As I mentioned in my prior blog, we booked a tour to Mt. Etna, and Noto, a southern baroque town which included stops at Villa Romana del Tellaro and Marzamemi. The touring company that would be transporting us to these destinations was “SAT Sicilian Airbus Travel Group, Corso Umberto, 73, tel. 0039-0942 24653; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To take the tours, we had to take a 10 minute plus walk from our hotel. We would strut east on Corso Umberto until we were close to the archway, Porto Catania and then we would head south on Via Pirandello to find the bus station on the right. Typically, there would be several people from different hotels already waiting for the SAT bus. The tour host spoke several languages to where he could provide instructions and information in the language based on the needs of his passengers.
The following is how SAT (Sicilian Airbus Travel Group) marketed their tours:
Noto-Tellaro-Marzamemi Tour (Cost is 45 euros pp)..Pick up at 8:15 am.
“In a single day, the possibility to visit the Capital of the “Baroque,” a UNESCO heritage since 2002, to admire the mosaics of an ancient Roman villa and to discover the life of a fishing village. Departure by bus with Tour Leader on board. Arrival at Noto and a visit on foot of the Baroque historical center with its suggestive cathedral splendidly restored. Continue towards the archaeological site of the House of Tellaro to visit the wonderful mosaics of the IV century AD. Continue to Marzamemi, a typical fishing village and free time for swimming and for shopping.”
The day that we toured Noto was the first Sunday of their annual Mid May festival, “Infiorata flower festiva.” This is a huge event when some streets are covered in flower artistic designs. Simultaneously, there was an extensive flea market in progress. Consequently, the traffic was so heavy that it took us an extra couple hours to gain entry and Noto was thronged with wall to wall peoples. We had to fight the crowds, use back streets, and cut through buildings to see anything.
This is Lonely Planet’s headline description of Noto:
“Noto is an architectural supermodel, a baroque belle so gorgeous you might mistake it for a film set. Located less than 40km southwest of Syracuse, the town is home to one of Sicily’s most beautiful historic centres. The pièce de résistance is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, an elegant walkway flanked by thrilling baroque palazzi and churches. Dashing at any time of the day, it’s especially hypnotic in the early evening when the red-gold buildings seem to glow with a soft inner light.”
” Although a town called Noto or Netum has existed here for many centuries, the Noto that you see today dates to the early 18th century, when it was almost rebuilt in the wake of the devastating 1693 earthquake. Author of many of the finest buildings was Rosario Gagiliardi, a local architect whose extroverted style also graces churches in Modica and Ragusa.”
Noto is the capital of the Baroque region, located in the southeast of Sicily. Other nearby Baroque towns include Ortigia, Modica and Ragusa. While Noto is on relatively horizontal (flat) topography, Ragusa spirals up a hill into the sky. In 1693, all 4 communities incurred widespread destruction by an earthquake. Those in power at the time decided to rebuild these towns in the Baroque style. Modica has been the high end chocolate capital of this region since the 1500s. In 413 BC, Cicero called the area of Siracusa/ Ortigia, “the greatest Greek city” and the most stunningly beautiful of them all.
Wikipedia describes Baroque architecture as the building style of the Baroque era. This era “begun in late 16th-century Italy, that took the Roman vocabulary of Renaissance architecture and used it in a new rhetorical and theatrical fashion, often to express triumph of the Catholic Church and the absolutist state. It was characterized by new explorations of form, light and shadow, and dramatic intensity.”
A June/July 2016 Conde Nast article by Pilar Guzman indicates, “that within 5 to 12 miles of central Noto are some of the most secluded sandy beaches not just in Sicily but in all of Italy.”
House of Tellaro (Roman villa dating from the late Roman Empire on Sicily)
The Villa Romana del Tellaro is a large building of dating back to the 4th century A.D., decorated with artistic refined floor mosaics. There are meters of wall and floor surfaces covered by mosaics, This villa cannot compete with some of the better known villas which are larger with more mosaics, but the artistic quality of the mosaics is definetely comparable. This stop is for anyone who likes seeing things off the beaten path.
According to information provided at the site, “The mosaics include the “Hunting Mosaic” with figures of hunters and wild African animals, surrounded by a colourful frieze with geometric patterns and animals. Then there are a geometric mosaic carpet with intersecting garlands of laurel, the redemption of Hector’s body, and a frame consisting of squares with bacchic scenes and four imaginative vases overflowing with fruit.”
Marzamemi (Fishing Village)
The following information is from the “HL Happy Languages” blog. “Situated in the deep south-east of Sicily, Marzamemi is one of the prettiest seaside fishing villages of this area, which until today has been keeping its original colours and shapes. Its ancient “Tonnara” (tuna processing plant), which was one of the most important in the island, is still today one of the most fascinating place and it’s here where tourists can buy and taste the flavour of its products.”
“It was the Arabs of the 10th century who gave Marzamemi its poetic name, whose original was Marsà al-hamam (translating as something like Turtle Dove Bay), and also built the original Tonnara. Although the Tonnara (tuna plant) itself is no longer in function, Marzamemi continues its artisanal fishing and processing activities, producing all manner of delicacies, including canned tuna, dried tuna roe (bottarga), smoked swordfish, marinated anchovies, seafood pasta condiments, tuna salamis and much more!”
“The old centre of the village is situated in a little promontory and built around the picturesque Piazza Regina Margherita; on the south side you can find the little fishing harbour with its bobbing fleet of colourful wooden boats, on the others a series of charming buildings, including the Church of San Francesco di Paola, the tonnara, the prince’s aristocratic palazzo and a row of fishermen’s houses.”