in the province of Catania, is a city of some 39,000 inhabitants.
via Roma, the city thoroughfare, bisects the town into two units,
running up to the well-known stairway of S. Maria del Monte. It
is lined with some of the city’s most interesting buildings,
many with majolica decorations. Near its start, on the left, begins
the elegant balustraded enclosure of the Villa Comunale (public
garden) and the Teatrino (housing the Ceramics Museum).
Comunale – It is a beautiful garden designed by the architect
Basile at the half of the 19th century modelled on the English gardens.
The edge with via Roma is marked by an ornamented balustrade topped
with vases with disturbingly devilish faces alternated with bright
green pine-cones and majolica light stands. The garden is threaded
by a series of shaded pathways which open out into secluded spaces
ornamented by ceramic sculptures, figures and fountains. The most
impressive open area is graced with a delightful bandstand decorated
with Moorish-looking elements and glazed panels of majolica.
della Ceramica – Housed within the Teatrino, a 1700’s
building decorated with majolica, the Ceramics Museum traces the
history of the local ceramic industry from the Prehistory to the
early 1900’s. The diffusion and importance of moulded clay
is exemplified by an elegant Krater of the 5th century BC bearing
a potter working at his wheel being watched by a young apprentice.
The 17th century is notably represented, with albarello drug jars
painted in shades of yellow, blue and green, amphorae and vases
with medallions depicting religious or profane subjects.
along via Roma, on the right hand side, is the splendid balcony
of Casa Ventimiglia, named after the local artist responsible for
its maiolica decoration, supported on richly decorated brackets
bearing masks and gargoyles. Past the Tondo Vecchio, a curved stone
and brick building, sits (on the right) the imposing façade
of the church of S. Francesco d’Assisi and, beyond it, the
majolica bridge, also named after St. Francis, which carries the
road into the very heart of the town.
the little church of Sant’Agata, the seat of the ceramicists’
confraternity, stands an austere prison built under the Bourbon
Borbonico – The Bourbon Prison is an imposing square sandstone
building recently restored. It was built at the end of the 1700’s
by Sicilian architect Natale Bonajuto and used as a prison for about
a century. It now houses a small city museum that allows access
to its ponderous interior.
Civico – The Town Museum hosts, on the second floor, a permanent
exhibition of contemporary majolica works. One room harbours the
gilt wood and silver litter of San Giacomo that continued to be
used in processions on 25 July until 1966. Note the caryatids’
delicate facial features. The third room is dedicated to the Vaccaros,
two generations of painters active during the 19th century. Mario
Vaccaro’s Little Girl Praying is especially evocative. The
first floor accomodates an art-gallery displaying works by Sicilian
Umberto I - The most prominent building facing onto the square is
the Duomo di San Giuliano, a great Baroque edifice that has been
extensively refurbished over the years, notably the replacement
of its whole front in the early 1900’s. This comes into view
from the steps below Santa Maria del Monte, at the foot of which,
on the left, stands the Palazzo Senatorio with the courtyard Corte
Capitaniale, a fine specimen of early civic building by one of the
Gaginis in 1601. To the right, a stairway leads up to the Chiesa
del Gesù, containing the precious Deposition by Filippo Paladini
(third chapel on the left). Behind the building rise the church
of S. Chiara, with its elegant façade attributed to Rosario
Gagliardi (18th century), and, beyond this, the early 1900’s
Officina Elettrica whose façade was designed by Ernesto Basile.
to Piazza Umberto I.
di S. Maria del Monte - This long flight of steps connects the old
(at the top) city, the seat of the religious authority, and the
new one, where most public offices are located. On either side of
this axis lie the two old quarters of San Giorgio and San Giacomo,
characterized by narrow streets and concealing fine, mostly religious,
buildings. The 142 stair treads are complemented by highly decorative
multi-colored maiolica tile uprights bearing various combinations
of geometric and organic designs inspired by the animal kingdom,
echoing moorish, norman, spanish, baroque or some other more contemporary
influence. Once a year the stairway is brought to life by a multitude
of flickering little colored candles which pick out a kalediscope
of ever changing patterns: swirls, volutes, plant tendrils, female
figures and the recurring emblem of the town, an eagle emblazoned
with a crossed shield. This fabulous spectacle – when thousands
of little candles wrapped in red, yellow or green paper are placed
on the steps and lit – takes place on the nights of San Giacomo,
24 and 25 July. At the top of the stairway, sits the Mother Church
of Santa Maria del Monte, the former headquarter of the religious
authority. Its high altar is graced with a 1200’s painting
on panel of the Madonna di Conadimini.
Giorgio and San Giacomo quarters – At the foot of the stairway
begins, to right, via Luigi Sturzo, lined with some beautiful buildings,
among which are the Palazzo della Magnolia (no. 74) ornamented with
an opulent terracotta decoration by Enrico Vella. Just beyond it
are the 1800’s churches of S. Domenico and SS. Salvatore,
the latter containing the mausoleum of politician Don Luigi Sturzo
and a Virgin with the Child by Antonello Gagini. At the end of the
street stands the church of San Giorgio dating from between the
11th and 13th centuries. It conserves the panel painting of the
Mystery of the Trinity, attributed to the Flemish artist Roger van
the left side of the stairway, begins via Vittorio Emanuele, leading
to the Basilica of S. Giacomo, the patron saint of Caltagirone,
preserving a silver casket by Gagini, containing the relics of the
THE EDGE OF TOWN
stroll through the typical back streets of the old quarters on the
periphery of town will reveal various unexpected surprises, like
the neo-Gothic façade of the church of San Pietro (in the
district of the same name), complete with majolica decoration.
dei Cappuccini – Located on the Eastern edge of the city,
the church contains a lovely altarpiece by Filippo Paladino, portraying
the Virgin Hodegetria being carried on the shoulders of Basilian
monks. On the left side of the nave, is a Deposition by Fra’
Semplice da Verona. Next to the church stands an art-gallery displaying
paintings ranging in date from the 16th century to the present day.
From here, there is access to a crypt where is an unusual crib re-enacting
different scenes from the life of Christ; one after the other, the
tableaux are illuminated and provided with a short commentary.
city of ceramics – The reason behind it all rests in the inexhaustible
deposits of clay occurring in the area. The ease with which this
raw material can be extracted has underpinned the success of the
terracotta potteries, in manufacturing tableware especially, for
distribution throughout the region. Local shapes gave way to Greek
influences (as trade increased). This soon became one of the town’s
main activities. The production improved becoming more efficient
and more precise and the wheel was introduced (by the Cretans in
about 1000 BC). The critical turning point, however, was the arrival
of the Arabians in the 9th century, for, with them, practices were
changed irrevocably. They introduced Eastern designs and also glazing
techniques that rendered objects impermeable to water. The art became
more sophisticated as exquisite geometric patterning and stylised
decoration were modelled on plants and animals. Blue, green and
yellow were the predominant colours. The Arabian contribution to
the city culture is honored in the name of the town, that according
to the most intriguing hypothesis, might be derived from the Moorish
for “castle” or “fortress of vases”.
and demands remarkably changed under the Spanish. The painted decoration
was predominantly monochrome (blue or brown) and comprised organic
designs or coat of arms of some noble family or religious order.
The city entered a period of prosperity thanks to the new industries
in the area. The honey production became particularly important,
and honey-makers soon became the potters’ most assiduous customers.
The “quartaro” (deriving from “quartara”,
an amphorae with a capacity of 1,25 litres), a new figure of ceramics
artisan, appeared, supplementing the old “cannataro”
(deriving from the word “cannata” meaning jug). Organizing
themselves into confraternities, they opened their workshops in
a large area south of the town, within the city walls.
ceramic tables and kitchenware, Caltagirone established itself for
the making of tiles and ornamental plaques for domes and floors,
church and palazzi façades. Among the greatest artists between
the 16th and the 18th century were the Gagini brothers and Natale
Bonajuti. In the 17th century decorative medallions filled with
figurative vignettes of effigies of saints (typical in products
from all over Sicily) became popular; a century later, moulded relief
was applied to vases with elaborate volutes and polychrome decoration.
19th century saw a period of decline, arrested only in part by the
production of figurines, often used in Nativity cribs. In the second
half of the century, this form of art reached new heights of excellence
in the hands of such masters as Dongiovanni and Vaccaro.
visitors of Caltagirone cannot fail to notice the outward signs
of a thriving industry now synonymous with the name of the place:
brightly painted ceramics not only fill shop windows with a profusion
of vases, plates and other household goods, they also decorate bridges,
balustrades, frontages and balconies. This bears witness to an art
which, here, is as old as the origins of the town itself.
earthenware is offered for sale by endless numbers of shops in the
town centre and on either side of the Scala di Santa Maria del Monte.
For an overview of what is produced locally, seek out the Mostra
Mercato on Via Vittorio Emanuele, displaying representative examples
of work by some of the town’s craftsmen.
the steps leading up the Scala of Santa Maria del Monte, on the
right, is the La Scala restaurant. This occupies a fine 18th century
building which has rooms on the ground floor where spring water
still flows, the equivalent of running water at the time when it
The Holy Places
The Reserves and Parks
Guide of Sicily
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