Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Caltagirone: A Town of Beautiful Ceramics

Sure, I love gold and diamonds – most girls do, but honestly the sight of Italian ceramics also sets my heart a-flutter. Everywhere in Italy, you will find opportunities to buy gorgeous handmade ceramics. There are even entire towns whose main business is - Ceramics! One of the BEST is Caltagirone in Sicily.

(Photo Credit: Swide)

The baroque town of Caltagirone is located 43 miles southwest of the city of Catania and its notoriety for pottery production predates history. Its name, in fact, reflects this as it is derived from the Arabic "qal'at-al-jarar" or "Castle of (pottery) jars." If, like me, you love Italian ceramics, this is a town not to miss on your trip to Sicily.

Step into historic Caltagirone and ceramics are visible all around you – in the architecture, on the balustrades, decorating buildings and vases. The most famous landmark of all is the 142-step "Scalinata del Santa Maria del Monte" - Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in the early 17th century. The staircase climbs from Piazza Municipio to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte at the top of the town.

(Photo Credit: Swide)

Each step of the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is decorated with different hand-decorated ceramic tiles created in different styles by different artists and added in 1956. We’re talking thousands of beautiful handmade tiles! They alternate between a row of tiles with floral or organic patterns, a row of geometric patterns and a row of figurative decorative patterns. Start at the bottom and take your time on the climb up for two reasons. One, checking out each step’s artwork is fun and, 2) the climb up is exhausting, so no need to hurry!

Fear not, there are opportunities to rest along the way because as you walk up the many steps, you will pass some of the town’s 150+ ceramic shops at each side of the stairway. Some ceramic artists even take custom orders. Stop in – browse – and buy. You’ll find colorful and unique plates, vases, pots and more. But remember, your purchases must by carried the rest of the way up the stairs.

While in Caltagirone, you may choose to visit the local ceramics museum or watch ceramic work in production. Locals and artists are eager to share information about their art.

If you're fortunate enough to be in Caltagirone from the 8th of May to June 2nd, you'll enjoy "La Scala Infiorata," - the Flower Festival. The festival is a tribute to Our Lady of Conadomini. Locals decorate the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte with thousands of potted plants arranged in beautiful designs that stretch from top to bottom of the staircase.

If you happen to be in Caltagirone on July 24/25 or August 14/15, you’re in for a special treat - "La Scala Illuminata," - the Luminaria Festival. This is the annual "Festa di San Giacomo" – Feast of St. James. Thousands of candles create a breathtaking design of lights from top to bottom on the stairs.

 "The Taking of the Bell of Altavilla" ceramic mural in the square of Santa Maria del Monte

On your visit, plan to spend the good part of a day in Caltagirone. Ceramics? I can almost guarantee you won’t leave Caltagirone empty handed. Warning! Learn from our experience. If you get carried away with ceramic purchases, shipping cost will truly make this adventure one you’ll remember for a lifetime!

Click HERE for more cool pix of the stairs.

- Nina Spitzer

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