27 June 2012  |  Published in Location

NOT.fest is held in the wonderful city of Noto, masterpiece of Sicilian baroque style.

Noto is a city in the Province of Syracuse, Sicily. Its located 32 km southwest of the city of Syracuse at the foot of the Iblean Mountains and gives its name to the surrounding area,Val di Noto. In 2002 Noto and its church were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The older town, Noto Antica, lies 8 km directly north on Mount Alveria. It was ancient Netum, a city of Sicel origin, left to Hiero II by the Romans by the treaty of 263 BCE and mentioned by Cicero as a foederala citilas, and by Pliny as Latinae conditionis. According to legend, Daedalus stopped here after his flight over the Ionian Sea, as well as Hercules, after his seventh task.

In the Roman era, it opposed praetor Verres. In 866 it was conquered by the Arabs, who elevated to a capital city of one of three districts of the island (the Val di Noto). Later it was a rich Norman city.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the city brought forth several notable intellectual figures, including Giovanni Aurispa, jurists Andrea Barbazio and Antonio Corsetto, as well as the architect Matteo Carnelivari and the minor composer Mario Capuana. In 1503 king Ferdinand III gave it the title of civitas ingeniosa (“ingenious city”). In the following centuries, the city expanded enlarging its medieval limits; and new buildings, churches and convents were built. These, however, were all totally destroyed by the 1693 earthquake. The devastation of the city on Mount Alveria was accompanied by the crisis of its economy, which relied mainly on agricultural products– vine, oil, cereals, rice, cotton– and its renowned handicrafts.

The current town, rebuilt after the earthquake on the left bank of River Asinaro, was planned on a grid system by Giovanni Battista Landolina. This new city occupied a position nearer to the Ionian Sea. The presence of architects like Rosario Gagliardi, Francesco Sortino and others, made the new Noto a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque, dubbed the “Stone Garden” byCesare Brandi and is currently listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The new structures are characterized by a soft tufa stone, which under sunlight assumes a typical honey tonality. Parts of the cathedral suddenly collapsed in 1996, a great loss to Sicilian Baroque.

The city, which had lost its provincial capital status in 1817, rebelled against the House of Bourbon on May 16, 1860, leaving its gates open to Giuseppe Garibaldi and his expedition. Five months later, on October 21, a plebiscite sealed the annexation of Noto to Piedmont. In 1844, Noto was named a bishopric seat, but in 1866 suffered the abolition of the religious guilds, which were deeply linked to the city’s structures and buildings.

Noto was freed from fascist dictatorship in July 1943. At the referendum of 1946, the Notinesi people voted in favour of the monarchy.

Noto is famous for its fine buildings of the early 18th century, considered among the main masterpieces in the Sicilian baroque style. It is a place of many religious buildings, there are several palaces, and many others. The old has mixed with the new, and a view from the top of a building on the hill will show the older buildings mixed with new and rebuilt architecture.


The Val di Noto

Val di Noto is a geographical area of south east Sicily; it is dominated by the limestone Iblean plateau. The Val di Noto owes its fame to the reconstruction which underwent after the year 1693, when the entire area was decimated by an enormousearthquake. Following the earthquake, many towns were rebuilt on entirely new sites, such as Noto and Grammichele. The rulers of the time, the kings of Spain, accounted the nobleman Giuseppe Lanza with special powers, which allowed him to redesign the damaged towns based on rational and scenographic town plans. In fact, since the beginning of the Renaissance, architects had the dream to build an entirely new ideal city, where town planning follows rational design and streets and buildings are organized by functionality and beauty. However, only a very small part of their projects were really used, and most of them were limited to the reorganization of a street, like the Strada Nuova in Florence or the redesign of small villages, like the town of Pienza. The earthquake gave the architects the chance to carry out those plans on a large scale. These new towns and cities were therefore redesigned according to renaissance and baroque town planning, with streets crossing each other either in a right angle or starting from major urban sites like squares with a radial pattern. Major buildings like churches, cloisters and palaces were built in order to give the streets a focal point and a majestic perspective. Many of these towns had a distinct shape, like the town of Grammichele which is based on a hexagon whose centre is the town square, consisting of the parish and town hall. Another feature is the homogeneous structure of these towns, as the late baroque style developed in Sicily was extensively used in the rebuilding. The area’s towns were rebuilt in what came to be known as the Sicilian Baroque style; most notable the town of Noto itself, which is now a tourist attraction on account of its fine Baroque architecture. The ancient town of Akrai (Palazzolo Acreide) was founded in 664 BCE: it was the first colony of the Corinthian settlement at Syracuse. The Syracusans steadily expanded their power over the Sicilian interior. Scarcely recorded, the ruined town was rediscovered by the historianTommaso Fazello at the end of 16th century. Further excavations in the early 19th century by Baron Gabriele Iudica, unearthed important facts concerning the early history of eastern Sicily. In June 2002, UNESCO inscribed eight old towns of the Val di Noto on the World Heritage List as “representing the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe”. The listed towns are Caltagirone, Militello in Val di Catania, CataniaModica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa, and Scicli.