The Baroque villages of south-eastern Sicily rise skywards from the rocky hillsides of this seismically contorted region. The devastation of the 1693 earthquake that destroyed previous settlements was followed by a building frenzy that resulted in these monuments to human ingenuity and perseverance. There’s even a term for this early 18th century architectural style – they call it Sicilian Baroque.
Made famous on our TV screens by the Montalbano Detective Series, Sicilian Baroque style can be found in Modica, Noto, Scicli and of course Ragusa. Each town is centered around an imposing and elevated place of worship, cathedral or church depending on size. The church rises high above the surrounding houses, usually reached by an imposing staircase. The Spanish viceroys knew what they were doing when they built places of worship at the top of the hill. Closer to God and inspiring awe in the worshippers….
San Giorgio (St George) is a very popular local saint here. The cathedrals of both Ragusa and Modica are dedicated to him. A soldier and military hero who famously slayed an evil dragon is an important character to have on your side in any battle. Consequently George was enthusiastically adopted by the Crusaders (private armies of Christian soldiers) travelling east through Europe determined to protect the Holy Land from the ‘eastern menace’ of Turks and Arabs. Sicily was a popular stopping off point for the Crusaders many of whom came from France, Spain and Northern Europe. Officially the Crusaders were representatives of the Pope and their mission was to liberate the Holy Land. In reality the acquisition of territory on the way to the Holy Land, for example the island of Sicily and parts of Southern Italy was a welcome benefit of undertaking such a dangerous journey in the name of the Church of Rome.
The Crusaders and Cross of St George – comically portrayed in this 1907 cartoon (below).
The Feast day of St George is celebrated on 23rd April each year. In Ragusa a huge plaster statue of St George, on horseback is kept in a gleaming glass cabinet. Once a year this equestrian giant is removed from the cabinet and paraded first around the church and then around the piazza outside. The burly men of the town compete to carry this giant creation on their shoulders, to the cheering and clapping of the assembled crowd.
To continue the theme of brave knights and courageous acts I have to mention the Sicilian tradition of the carriage makers who, for generations, have built and decorated wooden carts. These horse or mule drawn carts trundled from village to village delivering and selling all types of goods. Damiano of Cinabro Carrettieri welcomes visitors into his workshop in Ragusa, just around the corner from the cathedral. It’s a treasure trove of timber, paints, old carriages and ‘works in progress’. Damiano explains that villagers would know from the sound of the wheels and the squeak of the carriages who was approaching the village from miles away. The carts were the calling cards of their owners. A few years ago Damiano was approached by fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana to create a ‘Sicilian folklore style’ of decoration on a range of household appliances they were developing, the results were spectacular!
For tailor-made journeys in Sicily contact either www.educated-traveller.com or our sister company www.grand-tourist.com we’ve been delivering amazing experiences in Italy for years. In Sicily there’s thousands of years of civilisation to discover ranging from the Greeks and Phoenicians to the Romans, Normans and Spanish. This cultural diversity has created a unique and colourful blend of architecture and art. As a local guide in Ragusa said to me recently, ….Believe me Janet, nobody passed us by….’
Last year we commissioned a special ‘whimsical’ map of Sicily highlighting the main places of interest that you may like to visit, let’s start planning…….
- Sicily (just a few articles that you might like):
- Sicily – La Sicilia Mediterranean jewel
- Sicily – Time to get started…..
- The Treasures of Sicily
- Palermo, Sicily – discovering the unknown unknown…
- The Sicilian cart restorers and decorators are: https://www.cinabrocarrettieri.it/
15th January, 2022