I had an enchanting day wandering around Noto, a pretty town in southeastern Sicily which was rebuilt in baroque style after the area’s devastating earthquake in 1693. We parked on the outskirts of town, and when we strolled in I remember passing luscious lemon trees, olive groves, small vineyards and villa gardens with overflowing wisteria. Along the roads into the centre farmers had set up stalls in the backs of their vans, selling ripe cherry tomatoes and other vegetables. I got a sense that the people of the town were very closely connected to the land around it and all it had to offer.
On Noto’s main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, we peeked inside several of the beautiful baroque and neoclassical churches. The one I liked the most was the Basilica of San Salvatore, next to the cathedral.
When I walked into this 18th-19th century basilica, the first thing I noticed was the intricate decoration of the walls and roof. The colour scheme was pink, blue and gold, embellished with patterns and grotesque-style paintings. I later discovered that the pink colour represents femininity, a nod to the Benedictine nuns who lived in a cloistered convent next to the basilica. The symbol above the altar is written in illegible characters and means “God”.
A visit to San Salvatore is particularly interesting if you can combine it with a tour of the former cloistered convent. This begins on the first floor at the back of the church, in the area from where the abbess of the convent would watch Masses and sing. Whenever she and the other nuns looked out on the world, they saw it through a “gelosia” or “jalousie”, a blind that separates them from it.
On the other side of this floor the abbess could also look out on the town, again shielded by a jalousie to remind her that she had given up the temptations of the outside world.
Next we walked along outdoor passages, past some archways with bells, from where we had good views of the adjacent church of Santa Chiara and its former convent.
While we were exploring the convent, I thought about the nuns who used to live here. Our helpful guide told us that noble families of Noto would often send their daughters here. This was partly to ensure comforts suitable for nobility, but also to avoid any future inheritance disagreements with the oldest son of the families. I thought about these women, and wondered how many were happy with their situation, and how many were keen to escape cloistered life. I’m sure the bars on all the windows could have easily magnified a sense of being imprisoned!
On the way up to the top of the monastery complex, we passed a pretty little shrine and prayer room, which was decorated with ceramic tiles typical of the central Sicilian town of Caltagirone.
We then enjoyed stunning views of Noto from the bell tower– another great reason to take this tour.
After seeing the convent and the basilica of San Salvatore, we headed to try some of the delicious local food. We stumbled upon Trattoria Ducezio, where we had a lovely mixed Sicilian starter and I had a ravioli dish with interesting pistachio sauce. Hope you also have a fab time in Noto darlings!