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You have always wanted to see Sicily and you don’t know where to start? It’s hard to choose among the attractions of this wonderful island, but certainly the Baroque jewels of Modica, Noto and Scicli, all in the amazing Val di Noto, must be on your list!
If you want to immerse yourself in centuries of history and baroque treasures, choose an accommodation among luxury holiday homes in Sicily: you will have all the comforts you need and your stay will be unforgettable.
Modica, in the province of Ragusa, is situated in the dramatic landscape of Hyblaean Mountains. Its stunning architecture has been recognised as a precious testimony to the exuberant Baroque art. Along with other towns in the Val di Noto, it is part of UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy. Modica was rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1693 and now boasts fine late-Baroque architecture as well as a picturesque medieval old town.
If you love history, you will be happy to know that, according to the historian Thucydides, the city was founded in 1360 BC or 1031 BC and was inhabited by the Sicels in the 7th century BC. It’s impossible to evoke all the historical events that concern Modica, but it’s important to remember that in 845 was captured by the Arabs during the Muslim conquest of Sicily and that in 1091 Roger of Hauteville conquered Modica and the entire Val di Noto, taking the territory back from the Arabs.
Modica consists of two urban centres, “Modica Alta” (Upper Modica) and “Modica Bassa” (Lower Modica). The older upper part lies on the rocky top of the southern Ibeli hill, whilst the lower part is built on the lower slopes and valley below. Part of the old medieval quarter in Modica Alta is unfortunately neglected but other parts are renovated and restored. Here you will find the Duomo di San Giorgio, which is Modica Alta’s Cathedral and the town’s most interesting building. One of its remarkable features are the twin staircases climbing to the church, with little half-wild gardens. The 300 steps lead down towards Modica Bassa. The cathedral is the result of the reconstruction which took place following the disastrous earthquake that struck Modica in 1542, 1613 and 1693. On the left of the church, you may see the Baroque Palazzo Polara.
Another attraction are the remains of the Castle, built on a rocky and almost inaccessible promontory, and the Belvedere Pizzo, a fantastic viewpoint over the Modica valleys.
There are many things to see also in Modica Bassa: you can start with a walk in Corso Umberto, where you can find the typical chocolate shops and several charming restaurants and cafes. You will see several impressive churches, like the Duomo di San Pietro, destroyed by the earthquakes and then rebuilt in the Baroque style.
Val di Noto includes eight towns in south-eastern Sicily: Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli, all rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake. Now we want to focus your attention on Noto and Scicli.
Noto sits on a plateau dominating the valley of the Asinaro. This little town is an incredible, tiny Baroque jewel, famous for its fine buildings of the early 18th century and considered among the main masterpieces in the Sicilian Baroque style. In 2002 Noto and its cathedral were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, large part of the beautiful church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra, collapsed in 1996 as a result of structural weakening caused by an earthquake in 1990. After a complex and onerous process of reconstruction, the cathedral was reopened in 2007.
We want to conclude this brief overview of Sicilian Baroque style with Scicli. The settlements of its area date back to the Copper and Early Bronze Ages (3rd millennium BCE to the 15th century BCE). Scicli was founded by the Sicels around 300 BCE. It was conquered by the Arabs, as part of the Muslim conquest of Sicily, and in 1091 was conquered back by the Normans, under Roger I of Hauteville. After the terrible earthquake in 1693, most of the town was rebuilt in the elegant baroque style that attracts so many tourists today.
A must see are the churches of Sant’Ignazio, San Matteo, San Bartolomeo and Santa Maria La Nova, and many elegant palaces such as Palazzo Beneventano, with its imaginative gargoyles. If you have the chance to go to Scicli in May, on the last Saturday of the month, you will be able to see a Sacred representation called Festa della Madonna delle Milizie, which evokes the liberation from the Saracens in 1091, thanks to Roger de Hauteville. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared riding a white horse, sword in hand, to encourage the Norman armies to fight the Arabs.