Superb showcases of Sicilian Baroque — a style that flourished in the 18th century — can be seen in the beautiful towns and cities of Noto, Ragusa, Catania and Modica, all UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Situated in the island’s south-east corner, a region of deep gorges, quiet farms and rugged limestone cliffs, these towns all have in common the fact that they were destroyed by earthquake in 1693. This gave the great Baroque architects a blank canvas on which to rebuild, with the theatrical exuberance for which the style is known. Often they used lava in their work — look for the lava elephant carrying an Egyptian obelisk in Catania’s Piazza del Duomo — or the local white tufa, a limestone that has turned honey-brown with age.
Noto should be singled out for special mention, for in this sublime example of great Baroque planning every building is an expression of joie de vivre. Visit the Church of San Domenico and the Palazzo Comunale, then lose yourself admiring the eccentric and elaborately carved balconies, façades, staircases and squares of the town, all surrounded by green and silver olive and almond trees.