Sunday, July 08, 2007

May 2007 - Noto, Sicily - Quintessential Sicilian Baroque

After Piazza Armerina, we continued towards the southeast corner of Sicily to the characteristic little town of Noto, after which the Arabs named the entire southeastern portion of Sicily (Val di Noto). This area is very different from western Sicily, though the mountainous landscape is equally varied. The massive earthquake of 1693 affected Southeastern Sicily . . .

destroying much of this portion of Sicily and resulting in towns rebuilt in the 1700s in the Sicilian baroque style characterized by majestic steps, detailed ornamentation and a curving facades.
A classic example of the rebuilding efforts, of the 1700s and of recent years, is the Chiesa del Crocefisso in the heart of Noto Alta at Piazza Mazzini. The facade, originally unfinished, has a large baroque door, a Latin cross plan interior, and the Renaissance statute known as the Madonna della Neve which miraculously survived the earthquake of 1693. The facade was finished in recent years as part of the restoration of Noto.

The interior of this church is stark white with vibrant frescoes and gold stucco decoartions as seen in this picture of the ceiling. This area is clearly where the locals live and this church is surrounded by palazzos, convents and other churches.
This is Noto's theater showcasing various operas and summer plays. It is also in the Sicilian baroque style though a little less elaborate. The facade could use a cleaning but the built up pollution shows the level of decay Noto reached before it was declared an UNESCO "World Heritage Site" in 2002. This classification led to a massive restoration and rebuilding effort beginning with the cathedral and working their way down the list, apparently in order of importance. The theater will look like the church above once the restoration crews finish their work in Noto.
The church of San Domenico shows Noto's characteristic Sicilian baroque style overlooking the palm tree-filled Italian garden that makes up Piazza XXIV Maggio.
And the facade is two-tiered, curved and richly decorated with elaborate portals, windows and niches. Clearly, this facade has been restored and the sandstone is vibrant like the color of the desert. The rounded interior is crowned with 5 cupolas with elegant stucco decorations.
We then walked passed San Carlo Borromeo, a Sicilian baroque church with a concave facade and 3 levels of detailed portals and niches showcasing the 3 orders of Greek architecture in its columns - Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.
The Latin cross plan interior is decorated with elaborate frescoes. The frescoes have been attributed to Carasi which provide a vibrant and decorative ceiling in an otherwise white interior.

Across from the Cathedral is the Palazzo Ducezio built in 1746 - now the town hall. The Palazzo, again an example of Sicilian baroque architecure, has a facade graced with lovely rounded arches and more columns than we could count. Also noteworthy are the balconies which surround the 2 tops floors and the convex staircase that creates an elegant entry way. The interior features a huge drawing room decorated in the French Louis XV style with gold and stucco decorative elements and a fresoced, vaulted ceiling.
The Cathedral was originally completed in 1776 dedicated to San Nicolo. The two-tiered facade stands at the end of a three-flight staircase bearing twin bell towers and a bronze portal. The rebiuilding of the dome and the two-aisle nave was completed this year - shortly before our arrival. The interior has a wealth of frescoes and art decorating the walls and ceiling.

In the winter of 1996, the cupola of the Cathedral collapsed. Everyone who heard it thought that it was major earthquake rattling this already battered and decaying town. The cupola came down destroying the nave as well. This was a huge blow for a town without the means to prevent the decay of their priceless baroque buildings. It seemed as though Noto had lost its grandeur forever until UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
This exhibition of modern, public art was hanging off the Museo Civico.
After passing the Cathedral, we saw San Francesco on Piazza XXX Ottobre built in the mid-18th century. The church features a monumental stairway. Once a church with a Latin cross plan, then a convent, and now a high school, it is adorned with stucco decorations and noteworthy art.

Behind us is the monumental Porta Reale also called Ferdinandea (in honor of Spanish royalty, perhaps?) - the triumphal arch marking the main entrance and exit of this city. Overall, the sandy color of all of Noto's recently-polished buildings created a spectacular orangy glow as the sun set over this small amazingly-restored town.

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