It is one of the most important artistic styles in the world and represents a big part of Italy’s artistic-historical identity. Swide examines Sicilian Baroque (Barocco Siciliano) bit by bit inspiring you with travel getaways. The second in the series discovers the cities rebuilt after the 1963 earthquake...
After the terrible earthquake of 1693 that damaged 54 cities and 300 villages and left Noto completely destroyed (the epicenter being Val di Noto) and Catania severely damaged among the many, the entire history of XVII Century Sicilian architecture is erased. More than 100,000 people died.
Because a big part of Sicily had to be reconstructed, the Baroque became the “modern” style to use. This style, rich in detail and lush in its architecture, expressing joy and wealth to contrast the recent tragic events, was greatly encouraged by the Church that together with Spain's Reign was the one in control of the country. The aristocracy, in fact, was strictly linked to the Church because unwilling to share their patrimony with other families. Noble families then used to send their sons to convents or monasteries so not to have to marry them, “encouraging” the Church with money to welcome them into the Orders. Thanks to all this money the Church built many churches, monasteries and convents. Among them, San Martino delle Scale in Palermo.
San Martino delle Scale in Palermo
The Baroque became then not only a style but a status symbol to which noble looked up to and wanted to be part of. Having different palaces around Sicily to show their wealth, they chose this style for them, legitimizing it as “for rich only” thorough Sicily and making it peak from the second half of the XVIII Century (1750). During this time, for example, the autumn getaway villas were often built in Bagheria.
The Duca di Camastra, nominated viceroy (governor) by Spanish rulers to please the local aristocracy, took care of the constructions together with military engineer Carlos de Grunembergh. In these new cities the nobles moved to the elevated areas that offered nicer views and fresher air. Churches were located in the middle of the cities squares, now bigger and “opened”. One example of this is the Duomo Square in Siracusa that features Baroque buildings.
Duomo Square in Siracusa
In this period local architects became much more sophisticated in their style as they had a much better understanding of how Barocco had to be. One challenge they had often to cope with was to be able to integrate the Baroque style with what was left after the earthquake, respecting the already existent structure. One example of this is the Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio in Modica, where you can see the “heavy” style, forced by earlier conditions.
Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio in Modica
Rosario Gagliardi, who took care of its façade, picked the same style for the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Ispica, unique among the ones in the province of Ragusa.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Ispica
It has to be said also that between 1718 and 1734 Sicily was controlled by Carlo VI from Vienna, which influenced the architecture too with an Austrian touch. The Sicilian architect Tommaso Napoli visited Vienna two times and once back he built Villa Palagonia (from 1705), in Bagheria, a complex beautiful villa that features a doubled stairs that changed directions, a structure that became the prototypes in Barocco Siciliano.
Villa Palagonia in Bagheria
Written by Elisa della Barba