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The world knows and loves Caltagirone. This is the “city of ceramics” and not just for tourist purposes. In Caltagirone, ceramics making is a very old handicraft, known long time before the Greek era. Thanks to the clay soil of the hills all around, there has always been a large production of ceramic vases, tiles, home objects. All hand painted too. Discovering Caltagirone means to find out about a lovely place, great art, nature and of course good food. Come with us on this unique trip.

Caltagirone and its history

The region of Caltagirone has always been populated, also because of its geographical position. It overlooks two wide plains, Piana di Catania and Piana di Gela. The clay hills all around made it easy to create ceramics and pottery, both useful and beautiful to see. Clay work and ceramics making had been local activities since prehistory ages.

Greeks and Romans then understood the commercial power of this handicraft. But it was thanks to the Arabs – and their new methods of clay work and firing  – that Caltagirone’s ceramics became the artistic business we know today. Then, during the Norman and Swabian times which were characterized by a specific Ligurian settlement from Genoa, local ceramics became international.

From 15th to 18th centuries Caltagirone was  a reference town as for culture, art and trade. It was so rich that they could rebuild it quickly, after the earthquake of 1693. After a long period of up-and-downs, the ceramics of Caltagirone returned to glory days in the 1980s, by mixing with the new tourist industry of the district.

Caltagirone today

lovely alleys with ceramics decoration

Today Caltagirone is a city that still lives on ceramics and tourism, but also on agriculture. In the city there are many historical monuments to admire, all in some way linked to ceramics. It in fact appears everywhere, in every corner of the historic center. If the cathedral of San Giuliano today shows a “modern” face after the reconstruction of the 19th century, just move a few meters away. You will find the baroque masterpiece of the church of San Francesco di Assisi, or the church of San Domenico.

A noteworthy monument is also the famous staircase that leads to Santa Maria del Monte church: one hundred and forty-two steps decorated in ceramic that rise up the hill for a total length of 130 meters. The church itself is a work of art to be admired. Do not miss the Palazzo Magnolia, an elegant example of the city’s Art Nuveau style, or a coffee break in one of the cafes of the Don Sturzo Gallery.

Definitely worth visiting is the Villa Vittorio Emanuele (the public park) and the archaeological sites that are located all around the city: Castello dei Geni, Sant’Ippolito, Monte San Mauro, the Necropolis of the Mountain. Caltagirone also has two protected nature reserves: Bosco San Pietro Oriented Reserve and Monte San Giorgio Reserve.

Caltagirone’s specialties

Ceramics, of course, is the first artistic specialty of the place. Recognizable until a few years ago due to the standard designs, and especially the colours (white, blue, orange, gold), lately it has been evolving with interesting experiments. New colours, even monochromatic ideas, new shapes of vases are renewing art to adapt it to new modern tastes. At the Museum of Ceramics you can see all the best of this ancient and modern production.

The gastronomy, in particular linked to sweets, is special, here. The cudduredda, donut-shaped pastry cakes filled with almonds, were born here. Just as the cubbattari, traditional Arabic nougat sticks, suspirias and the famous local ricotta cannoli are typical of the place. Also try the muffuletti, soft wheat sandwiches dressed with fennel seeds.

The alleys of the historic center of Caltagirone are peculiarities to admire. Firstly, because they are romantic and often have surprises – ceramic decorations in the most unthinkable places. They  resemble, and not by chance, the alleys of Genoa . In fact they are also called “carruggi”, deriving the name from the language brought here by Ligurian settlers in the early Middle Ages.

Useful information

Caltagirone can be easily reached by car, along the SS 417 Catania-Gela. The reference airport is therefore Fontanarossa di Catania. For those who love the train and are not in a hurry, on the Catania-Gela railway line there is the brand new Caltagirone station. It will welcome you with a modern structure and a monumental fountain at the exit. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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