Noto was one of the earliest cities in Sicily, first built in the Bronze age by the Sikels, one of Sicily three indigenous tribes.
By early Medieval times it was a bustling city, and one of the last Arab holdouts to finally succumb to the invasion of the Normans. It retained a multicultural population and was a magnificent assortment of curches, mosques, schools, shops and homes.
It was home to a number of notable nobles of extraordinary wealth, as well as some exceptionally successful international merchants. Architects, composers, artists, architects and scientists flocked to this city, which King Ferdinand III gave the official title of “Ingenious City” in 1503 in recognition of the outstanding gathering of human talent who made this city their home.
The city enjoyed this period of staggering splendour for exactly 90 years.
On 11th January 1693, an earthquake destroyed Noto.
The shocks were so violent that the towns of the entire Noto Valley were demolished in seconds, large parts of Catania fell to the ground, and at least one thousand people were buried and never recovered alive. Noto lay at the heart of the destruction. It was demolished so utterly that there was literally not a wall left standing.
The people must have suffered indescribably. They would have tried to survive the winter in tents. Many more than the original thousand must have died of diseases or starvation in the months and years after the quake. The devastation was so extreme, and over such a wide area, that history gives us scant records of what really happened to the people of Sicily in that period.
Some of the nobles of Noto must have had money stashed away in other places for, despite having had much of their wealth destroyed or buried, they put up amazing amounts of money to rebuild the city. The Duke of Camastra, called Giuseppe Lanza, decided the new city should be rebuilt 8 kilometres away from the original town where the rubble had become so many unmarked graves.
With ain inspired vision of the future, the architects and artists of the “Ingenious City” decided to rebuild their homes in ultra-modern style, the exquisite Sicilian Baroque architecture of the period which eventually came to inspire the entire continent of Europe.
Every town or village has its vibe and its pace, and you walk around its streets you get a feel for its way of living.
The vibe in Noto is laid back magnificence.
It is impossible to convey in photos the musical sense of rhythm and pace which makes you literally flow from one breathtaking sight to the next. Nothing dominates, nothing competes, because everything is planned out with a heavenly sense of proportion, balance and harmony.
One of the most notable details you cannot miss in Noto is the balconies, designed to be enjoyed from below. Many of them refer to the coats of arms of the wealthy citizens who paid for them.
Every building in the town is built from a golden local stone, which glows in the sunlight like honey, or like some mouthwatering caramel dessert. Every building is designed to look splendid from a distance, and then look intriguing when given a closer look. Every building is cunningly positioned to be viewed perfectly from each angle, from whichever of the flamboyantly planned vistas you may enjoy as you approach it.
It may not be the original city, but Noto is still the Ingenious City.