Guide to Caltagirone
Home to the best ceramic artists in Sicily (from pre-historic times to today), Catlagirone is a definite must for anyone interested in ceramics. The many architectural beauties of the city just serve to complete a very compelling picture.
Caltagirone, in the province of Catania, is situated on the junction between the Erei and Iblei mountains at 611 metres above sea level. Over the years the town has expanded and it is currently the largest city in the province after Catania, with a population of about 39,000 inhabitants.
Its ancient origins go back to the Sikels and the Sicanians and the prehistoric necropolis of Rocca, Montagna, Salvatorello, Pille and also the Greek-Sikel dwellings of S. Mauro, Piano Casazze and others are living memories of this past. The Roman, Byzantine and Arab dominations followed and the latter gave the city its original name Cal'at Ghiran (Castle of the Vases). The town was temporarily liberated by Arab rule in 1030 by the Genovese who erected a church to their patron saint, S. Giorgio (St. George), on the eastern hill of the town. Once again under the Arabs, Caltagirone was then finally conquered by the Normans in 1090, the day in which the Catholic Church celebrated the martyrdom of Saint James the Greater, who is now the patron saint of the town. After the succession of dominators and resistance movements against them, under Spanish rule Caltagirone obtained special concessions and privileges given its strategic position. In 1458 Giovanni of Castile was crowned king of Sicily in the castle which was on the highest hill of the town.
Already in 1542, an earthquake destroyed a large part of the city, but it was the earthquake of 11th January 1693 that produced most severe damage destroying many buildings, churches and other works of art. In true late Baroque spirit the reconstruction pointed at a theatrical planning and magnificent buildings enriched by the local characteristic ceramic tiles and decorations.
A visit of Caltagirone can begin from S. Maria del Monte at the top of the famous majolica decorated stairway; going down the 142 steps one can occasionally stop at local craftsmen's workshops to buy potteries and tiles. At the bottom of the stairway are the Church of S. Giacomo, Patron of the town, and the Church of S. Giuseppe.
Continuing the walk down hill one reaches Piazza Municipio and Piazza Umberto I, with the Duomo of San Giuliano. Going further down the Via Roma, which runs down from S. Maria del Monte and cut across the city centre, one can admire some of the city's most interesting buildings, many of which have majolica decorations. A splendid example is Casa Ventimiglia, with its wonderful balconies supported by richly decorated brackets bearing masks and gargoyles.