On the 11th January 1693 a massive earthquake flattened many of the towns in south east Sicily, including Noto. Luckily, Giuseppe Lanza, a Sicilian-Spanish aristocrat was on hand to supervise the rebuilding, utilising a new plan to separate the political and religious buildings from the commercial and housing area. In a very short time, he had created a Baroque masterpiece of palaces, churches and steep steps.
I start my exploration of the town in the upper section which is mainly residential. They are repairing the roads and the dust is being blown about like a sandstorm in the Sahara. I seek refuge in the Church of Santissimo Crocifisso which houses two ancient lion statues and some beautiful paintings.
A long flight of steps takes me down to the pedestrian high street and the Cathedral of San Nicolo. It’s hard to imagine that the dome collapsed 20 years ago as it has been carefully restored and decorated with paintings of Matthew, Mark Luke and John. There are many other lovely churches in Noto, including San Carlo with a bell tower that can be climbed for views across to the Duomo and others with marvellous wooden ceilings and screens.
Opposite the Duomo is the huge Palazzo Ducezio, used as the Town hall and boasting a small meeting room decorated with golden stucco and mirrors. My ticket to view this also gives me access to the neighbouring Civic Museum, a strange collection of archaeological finds, ugly artwork and an exhibition of bronze sculptures and medallions by the artist Giuseppe Pirrone, who created the doors of the cathedral.
Also included in my €4 combination ticket is entrance to the Teatro Communale, a diminutive auditorium of red velvet seats and curtains, with cosy private boxes. It would be amazing to see a show here but sadly few performances take place, and there are none during my short visit to the town.
My morning meander has left me hungry but, luckily, opposite the theatre are some places serving Sicilian arancini. These huge, deep fried, rice balls make an excellent snack and, having already tried the conical Catania/Syracuse version, I choose the spherical Palermo one, which is infused and coloured with saffron.