Last updated on May 31, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sicily

Best 6 Baroque Towns of Sicily and 3 Hidden Gems

It’s always hard to make a short list of beautiful places, even more so for the lovely Baroque towns in Sicily, some of which are so well preserved that you may think you are walking in an open-air museum.

I finally made a choice, trying to select just 6 of them, based on their amazing Baroque architecture. They are all so amazing, but still so different from each other and unique in their own way.

But let’s start by understanding why Sicily has this unusually high number of Baroque towns.

View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine
View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine

The Late Sicilian Baroque Time Following the 1693 Earthquake – What Happened

The late Sicilian Baroque era began after the most catastrophic natural disasters in European history.

On January 11, 1693, a massive earthquake crashed south-eastern Sicily, crashing and literally zeroing cities and causing massive loss of life.

Following this tremendous calamity rebuilding started in several towns of the Val di Noto, leading to the emergence of the Sicilian Baroque architectural style.

Architects and planners saw the destruction as an opportunity to design cities from scratch, implementing innovative urban layouts characterized by wide streets and grandiose public squares. These layouts followed more of a grid design than a round plan with the main square right in the centre (Medieval design).

The rebuilding projects were a collective endeavour of the local aristocracy, church authorities, and the Spanish viceroys, who were eager to leave a tangible mark of their power. This explains the decorative and wealthy style made of stone carvings, intricate facades, and opulent churches.

This period of reconstruction transformed Sicily into a treasure trove of Baroque art and architecture, making cities like Noto, Catania, and Modica unique models in the world.

Via Garibaldi leading to the Catania Duomo
Via Garibaldi leading to the Catania Duomo

Noto – The Crown Jewel of Sicilian Baroque

Noto stands as the quintessence of Sicilian Baroque design, often hailed as the “Crown Jewel” of the style. Rebuilt entirely after the 1693 earthquake, the city was meticulously planned to be a showpiece of Baroque art and urbanism.

At the heart of Noto’s architectural wonders is the Cathedral of San Nicolò, a magnificent structure that dominates the townscape with its imposing facade and grand staircase.

Equally impressive is the Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata, famous for its intricate balconies adorned with mythical creatures and elaborate motifs, and the Palazzo Ducezio, today hosting the town hall 

Rosario Gagliardi, Paolo Labisi, and Vincenzo Sinatra were the architects behind Noto’s rebirth. The main goal was to show the grandeur of the Sicilian rebirth after the catastrophic earthquake, ensuring at the same time to create an environment truly livable by the locals.

I remember like yesterday my last visit to Noto a year ago. One of the most unique things is that this city has not just a stunning square or a beautiful main street.

No, every structure has a story, every building is so beautiful, doesn’t matter where you are. The streets are wider and more liveable than in most of the towns in Italy. The grid design recalls more the Business Districts of the New World, like the USA and Australia. 

Today, Noto is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but also a living museum. Sure, you will not be alone walking around, but plan your visit in the early morning or late evening and you will share Noto with mostly locals.

My tip: Noto is often visited as a day trip. Book at least a night instead. You will love the night lights. Honestly, this is one of the best places to stay in Sicily for a unique experience.

View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine
View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine

Modica – A Harmony of Chocolate and Architecture

In the heart of Sicily, Modica stands as a testament to resilience and beauty, blending its famed chocolate tradition with the opulence of the Baroque style.

Rising from the ruins of the 1693 earthquake, Modica’s streets and buildings weave a narrative of rebirth and ingenuity. The town’s most celebrated landmark, the Duomo di San Giorgio, is an architectural marvel, boasting a façade that captures the essence of Baroque splendour with its intricate designs and imposing presence.

The chocolate of Modica, with its Aztec-inspired origins, adds another layer to the town’s rich cultural presence.

Walking through Modica is like stepping into a living canvas, where each corner reveals another story, each building another masterpiece.

You will be surprised by Modica, a town where you can experience a blend of architectural beauty and the sweet aroma of chocolate in the air, a unique affair that I have never found in any other town in the world.

My tip: Getting around Sicily with public transportation is doable however it takes time. Plan your itinerary to these towns accordingly with the timetable of the different operators to avoid hours at the bus stations.

View of Modica
View of Modica

Ragusa Ibla: The Two-Tiered Baroque Masterpiece

Ragusa, carved into the Sicilian landscape and reborn in the wake of devastation, is split between two parts: Ragusa Ibla (for preservation) and Ragusa Superiore (for innovation), similar to what today we would call the Old Town and the New Town. 

Both areas have however one thing in common, the Baroque style that defines both parts.

The city’s layout, with Ragusa Ibla clinging to its ancient roots while Ragusa Superiore embraces a new beginning, offers a fascinating study in contrast and continuity. The Duomo di San Giorgio in Ibla, with its breathtaking façade, stands as a beacon of the Baroque spirit, embodying both the glory of the past and the hope for the future.

Add also to your must-visit places the Church of San Francesco, located in the neighbourhood called “Cappuccini”, and the Church of Santa Maria delle Scale, built in the 13th century in a Gothic style and updated in the 18th century in Baroque style.

Your journey through Ragusa will be a journey through time, where every alleyway and staircase will tell you stories of survival and revival. The city’s two hearts beat as one, giving you the possibility to experience one of the best examples of Sicilian Baroque as well as a beautiful glimpse into the soul of Sicily.

My Tip: Sicily can be expensive or inexpensive based on the town you book your hotel. Ragusa and Scicli are the most budget-friendly Baroque destinations

Sunrise at the old baroque town of Ragusa Ibla in Sicily
Sunrise at the old baroque town of Ragusa Ibla in Sicily

Scicli: A Baroque Gem off the beaten path

I must be honest with you. I love visiting the famous and beautiful towns of Sicily, like Noto, Taormina or Palermo but I enjoy so much more going off the beaten path, sometimes wasting my time, but on a few occasions ending with fantastic days of exploration.

On my last trip, I decided to rent a car in Sicily and drive to more isolated and hidden destinations, that usually are not visited by day trippers, and Scicli has been one of the highlights of my island itinerary.

And to be honest with you, Scicli is actually a world-famous town. In fact, it was the TV set town of the successful Series Inspector Montalbano although the town was called Vigata in the television show.

This town is less traversed by the typical tourist path, however, the opulent churches and palaces stand out as in most of the nearby Baroque towns. The contrast of Scicli’s historical edifices against dramatic hillsides offers a unique and more dramatic impact.

Walking through Scicli is like exploring an open-air museum, where each structure tells its own tale of history. Reserve a special stop at the Palazzo Beneventano, probably the most representative Baroque building famous for its unique decorations

Compared to any other Baroque town, Scicli comes out as the little tranquil brother, smaller but full of hidden corners. Moreover, this is one of the best areas to stay in Sicily if you are after a yoga retreat where you split your time between the stunning countryside and the beautiful beaches.

St. Bartholomew's Church on the Eastern entrance of Scicli
St. Bartholomew’s Church on the Eastern entrance of Scicli

Caltagirone: The Ceramic Heart of Sicily

Caltagirone is worldwide famous for its ceramics, however, its Baroque architecture is as impressive and beautiful as the characteristic pottery.

The Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a magnificent staircase, serves as a canvas for the town’s ceramic mastery, with each step telling a story through hand-painted tiles. 

The town’s reference to the ceramic industry goes beyond the staircase. Every street, building and bridge has a reminder of the intricate designs and colours of local craftsmanship. 

You may go to Caltagirone for the Baroque style but you will leave with much more than that, possibly even a beautiful souvenir to remember Sicily forever.

My tip: the street markets of Sicily are a great source of food and souvenirs too, some of them locally made (just double check the “Made in” label)

Caltagirone: The Ceramic Heart of Sicily
Caltagirone: The Ceramic Heart of Sicily

Catania: Baroque Born from Ashes

When you fly to Sicily you will probably land in Catania (the busiest airport on the island) or Palermo. Trapani has also a few flights, but really a tiny amount.

If arriving in Catania you will be impressed by the view of Mount Etna, the beautiful coastline and finally the second biggest city on the island. You cannot get a better “Welcome to Sicily” than that.

I loved my time in Catania, however, keep in mind that this is a busy city marked by the passage of time and the overbuilding happened in the 70s and 80s.

I found a huge contrast between the impressive Historical Centre and the neighbours all around (my tip, stay within 2-3Km of the Duomo to see the best of the Baroque style and design).

Start your exploration with a visit to the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, in the main piazza, and the emblematic Elephant Fountain symbolising Catania’s resilience to all the earthquakes and eruptions that happened in the last millennium. Plan a visit to the Palazzo Platamone, the Odeon Romano and the Terme della Rotonda.

Finally, make it to the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena and the Church of San Nicolò l’Arena, a construction with an unfinished facade still waiting to be completed for the last 500 years. The legend says that the budget was exhausted in the 17th century but the reality is that the project was not well-engineered and they eventually left only half columns at the main door, as weird as it sounds.

I wrote extensively about where to stay in Catania and its best areas. Shortly here are my top three recommendations

The central Duomo Square and start of Via Etnea in CAtania
The central Duomo Square and the start of Via Etnea in Catania

The 3 Hidden Gems: Palazzolo, Militello, and Ispica

If you are looking for a few hidden gems, then you should check out these 3 destinations:

  • Palazzolo Acreide, hidden within the Sicilian hinterland, is a jewel of historical and architectural significance. Its blend of architectural beauty and depth captures the essence of Sicily’s rich past, where Greek and Baroque influences meet. The town’s ancient Greek roots, visible in the remains of its theatre, coexist with the ornate churches and palaces that dot its landscape, creating a unique cultural tapestry.
  • Militello in Val di Catania, though less frequented by tourists, holds a special place in the heart of Sicily’s Baroque narrative.
  • Ispica, set against a backdrop of natural beauty, is a great place to explore Sicily’s Baroque and pre-Baroque heritage. Its understated elegance, visible in the architectural lines of its churches and buildings, is complemented by the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Noto Cathedral
Noto Cathedral
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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