Noto in Sicily is an international tourist destination, known for both its historical and architectural heritage - in particular baroque architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. Because of the importance of its baroque architecture Noto is a listed UNESCO world heritage site.
Italy This Way comment: Noto is one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily - and one of our favourites to visit - with numerous impressive churches, palazzos and examples of baroque architecture to see and a lively ambiance
Below we talk about the main highlights in the town, but cannot discuss every one of the 20+ churches, the numerous palazzos, the beautiful views, the long staircases between ancient houses, all the shops and cafes, because it would be too much detail but all these elements combine to make Noto so pleasant to visit.
Each year in the middle of May there is a large festival in Noto that includes music and art as well as impressive displays of flowers and is a great time to visit if possible.
The main route through the historical heart of Noto is the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Ths route starts from the so-called Royal Gate (“Porta Reale”), a monumental entrance to the town in the shape of a triumphal arch and erected in the 19th century. On both sides of the gate there is a tower and a tree-lined street.
The gate is by Horace Angelici and in the neoclassical style: there are two pilasters with Corinthian capitals, and it is topped by three symbolic sculptures. To the left there is a crenellated tower (a symbol of the strength of the city across the centuries); with the greyhound on the right representing loyalty and a pelican representing selflessness, generosity and fertility.
In the Piazza Immacolata you can see the Church of San Francesco all’Immaculata by Vincenzo Sinatra (1720-1785), with a dramatic staircase that opens up onto a terrace. Inside the church there are a number of works from the Franciscan church of ancient Noto, including a "Virgin and Child", painted on wood and attributed to Antonio Monachello (16th century).
To the left of the church stands the Monastery of SS. Salvatore with a curved façade and wrought iron grilles on the windows that characterize the Convent of St. Clare - a work by Filippo Gagliardi (died 1659).
Town Hall Square
A short distance to the west you reach the Piazza Municipio (the Town Hall Square). In this square - the main square in Noto - you can see the imposing building of the Palazzo Ducezio, (now the town hall for Noto), with arcades at ground level, as well as the Cathedral, at the top of a broad flight of stairs.
The facade of Noto cathedral contains a mixture of baroque and classical elements. To the bottom there are eight columns with Corinthian capitals and niches, in the middle is a valuable door in bronze by G. F. Pirrone (1898-1978), depicting the life of St. Conrad, and at the top you can see two towers; the bell tower and clock tower. See Noto cathedral.
To the sides of Noto cathedral are the 19th century Bishop's Palace and the Landolina Sant'Alfano Palace, in a less flamboyant Baroque style. The eastern side of the square is crowned with the façade of the Basilica of SS.Salvatore.
This whole square is quite remarkable, with many of the key monuments in Noto on all sides of the large square which is overlooked by the cathedral with its imposing dome. On one corner of the square, the Church of San Carlo has a tower that you can ascend that has perhaps the best views across the cathedral and the centre of Noto - a visit doesn't take long but is very worthwhile.
Take a diversion to Via Nicolaci to see the Church of Montevergini, with a concave façade framed between two towers, also designed by Sinatra. Both sides of the street are lined with remarkable Baroque palaces, among which Palazzo Nicolaci stands out because of its balconies and decorations in the form of cherubs, horses, lions and grotesque figures.
Returning to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele you reach the imposing Church of the the Jesuit and the College attributed to Gagliardi, with the central portal surrounded by four columns.
Piazza XVI Maggio
Continuing through central Noto, in Piazza XVI Maggio you can see the façade of the Church of San Domenico, a work by Gagliardi which is defined by strong lines and a convex structure. The interior is covered with stuccos and polychrome marble altars.
Just in front of the church there is the small Villa of Hercules [ Villetta d’Ercole] with an 18th century fountain, and you can also see the 19th century Teatro Vittorio Emanuele III. Following from here along Via Ruggero VII you reach the Chiesa del Carmine, which is characterized by its concave façade and a baroque style portal.
The road parallel to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele , called Via Cavour, is also lined with interesting buildings including the Palazzo Astuto with its balconies with curved railings and the Palazzo Trigona Cannicarao.
Finally, in Sallicano Street there is the Church of SS. Crucifix, designed by Gagliardi. Inside this church you can see the "Madonna of the Snow", by Francesco Laurana (1430-1502).
Noto Antica - the ancient town of Noto before it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 - is a few kilometres from modern Noto. The ancient city was built on a spur of a rock and the mighty fortifications surrounding the city are still visible here.
You can start from the Mountain Gate [Porta della Montagna]. In the walls you can also see remains of the ancient vents and windows and next to the fortifications at Mountain Gate are the remains of some areas that were probably used as warehouses.
If you want to relax in the sunshine head to Cassibile which has a great beach nearby and also some excellent river pools in the Cavagrande nature reserve. To the north Syracuse is popular both for its beautiful Baroque old town and for the many Roman monuments in the town, and is also one of the most lovely towns in Sicily.
Noto is one of the eight Baroque towns classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Sight as the late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto. The others are; Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli.
See also Noto history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.