When a travel guide calls a town an essential stopover, when you know it is a Unesco World Heritage site, and when your Italian friends plead that you should really see it, there is only one thing you can do. Especially if you then read a claim that it has the best gelato of Italy, which is quite something for a gelato lover like me. So I head out of my base Siracusa one Sunday morning, and drive the half hour to Noto, park, and walk to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main street of town. A city with a rich history going back to the 18th century BCE, it has seen a varied array of rulers, like much of Sicily. Its fate was sealed by a devastating earthquake in 1693 (killing half the population); within a week it was decided to build a new city some 16 kilometres to the south. There was resistance against the plan, also because it was devised by a Spanish Sicilian, but building started soon after anyway. Since it was developed and realised in a few decades by a handful of architects and city planners, the town has a remarkable uniformity in style.
This becomes immediately clear when you walk around the streets of Noto. A perfect grid of streets, with buildings constructed of Iblean limestone in Sicilian baroque style, makes for a coherent image for the visitor. The north-south streets run uphill towards the north, while the east-west streets are more or less level, thus creating a nice effect of altitude difference. I start my exploration at the west side, and soon after walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuele, I stop frequently to admire various churches, piazzas, and palaces. I soon some close to what is supposed to be one of the best gelaterie of Italy, but find it closed; fortunately, the other contender is around the corner and I have a very delicious gelato giving me some added energy for the rest of my walking tour of the city. It is a Sunday, to the cathedral has a continuous going and coming of people, and I walk the street to the New Gate, Porta Reale, which has a pelican, a dog, and a tower sculpted on top: the symbols of sacrifice, loyalty, and strength, showing the allegiance of the city to the Bourbon monarchy. I turn around, and after a few blocks, turn right, walking uphill.
Immediately after leaving Corso Vittorio Emanuele behind, I am almost alone in the streets of Noto. There are more palaces here, the Montevergine church, and in the street running down from it, the Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata. I immediately see this is a prominent building, with remarkable sculpted figures under its balconies, and I spend a while walking up and down the street to enjoy the lavish palace, with lions, galloping horses, women and cherubs supporting the iron-barred balconies above their heads. I then walk up the decorated stairs to the higher part of Noto, where I find regular houses, still more palaces, and churches. The style is still congruent with what I have seen so far. I walk down on the west side again, back to the main street, where most visitors have already disappeared. I cannot resist going back to the gelato shop for another try at their godly creations, before I cruise the streets, back to my car.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Noto (Italy). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Noto. Read more about this site.