A baroque stage set of a town near Siracusa in Sicily

Why Noto?
  • Tour a fully-planned baroque city
  • See firsthand how a city rebuilds

Noto is the single best example of baroque urban planning in existence, currently on the road to recovery after years of decay that culminated in the 1996 collapse of the cathedral dome.

The original Noto was so utterly destroyed in Sicily's 1693 earthquake that the Duke decided to bag the whole thing and had the city rebuilt from scratch about six miles away, engaging architects Rosario Gagliardi, Vicenzo Sinatra, and Paolo Labisi for the monumental job.

This planned urban landscape—completed between 1715 and 1780—is a festival of orderly baroque exuberance, with churches, palazzi, and open spaces carefully laid out with 18th-century theatrical flair.

After years of general decay, weathering of the golden tufa building stone, and earthquakes that damaged the fabric of Noto's baroque palazzi and churches, a 1986 engineering report that declared the entire city was in danger of collapsing. Money poured in from UNESCO and other international bodies to help repair the ailing structures...and most of it disappeared into corrupt politico's pockets.

"Noto is as dream of what Noto once was... A city on the cusp between death and rebirth"

—Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, from The Islands of Italy (1991)
But when the dome and roof of the cathedral itself collapsed in 1996, the populace decided they'd put up with political graft and the mafia long enough.

By the summer of 1998, most of the churches and palaces were swathed in scaffolding and being cleaned, restored, and reinforced.

By 2006, much of the city had begun emerged from its restorative cocoon—but the cathedral remains closed, its dome cracked open to the skies, and the work goes on...

Tips & links


Noto tourist office:
Piazzale XVI Maggio/Corso V. Emanuele
tel. +39-0931-896-654

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Noto is in the southeast corner of Sicily, 38km (24 miles) south of Siracusa and 50km (31 miles) east of Ragusa. The best way to get to Noto is by train. » more

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Noto tourist office:
Piazzale XVI Maggio/Corso V. Emanuele
tel. +39-0931-896-654

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