Thursday 22 August 2013

Noto, Sicily

Noto's grand cathedral
One of the least spoilt of the eight members of the Late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto Unesco World Heritage site, Noto gleams in the after-glow of restoration. Park on one of the roads leading down from the public gardens and head for the solid stone gateway that marks the entrance to an impressively well-preserved and harmonious grid of Baroque streets running along a hillside. The roads are paved with flagstones and lined with creamy-gold palazzos, houses and churches, often embellished with ornate carvings and voluptuous cast iron balconies. 

Chiesa di San Franceso
You'll soon reach several flights of broad steps leading up to the elegant honeycomb facade of the Chiesa di San Franceso - a fine taster of things to come. Further down Coso Vittoria Emanuele, is an even more imposing set of steps leading up to Noto's grand cathedral, which is adorned with slim classical pillars and berobed statues. Its splendour makes the neo-classical town hall, with its handsome arcades, on the other side of the Piazza Municipio look almost ordinary. If you need a shady spot for lunch, the piazza has a string of benches in the shadow of rectangular tree canopies.  On the Via Corrado Nicolaci, running up the hill, is an extraordinary palazzo with a row of first floor balconies held up by intricately-carved griffins and other mythical beasts. Early in the evening, artists lay out their work on raised red carpets flanking the road. At the top of Via Corrado Nicolaci, you'll find another distinguished church on Via Carvour, which is much quieter than the main drag, but is very well-preserved with some fine old houses.

Via Corrado Nicolaci
Wander further down Coso Vittoria Emanuele and you'll pass more beautiful buildings, some blanketed with finely-carved stone window surrounds. You'll soon reach Piazza XVI Maggio, where a small park with palm trees provides a slash of green next to another graceful Baroque church, this time with a curvaceous facade. Now restored and well-maintained, Noto is an architectural gem, only marred by tacky Christmas lights (even in August) and street vendors selling garish balloons. 9/10

Piazza XVI Maggio