Going for Baroque in Sicily

There’s a little corner of Sicily where you can easily lose yourself for a week. Here the baroque towns of the south east offer a glimpse into a Sicily of the past.

They owe their reputation to the earthquake of 1693 that devasted this corner of Sicily. They were all slowly rebuilt, one by one in the following century, a time when baroque architecture was the style of the day. Eight of the towns, Modica, Ragusa, Noto, Caltagirone, Scicli, Militello, Val di Catania, Catania and Palazzolo  were all included on Unesco’s World heritage list in 2002.


Modica with the Duomo di San Giorgio

Modica with the baroque masterpiece, the Duomo di San Giorgio.


We based ourselves in Modica to spend a week exploring some of these towns. Modica itself is an interesting town. The main street runs along the bottom of a ravine on which the town has been built. This divides the town into two parts. On the older part of the city, lanes and alleyways lead to the high part of the town. The town’s two baroque churches stand out amidst these beautiful buildings .

One of these was the scene for our introduction to the town on the night of La Festa di San Giorgio.  The Duomo San Giorgio is the home of one of Modica’s patron saints whilst further along the main road,  a set of magnificent stairs leads you to another, the Duomo di San Pietro.



Returning to Modica every night after our day exploring, gave us the chance to join the locals in passeggiata along the main street, Corso Umberto, stopping at the chocolate shops for which Modica is famous and seeing many more of the baroque features in the town.

Noto is perhaps the most complete baroque town in the area. It was rebuilt 10 years after the earthquake, 16kms south of the original site. The stone used in it’s grand baroque style buildings, a soft tufa stone, has a unique pink colour giving it a special glow under the sun. Most of the beautiful old buildings of noblemen and the religious orders are built along the main street ensuring a picture perfect statement of a baroque town.

The Cathedral in Noto

Noto’s Cathedral

Baroque Noto

Baroque Noto


The features of this style of architecture can be seen all over the upper town whist down the hill, the new town spreads out keeping the two styles separate.

The decorative details on the facades and balconies that line the streets behind Corso Vittorio Emanuele exemplify Sicilian baroque architecture at its best. Curved balconies, complete with wrought iron decoration and held up by grinning masks, lion heads or putti. Jutting cornices, gargoyles, scrolls and ribbonned buttresses and any number of decorative embellishments  can be seen, usually the more the better! There is a particular flamboyance to it that has given Sicily a unique architectural identity.


Baroque architectural features in Noto

Some of the Baroque architectural features in Noto


Via Nicolaci is one such street. Once a year, the Infiorata di Noto ensures the street is covered in flowers but at any other time, take a walk up this street to see some of the beautiful features that exemplify baroque architecture. Palazzo Nicolaci di  Villadorata with its grotesque balconies is a prefect example.



Ragusa is another city built over two hills. Ancient Ibla dates back to medieval times whilst the new Baroque Ragusa was built after 1693. Buildings in Ragusa Ibla were rebuilt after the quake. The San Giorgio Duomo,the Circolo de Conversazione and the San Giuseppe Duomo are just a few of these beautiful baroque buildings that you will see as you walk from the Duomo to the magnificent Giardino Ibleo with its stunning views over the valley.

Scenes from Ragusa

Scenes from Ragusa


Caltagirone is famous for its ceramics. It is an interesting town where everyday life continues at a slow pace. The streets are lined with ceramic shops and workshops. The buildings are understated in comparison to some of the other baroque towns but are still significant.


Santa Maria de Monte Stairway

Caltagirone’s majolica tiled stairway


Caltagirone’s well photographed majolica staircase, the Santa Maria del Monte Stairway leads from the Duomo to the main piazza below where the Duomo di San Giuliano takes pride of place. The exterior of the church was originally Norman, then baroque and was finally modernised in the 20th century.


The Duomo di San Giuliano in Caltagirone

The Duomo di San Giuliano


Scicli is a fascinating town and, after Noto, the one that most exemplified the architecture of the area.

By the time of our visit we were well versed in the baroque features of the towns and easily recognised details on its churches and palazzi. The best are seen by walking along the paved Via Francesco Mormina Penna to the Palazzo Beneventano with its grotesque masks and rich decorations.

The baroque town of Scicli

The baroque town of Scicli


These towns only form a small part of this wondrous area of Sicily.

From here, you can easily visit the  the southern most tip of Sicily, which includes the Vendicari  Nature Reserve and the old tuna fishing town of Marzamemi. It is an easy trip to see the 4th century mosaics at Ville Romana di Casale near Piazza Armerina. The beaches are also nearby (don’t miss the fabulous restaurant Il Sakalleo at Scoglitti), wineries are not far away and of course there is always Siracusa, one of my favourite towns in Sicily.


 Have you been to this part of Sicily


Related Reading
Eating in Siracusa
Where to stay in Siracusa

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33 Responses to Going for Baroque in Sicily

  1. Leigh February 28, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    That’s a lot of ornateness!! I love those stairs filled with flowers/ They must have to water them in the evening.
    Sicily is definitely a corner of the world I’d like to visit.

    • [email protected] March 2, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      Baroque architecture is very ornate Leigh and the Sicilian interpretation is even more over the top! Sicily is a fabulous place to visit..hope you get there one day!

  2. Margaret | Destination Here&Now March 1, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Very beautiful Jenny. Particularly those three pics together – the details! Where are all the people? Was it high summer?

    • [email protected] March 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

      We were in Sicily for May and early June Margaret…a beautiful time for travelling and as you noticed, no crowds!

  3. Krista March 1, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Wow. I’m staggered by the work that has gone into creating these beautiful towns, especially after they were destroyed. Can you imagine clearing all the rubble and starting from scratch? I’d love to amble through these towns one day. 🙂

    • [email protected] March 2, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      The though of it is quite terrifying isn’t it Krista but the result is fabulous. It’s a great place to visit with so much to see, friendly people and delicious food!

  4. budget jan March 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    That title is a classic! All of these photos are stunning. Modica with the duomo is wonderful because it shows all of the surrounding buildings which together seem to form one. The detail around the door ways in the The Duomo di San Giuliano is amazing, and the scenes from Ragusa draws me because I love the sloping street and buildings on the left. I’m glad you went for Baroque!

    • [email protected] March 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks Jan, excited that you loved the title! I’m not sure if that saying is just Aussie slang or world wide! This part of Sicily really is a easy place to lose yourself in these beautiful towns and surrounding villages.

      • budget jan March 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

        OMG I am sure glad you meant that play on words. It wasn’t till after I replied that I thought you may not have and would think I was slightly deranged! Must be an Aussie thing.

        • [email protected] March 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

          Ha ha!! No, everyone else, except for Catherine, probably thinks I’m deranged!!

  5. Mary @ The World Is A Book March 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Beautiful photos, Jenny! I haven’t made it to Sicily yet and I admit I don;t know very much about it. This post has made it such an inviting place to visit. I love all that Baroque architecture, the ornate details and all that splendour. The tiled stairway alone would make me want to visit and spend time in Sicily.

    • [email protected] March 2, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

      Thanks Mary. It really is a stunning part of the world with so much to see and do. These towns are all so beautiful and each has something different to offer. I hope you can visit one day!

  6. [email protected] March 3, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Hi Jenny, no I haven’t been to Sicily. It’s on top of my European wish list. But thank you for taking me there through your wonderful images. It’s so amazing to see huge clusters of magnificent architectures. It must feel overwhelming being there in person. Caltagirone may be understated by I find it so charming with those colorful stairways and tiles.

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      A pleasure Mirisol!The towns are quite spectacular with each offering something different to see. It’s very easy to spend a week exploring this area.

  7. Shing March 3, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    Wow, all these places are true architectural feasts! And you’d hardly believe they were born out of a destructive earthquake… This story reminds me of Warsaw, because after Warsaw was completely destroyed after WWll it was entirely rebuilt, and the architecture was even more beautiful the second time around! – I wander if this is also true of these towns? as it hard to imagine them looking any more beautiful than they do now….

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      I often wondered if the earthquake had been a century either before or after how it would have looked.Thank heavens it happened when it did and Baroque architecture was the fashion. I haven’t read too many articles on how it was before..an interesting question Shing!

  8. Karene March 3, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    Beautiful pictures and interesting commentary. Have you ever thought of publishing a book of your collections of photos and writing?

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      Thanks Karene. I have thought of it but I’m not sure where I would find the time to do it! One day maybe..

      • Karene March 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

        Oh, I hope that day is sooner than later! You have so much material for a fascinating book!!!

        • [email protected] March 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

          Thanks for your words of encouragement Karene. We’ll see if it happens!

  9. Karen (Back Road Journal) March 3, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    Sicily is one section of Italy that I haven’t visited and I don’t know why. Your photos are wonderful and should tempt anyone who sees them to travel there.

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Thanks Karen. It’s a stunning part of Italy and thankfully we didn’t have time to explore the north east corner, so I’ll have to go back!!

  10. Cathy Sweeney March 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Clever title! Great information & photos here. I love seeing the gorgeous architecture in these old cities and learning more about it.

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      Thanks Cathy! The architecture is fabulous and it’s interesting to see one town after the other. They’re all a bit different even though they were built at a similar time in history.

  11. Jackie Smith March 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    We’ve had just a brief taste of Sicily thanks to a couple of cruise ship ports of call, but you’ve definitely moved it higher on the ‘must get back to list’ with this post. Most interesting places you visited!

    • [email protected] March 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      Sicily is a place where you need to get into the countryside to explore the small towns and villages. It’s a big island and certainly needs more time than you think to see all that it has to offer. We could have stayed longer than a week in this area.

  12. Martina March 11, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    Can’t wait to go to Sicily this summer for two entire weeks! I will follow you suggestions!

    • [email protected] March 13, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      Hi Martina. You’ll have a fabulous time in Sicily. There’s many more posts on the blog on Sicily that may help you find places to visit and restaurants to eat at. Have a great trip

  13. Franca June 22, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    I’ve discovered this post at the right time!
    Even if I’m Italian I’ve never been to Sicily (I know I shouldn’t be shouting it aloud), I’m thinking of finally going this summer. There are some pretty good places that you highlighted that I’d love to see, cheers! 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman June 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

      It’s never too late Franca. You’ll love Sicily. Thee’s over 50 posts on my blog on Sicily with lots of information to help you plan your trip! Buon Viaggio

      • Franca June 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

        Thanks Jenny, I will make sure to check them out 🙂

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