palazzi of Corte Capitanale and the Civic Museum.
Militello Val di Catania, rather, is based on a very particular urban plan from before 1693, redone in that original form during the late-Baroque reconstruction. Among the main sites are the Churches of San Nicolò and Santa Maria della Stella.
Rehashed in a completely new area is the city of Noto, also divided into two levels. The newer section, on an incline, provides a spectacular composition of streets and buildings in the Baroque, from nobile palaces such as Palazzo Ducezio to religious comlexes - the Cathedral of San Nicolò, for example.
Even Catania had to be born again, ex novo; it is now one of the pearls of the late Baroque, with its splendid Piazza del Duomo - seat of the Palazzo degli Elefanti and the Amenano Fountain – and the Via dei Crociferi. Other places of note are the Abbey of St. Agatha, the Collegiata Basilica, the Benedictine Monastery and Palazzo Biscari.
Finally, the last pearl on the string of the Noto Valley's cities is represented by magnificent Scicli, where churches and patrician villas make for a visibly-striking urban panorama. Specifically, Palazzo Beneventano (especially its glorious facade) is an architectonic and artistic masterpiece.