NOTO - East Sicily
Noto is considered the Capital of Sicilian Baroque, its centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its astonishing baroque buildings. As you walk through the streets of this elegant town, you’ll find yourself staring at churches, noble palaces and religious buildings, examples of the most refined Sicilian typical architecture of the Seventeenth- Eighteenth Century. Cesare Brandi, an art historian, defined Noto as “the stone garden”, where churches, religious institutes and residences of ancient aristocrats are the flowers of this garden. Noto offers to the tourists a spectacle of yellow stone made palaces where unexpected treasures tell you the stories of ancient civilizations. Noto is placed in a perfect position, a few minutes away from the sea and from the main touristic sites of archaeological, maritime and naturalistic interest of Eastern Sicily. It is possible to easily conjugate relax with the discovery of culture, nature and Sicilian traditions. Noto is far from Syracuse 30 km around, placed in the south- ovest area of the province, on the foothills of the Iblei Mountains. Its coast, between Avola and Pachino, gives the name to the homonymous gulf. In the Noto territory there are two rivers: the Tellaro and the Asinaro. Noto’s economy today revolves around tourism due also to the fact that two important nature reserves (Vendicari and Cassibile) and some long stretches of beach covered in fine, golden sand are located nearby. Noto is famous also for its production of the Eloro and Val di Noto DOC wines. In May each year the classical “Infiorata” (carpet of flowers) takes place in Via Nicolaci during which the street is covered in flowers made up into numerous intricate designs. Noto is absolutely ideal for a visit any time of year. Summer is the season to marry cultural itineraries with trips to the limpid Sicilian sea, while autumn welcomes those traveling the Val di Noto Wine Route (Strada del Vino) that passes through the six Comuni of southeastern Sicily: Palazzolo, Avola, Noto, Rosolini, Pachino and Ispica.
In Noto you should taste almond sweets. The almond paste is often stuffed with sweet orange or cedar jam, pistachio creme, covered with colored icings or melted chocolate. The name of these typical recipes are often bizarre – quaresimali, nucatoli, mandorlati- and they come from the ancient monasteries where the nuns used to pray and prepare the preparations of these particular sweets. Neai for Sicilians, Neeton for Greeks and Neetum for Romans. Historically called Neas in ancient eastern Sicily’s Siculo Language, Neaton by the Greeks and Netum by the Romans, it was the Arabs who had final say on Noto’s name. Indeed, the word noto has the same significance in both Italian and Arabic, and thus the city was so-named for its ‘noted’ beauty and grandeur.An important hub during all its phases – i.e. Sicilian, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab – it met destruction with the earthquake of 1693, at the height of its original splendor.
The coat of arms
Ancient symbol of the city was probably the bull: this theory, supported by several Sicilian scholars, is proved by the recovery of an ancient coin depicting a bull standing on two legs with the engraving SPQN. During the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic, Noto awarded the title of ingenious city, and the city had its official coat of arms, which consisted of a crusader white and red / maroon shield, on their sides (on white background) sometimes there was the incision Netum • urbs • ingenious • et • vallis caput. The mentioned crest remained in force until a few years after the unification of Italy when was adopted the Savoy shield with the crowned eagle, with the ancient crusader shield placed on the abdomen of the raptor. Only at the end of the XII century by the Marquis of Castelluccio were added the words SPQN in memory of ancient glory.
Certainly, Mount Alveria, since the prehistoric age, had been occupied by native peoples, the Elemis, the Sicans and the Siculians, even before X century B.C.. Here, Neas, Neaithon, Netum, Neeto and, finally, Noto have been influenced by numerous cultural stratifications, among which, after the above-quoted peoples, the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Aragonese and Spanish presence. The raising of Noto to the Head Valley of the whole south – eastern Sicily ( Noto Valley) dates back to the Arabic period (864 – 1091). The towered Noto, numquam vi capta, razed to the ground by the terrible earthquake of 1693, was rebuilt, after a weary dispute between those who longed for having it risen on Alveria and those who supported the moving to a new site, on Meti Hill and on the slope facing the south. As a consequence of an extraordinary creative season, modern Noto could see the rise, on a regular urbanistic order, of its wonderful monuments, resulting from a refined interpretation of Baroque. Its style had moderate tones and a harmonic fusion with the canons of classicism, thanks to the great architects of the time, such as Gagliardi, Labisi and Sinatra, and the assistance of experienced stone-masons and whimsical craftsmen. The sublime beauty of the churches and the civil buildings is embellished by the tender limestone used for their construction, which, as time has gone by, has assumed a soft honey colour, exalted to excess by the light of sunset.