Guide to Noto

Noto, in the province of Siracuse, is the architectural capital of the Baroque cities of the Val di Noto, now UNESCO's world heritage site. The city is mostly famous for its grandiose Sicilian Baroque monuments and particular town planning, but also for its interesting local festivities and fine produce and food. The beautiful natural surroundings, which include both seaside and mountain locations, are another great attraction for visitors of the area.

Noto originally stood on Mount Alveria. It was founded by the Sikels and subsequently conquered by the Greeks. Later it became part of the kingdom of Ierone II, tyrant of Siracuse and received the name of Netum. Romans, Byzantines and Arabs followed in the common sequence of foreign dominators. Under the Arabs, Noto flourished and became the capital of one of the three valleys the Arabs distinguished on the Island, the Val di Noto. With the Normans and the Spanish Aragon the economic and cultural activities developed even further and the city reached its apex until the earthquake of 1693 destroyed it completely. For the reconstruction the survivors decided to leave mount Alveria and rebuilt the city further down towards the sea about 10km away from the Ionian sea. Artists from all over Sicily were called to work on the project of reconstruction of Noto under the supervision of the Duke of Camastra, who represented the Spanish viceroy in the area; Among them: Paolo Labisi, Vincenzo Sinatra and Rosario Gagliardi. The execution of their visions was entirely realised by local craftsmen, who built the churches, convents and palaces and decorated them with handmade brackets, volutes, masks, cherubs and wrought-iron railings.

The new site was perfect to accommodate the linear Baroque style town planning which called for parallel streets and intersection at right angles for a final theatrical result. The town was designed to satisfy the needs of the aristocracy, for which the planners chose the highest part of the site, and the clergy, whose buildings were mostly developed in the core centre. The ordinary citizens were left to settle around these two areas. The buildings were constructed using local limestone and have acquired, over time, a honey-golden colour that characterises the current city centre.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the main axis of the city centre and runs through three different squares. This is a long walk into 18th century architecture with wonderful churches, palaces and convents unfolding throughout. The Cattedrale di San Nicolò with its dramatic staircase is currently closed for the repair work necessary to rebuild the dome that fell in 1996.

Visit of Noto is even more worthwhile during one of its many special festivities as for example the procession of San Corrado in August, who is the patron saint of the city, the Infiorata in Via Nicolaci when artists cover the street with flower designs or the procession of the Santa Spina in Easter.

Noto is also famous all over the world for the quality of its almonds, "la mandorla di Noto", which is a local speciality. The famous "crema di mandorle" (almond paste) is simply made by finely chopping the almonds and then mixing them with sugar and a little water until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency. This paste is used to enrich creams, sauces, tarts and other products. In summer, this is widely used to prepare "latte di mandorla", almond milk.

The outskirts of Noto offer various opportunities to visit both parts of the Iblean Mountains with Noto Antica, the prehistoric village of Castelluccio, the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Scala, or the seaside with the Lido di Noto and the Natural Reserve of Vendicari.

Noto Antica takes the visitors back to the pre-1693 Netum. This is a walk through the wild nature of Mount Alveria rich of wild sage, oregano, thyme, cactus and wild flowers to discover the ruins of the old city which are a mix of Sikels' necropolis dug into the rocks and 16th century buildings. From the site an amazing view of the surrounding valleys and the coast. Towards the coast, the ancient city of Eloro founded by Siracuse between the VIII and VII bc, the sandy beaches of the Lido di Noto and the wonderful Natural Reserve of Vendicari.