Caltagirone, the Sicilian Capital of Ceramic

Caltagirone is a picturesque city in the inland of my beloved Sicily. It is included in the magical Noto Valley, in a stretch of land formed by 15 municipalities, which, in turn, give rise to an evocative and still unknown place called Calatino Sud Simeto. The name derives from the position of these towns, laid down along the mouth of Simeto river.

I live just in this zone of Sicily and for this reason, I wanted to share information about my homeland with you. If you are ready to discover more, go to the following paragraphs.

Caltagirone Tourist Information

Caltagirone has almost 40,000 inhabitants and is the largest municipality among the 15 which populate the legendary Noto Valley. It is on the South-East slopes of Etna mount, 68 kms away from Catania, 600 meters above the sea level.

The village is a mix of timeless tradition and modernity, thanks to two different zones: the modern Caltagirone, in the bottom of a hill, and the ancient Caltagirone on the tip of the same hill. The modern Caltagirone is the commercial zone of the town, filled with offices, banks and shopping centers.

The ancient Caltagirone is, instead, the historical part of the city, with its narrow and evocative alleys (see the image), the baroque churches, artisanal shops and the fabulous museums of ceramics. This town is indeed regarded as the capital of the Sicilian ceramic. The ceramic of Caltagirone is a concentrate of mastery and artisanal work.

Every piece is unique and precious, handmade and still crafted with the ancient working methods. In Caltagirone, you are allowed not only to admire, but even to buy your favorite ceramics. This way, you can bring a piece of this Sicilian tradition to your home.

Caltagirone History

Born, perhaps, around the III millennium B.C, Caltagirone is considered one of the early settlements of Sicily. On the hill of Sant’Ippolito, archeologists have found the remains of an ancient village dating back to the Neolithic age.

The necropolis discovered in contrada Montagna and in contrada degli Angeli and dating back to the II century B.C, are very similar to the necropolis of Cassibile and Pantalica, in the province of Syracuse. The village is indeed in a favorable position, amid the most beautiful places of Noto Valley, namely in the line crossing Catania and Syracuse.

Moreover, thanks to this position, the town has had a pivotal and strategical role in the development of the Sicilian civilization. Caltagirone was also a Greek settlement amid the VIII and the VII centuries B.C, but today, we have no remains about the Greek, Roman and Byzantine dominations.

It seems as if the history of the town went across a period of darkness over the centuries, so much so that the official history of Caltagirone began with the Arab domination, from which the name of the city derives. That is the Arab translation of Qalat Alghiran, “the castle of the grottoes”.

Ceramic depiction in the garden of Caltagirone

The Arabs were just the ones who introduced the ancient arts of ceramic and majolica in the city. The most ancient art is ceramic. For centuries, this has also been the main source of income in Caltagirone. The town was also dominated by the Normans, like many famous Sicilian cities.

In 1693, it was destroyed by the earthquake which devasted the entire Noto Valley, even the zone where I live. Ash and black dust fell down from the sky and the locals were killed and buried under their own homes. Today, along the territory of the Simeto river, there is an archeological zone that keeps the signs of this natural disaster.

The center of the earthquake was the ancient settlement of Occhiolà, 15 kms away from Caltagirone. It was a village of poor peasants and friars. The only building which was saved from the disaster was just the church of the friars. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was believed to having protect it from the seism.

This church arises on the hill of Occhiolà and its name is the Madonna of the Piano. After the tragedy, noble people of the time were committed to rebuilt this zone of Noto valley with a baroque style. Today, you can admire the baroque style, everywhere, especially in the churches and monuments.

In 1943, during the Second World War, Caltagirone suffered devasting bombings, which caused almost 700 deaths. Caltagirone has also been the birth town of the priest and politician Luigi Sturzo, and talented potters such as Giacomo Bongiovanni and Giuseppe Vaccaro Bongiovanni.

Many locals emigrated in the past century to find a better future abroad. Several citizens of Caltagirone moved to the United States and today I am glad to bring them or their offspring information about the town of their Sicilian forefathers.

What to See in Caltagirone

In Caltagirone, you must absolutely see four wonderful tourist attractions.

I am discussing about San Giuliano Cathedral, the Regional Ceramic Museum, Santa Maria del Monte Stair and the Museum of Nativity Scene. Let’s go to better know them one by one.

 San Giuliano Cathedral

This cathedral has a very long history. It has been rebuilt many times after the earthquakes of 1542 and 1693. The church become a cathedral in 1816. Inside, the construction is really magnificent. The façade has three doors, and, on the right corner, there is a high bell tower.

The most picturesque part of the external area is the dome (see the image), with its brilliant, turquoise color, and vertical golden streaks visible from many zones of Caltagirone. The internal building has a vault of evocative frescoes depicting scenes of the Ancient and New Testament.

The inhabitants of Caltagirone are particularly fond to the statues of dead Jesus and the sorrowful Virgin Mary, both of them are kept in the cathedral and transported along the city in the Holy Friday.

Regional Ceramic Museum

As said, Caltagirone is the capital of ceramic (see the image of a local shop). A stunning collection of ancient and modern ceramic artifacts is contained in the Regional Ceramic Museum. This place is, in turn, contained, in another picturesque place, the Vittorio Emanuele Garden. I often visited this garden, where trees and flowers surround you with all of their scent and beauty.

You can access the museum just from the garden. After entering, you’ll see a large hall with ancient ceramic manufacts belonged to the Greeks and Romans. At the same time, you’ll undertake a wonderful travel back into time until the VI century before Christ.

This museum also hosts pieces dating back to the Renaissance and the Baroque epochs. There, pottery and majolica will illuminate your eyes with their shiny colors. To admire modern ceramics, instead, you must across another big hall, where you’ll see pieces dating back to the 1800.

The Stair of Caltagirone

The famous stair of Caltagirone, namely Santa Maria del Monte Stair (see the image), dominates the highest part of the old city and connects it to the modern city. It was built in 1606 with 142 steps. Today, the stair is the symbol of Caltagirone and is beautifully coated with ceramic tiles.

According to an ancient tradition inaugurated in 1700 by a friar, Benedetto Papale, every year, on July 24 and 25, the stair gets illuminated with a series of tealights that creating a marvelous image. Ever since, on the same date, the inhabitants of Caltagirone create a different illuminated image.

That evening, the lights of the city are turned off to give room to the spectacle of the illuminated stair of Caltagirone. The stair is always beautiful, anyway. From winter to summer. In spring, for example, it gets decorated with plants and colored flowers. When you climb it, you feel the magical sensation to reach heaven.

Nativity Scene Museum

Caltagirone is popular not only for its monuments, but also for the fabulous Museum of Nativity Scene, a wonderful place to visit in Sicily in the Christmas time.

The museum contains many nativity scenes with different sizes and styles. Today, the museum is managed by Favo Association, a local club committed to promote the millenary art of the nativity scene. The museum is a real city in the city that contains the main monuments of Caltagirone enriched with the personages of the nativity of Jesus (see the image).

How to Get to Caltagirone

You don’t need a map to reach Caltagirone, the path to follow to reach this beautiful Sicilian city is very easy. If you land to Catania Fontanarossa Airport, you can take a car, a bus or a taxi which lead you straight to Caltagirone.

The transportation means, indeed, will ride the Statal road called Catania – Gela, or the highway Catania – Syracuse. During this tour, you can also reach the other wonders of my beloved island, such as Piazza Armerina, Modica, Ragusa, Syracuse and Noto.

Hotels and Accommodations in Caltagirone

Usually, Caltagirone is considered a destination to visit for a day, only.

However, to dip into the true beauty of this city, an only vacation day might not be enough.

If you stay more, you’ll have the necessary time to buy the stunning ceramic manufacts sold in the picturesque local shops of Caltagirone.

Even hotels and accommodations are picturesque in this Sicilian city. They are located both in the modern and the ancient zones of Caltagirone. Many of them are outfitted with swimming pool, as well.

To book your favorite accommodation in the city of ceramic, you can look at this list.

Conclusion

Now that you know more about Caltagirone, I hope you’ll enjoy a vacation in this beautiful city. By the way: let me know your opinion as soon as you have returned home.

Photocredits:

Linformazione.eu

Comune.caltagirone.gov.it

Diocesidicaltagirone.it/parrocchia-san-giuliano-cattedrale

Archivio.blogsicilia.it

Wellsicily.it

Marras Viaggi Facebook page

Rino Porrovecchio

6 thoughts on “Caltagirone, the Sicilian Capital of Ceramic

  1. George M Criscione

    A wonderful summary. I will be visiting Caltagirone later this month. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were born there. How can I find any information on relatives ?

    Emmanuele Criscione – my grandfather born 1880 ?
    Maria Vacirca – my grandmother born 1887

    Thanks very much

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thanks a lot George, for appreciating this article and for letting
      me know about your forthcoming travel to Caltagirone.
      As regards your request, you can get information on your relatives
      and forefathers at the demographic or regisry office of the municiple in this town.
      The office is in the heart of the historical center of Caltagirone.
      I hope they will be able to help you. Let me know if it will be so.

  2. Enzuccio Mazzarelli

    This is an beautiful, fantastic and very warm summary of love about sicily. Those articles of different parts of Bronte, Catania and most part of sicily is articulate and informative. This makes our beautiful sicily, Italy live for the other parts of the world.

    I love the Caltagirone monument, cathedral museum and this is absolutely grateness and attracts for tourism aswell.

    I am originally from Calabria and an few of my family are born in Messina, Palermo and Bronte and live there Mt Etna.

    Beautiful articles.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thank you so much, Enzuccio, for your boundless love for this blog and our beloved Sicily and Italy.
      It is very encouraging for me to know that earnest readers like you can appreciate the efforts of human writers.
      Your heartfelt appreciation is worth more than anything else.

  3. Daniel James DiMezza

    Good afternoon Rosalba,

    I enjoyed reading your post on Caltagirone and looking to visit Sicily again. I was there two years ago in Taormina and Syracuse. I am very interested in getting involved in the purchasing and renovation of a place that is on the 1 euro program. Do you know if Caltagirone is on that program. It looks like a wonderful city. Thank you, Best Dan DiMezza

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Daniel,
      Thank you so much for sharing your travel experience in Sicily with me.
      Yes, even Caltagirone joined the Italian program to buy home for 1 euros.
      I know that the buyer must give a deposit of 5,000 euros to the local authorities, to proceed.
      Anyway, just for its beauty, Caltagirone would be expensive to buy home with the tradional method.
      You can try to use the 1 euro opportunity, even with the depot of 5,000 euros, but this detail can change over time.
      Visit this destination first, and after, try to buy home. And thanks again for appreciating my article about this beautiful city.

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