By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo
Noto is blooming. Noto is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the capital of Sicilian baroque architecture. Colonized in 263 BC by the Romans with a peace treaty, it was under the rule of Gerone II during his reign. Over the centuries it fell under the rule of the Romans, Arabs, Normans and Aragonese. In 1693 the city was completely destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake, which killed more than a thousand people. A collective decision was made to rebuild the city five miles farther down the Val di Noto or in English, Noto Valley.
The city center is an extraordinary display of marvelous palaces decorated with flowery and lavish details, sinuous wrought-iron balconies and opulent churches. With its perfect urban organization and luxurious buildings, the city showcases fascinating evidence of the most important and famous features of Sicilian baroque. It comes as no surprise to know that one of the most interesting and appealing events in southern Sicily takes in Noto in the historical center of this Baroque treasure in the province of Syracuse.
For visitors to the area near Noto in mid-May, there is one milestone that must not be missed. The Infiorata di Noto is one of the most colorful festivals anywhere in the world. The story of the Infiorata di Noto originated in the late Roman period in the town of Genzano and has been celebrated in the town of Noto for over 39 years. It takes place every year over the third weekend of May. This year’s event takes place from May 17-19.
For 2½ days, Via Nicolaci, which takes its name from the famous Palazzo Nicolaci, is one of many enchanting streets which is taken over by local and foreign florists who work together on a set theme to create a kaleidoscopic carpet of petal mosaics using flowers grown especially for the event. This year’s theme is I Siciliani in America, Sicilians in America.
The florists set up shop and begin work on their allotted pieces of pavement on Friday and their exhibition is open to all comers on Saturday and Sunday. These teams of young artists use millions of flower petals to adorn the streets with elaborate multicolored designs. This Baroque representation dates to the 1600s and was created in Rome to celebrate Corpus Christi.
Since 1980 via Nicolaci has been one of the most elegant streets of the city’s center and is the site of the Infiorata’s 400-foot-long “Greeting to Spring.”
This event centerpiece is a magnificent creation of pictures, images and ornaments. The floral carpet is a cascade of thousands of flowers, expertly arranged, making the vision of the baroque city full of scents and colors.
The Infiorata is one of the best events on the island of Sicily. In the streets a series of noble palaces such as Modica Palace and Giunta Palace create a striking background for the floral displays. But it is the actual city of Noto that brings all these things together that creates an architectonic stage.
A variety of other activities, including parades and sideshows, add to the general carnival atmosphere and the delightful, ingenious Baroque palazzi and churches of Noto provide a perfect backdrop.
Monday morning is a day for the town’s children, who are let loose to run through the temporary artworks in a symbolic display of destruction and renewal.
Part celebration of spring and part homage to Noto’s virtuosic artistic heritage, the festival provides an excellent excuse for a mid-May getaway visit to this historical and architectural gem. IAH