The Val di Noto is a region in south-eastern Sicily that was hit by a catastrophic earthquake in January 1693. The earthquake killed almost 100 000 people, and the towns in the valley were also substantially damaged by the earthquake, and needed extensive rebuilding in the following decades.
This disaster might easily have passed into history, with the loss of several important medieval buildings, castles and churches being a footnote to the human tragedy.
As it turned out the rebuilding was to be a particularly noteworthy event, itself of historical interest.
The 'popular' architectural style at the time was baroque, and the rebuilt towns are now recognised worldwide as the finest group of baroque towns in the world. Their importance has been officially recognised with a UNESCO listing as a world heritage site.
Everything needed rebuilding, both religious and civic structures, so there are numerous churches, cathedrals and palaces in the region that represent this 'Sicilian baroque' style. Although several architects were involved, they had all received similar training, typically in Rome, and shared broadly the same architectural principles. Hence there is a definite sense of unity to the towns across the Val di Noto region, albeit with some regional variations.
If you get the chance to visit Sicily be sure to visit the towns of the Val di Noto UNESCO listing as they really are beautiful. The Baroque style of architecture is a wonderful phase of our history and these towns are very elegant. Noto is a particularly fine example.
The area is still delightfully old-fashioned however it is being discovered by ever increasing numbers of tourists, partly due to the Italian hit tv series 'Inspector Montalbano' which is filmed in this area.
Modica and Noto
Towns included on the UNESCO 'Val di Noto' listing
Noto itself was rebuilt on a new site, and the town of Mitello was largely abandoned after the earthquake, while most of the other towns were rebuilt in more or else the same location - including Catania, one of the most severely damaged towns.