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A Day in Noto, Sicily

by Anna Laricheva

Exterior of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, showing the central dome. Image: © Anna Laricheva

Noto is just a few hours drive away from the crater of Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. The city wakes up slowly in the morning: window shutters, doors of churches and cafes open like flower buds, the first gentle sun rays falling on the domes, playing on the curved facades of buildings. Due to the material of which the historical structures were made from, the colour of the city changes throughout the day: it seems like yellow tuff absorbs the rays of the sun all day long and at sunset it glows like amber under a street light.

For thousands of years this territory was built and reconstructed first by the Greeks, followed by the Romans, Arabs and then by the Normans and Spaniards, passing it from hand to hand. In the XVII century, Noto was at the epicentre of one of the largest earthquakes in the history of Sicily, which destroyed it to the ground. Nevertheless, the city was given another chance to be restored to life. Secular and church authorities, as if competing, and not limited by previous structures, chose the most picturesque sites for the new buildings. And as a result, today we can enjoy the view of one of the most beautiful Sicilian cities in the Baroque style, entered in the list of world heritage sites of mankind by UNESCO.

The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Noto, Sicily. Image: © Anna Laricheva

According to many, the architectural pearl of this open-air museum is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, which has a majestic silhouette rising above the main street. From the very top of the step podium on which the Cathedral stands, you will be able to see almost the entire city. In 2007, the Cathedral was reopened again after a partial collapse. Today, the relics of St. Corrado, the patron saint of the city, are held there. When you walk along its central nave, the gigantic figure of St. John gazing upward will catch your attention.

Newly painted dome and pendentives of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas by Russian artist Oleg Supereco after the cupola collapsed in 1996. Image: © Cesare Bison

If you follow the direction of his eyes, you will find yourself under a dome painted by the famous contemporary Russian artist Oleg Supereco in honour of the Pentecost. This mural painting, as if dictated by the immediate inspiration of heaven and materialized by the master with the technique of buon fresco, shows sacred characters: the Madonna and the twelve Apostles - the visualisation of an ancient beauty and a tribute to the history of the island. For a moment, forgetting about time and space, you may imagine to hear the cantata No. 172 by Johann Sebastian Bach written for a feast day, Pentecost Sunday. This is a kind of sermon that it is impossible to convey into words.

Opposite the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, in a way almost confronting it, the Ducezio Palace (the current Town Hall) was erected. Some parts of the building are open for excursions. The Palace architecture seems to be telling everyone about the well-being of the owners and inside, it is not inferior to its external splendours: richly decorated with gilding, furnished with well-preserved Louis XVI-style furniture and mirrors. Also, everyone can admire the fresco by Antonio Mazza. The spirit of grandeur and solemnity is present in every detail.

The view of Ducezio Palace, seen from the step podium of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Image: © Anna Laricheva

Special attention deserves another palace that was built for the family Di Lorenzo in the 18th century and restored recently by the French philanthropist Jean- Louis Remillieu. All the restauration works were carried out to return the original look of the interior and fully correspond with the spirit of those times. So you can imagine what living in the home of the noble family must have looked like back then. After crossing the original main staircase, you will find yourself in halls with many secret doors to secret rooms, one flowing into another. It seems that from somewhere in the distance you can hear cheerful voices, chimes of glasses and gentle sounds of ancient instruments.

The Nicolaci palace, famous for the baroque decorations of its balconies. Image: © Anna Laricheva

Also worth mentioning is the Nicolaci Palace that can be found on the street with the same name, that crosses the main promenade Corso Vittorio Emanuele. In the last week of May, this street is quite literally covered in flower petals for the "Infiorata di Noto" - a Spring celebration. And it is difficult to think of a more convenient place for such an event, because the street itself is a real piece of art – all its balconies are richly decorated with an array of fantastic-looking sirens, horses and lions, floating in the air.

The balcony of the turks of the Nicolaci palace. Image: © Anna Laricheva

A noble family still lives here. On the ground floor, a family restaurant is located, where vintage wine barrels and wine bottles give this place the atmosphere of an ongoing celebration in honour of life. Touching pictures on the walls tell us the stories of a relationship of this family with their native land and the vines.

On visiting Noto you may feel that you are in a film, perhaps by Michelangelo Antonioni - a poet of beauty, freedom and master of storyline intricacies. Give it another moment and the main characters of his film,The Adventure, will appear from behind the columns of the church and convent of St. Dominic - irresistible Monica Vitti, who played Claudia, and always elegant Gabriele Ferzetti as Sandro. The whole city here is a stage, and its buildings are the scenery.

But if you want to experience a real performance, you should definitely visit Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo. From the inside it's like a box trimmed with red velvet, and it's hard to believe that, like centuries ago, the curtain will rise and the magic of art will fill all the people in it with emotions.

Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo. Image: © Anna Laricheva

Leaving the theatre, you can’t help but throw back your head and see swifts circling in the sky. The eaves of the buildings are hung with their nests like garlands. Swifts can only fly if they fall down. Is it possible to compare these creatures with people who are also always in search of their own being and inspiration that is so important for thinking and creation? Perhaps that's why you should come to a city like this. Just to walk, admire the beauty of eternity and, filled to the brim with new impressions, to fall into a sweet dream.

The time is deep into the night. Thin curtains slowly swaying in the wind let fresh air into the house. It will be dawn soon, a new day and another meeting with beauty!


About the Author

Anna was born in Trans-ili Alatau Mountains. She received her education in linguistics, international economics and logistics.

From early childhood on, she travelled: first, with her parents – who were road constructors - across the former USSR, and then around the world from the Norwegian Fjords to the Cape of Good Hope.

A passion for history inspired her to become a crewmember of Shtandart (an exact copy of the warship built by Peter the Great in 1703), and her love for art motivated her to become a professional art critic.


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