What to see in Scicli, part two


We have already told you what to see in Scicli in our previous article , focusing on the museum sites on Via Mormina Penna. But of course, this small late Baroque Sicilian town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, offers much more. So in this article we will walk through the most characteristic and scenic neighborhoods and buildings that you cannot fail to visit.

The Church of St. Matthew

La Church of St. Matthew , stands majestically on the top of the hill of the same name. This religious building is an iconic landmark for Scicli. Its elevated location offers breathtaking views of the city and a panorama that is worth the long staircase to reach it.
As early as the early Middle Ages, a church occupied the site where today’s St. Matthew’s Church stands. This sacred place, immortalized in numerous canvases and engravings preserved in Scicli’s churches, testifies to the long religious history of the hill, with its characteristic bell tower standing out against the sky.
Following the earthquake that struck the region in 1693, Scicli was rebuilt in an area further downstream, except for its main church. In fact, the church was rebuilt in the 18th-century style, becoming a significant example of late Baroque architecture. Citizens’ devotion to the site that held the relics of Blessed William, a local hermit who died in 1404, was so deep that, despite opposition from the bishop at the time, the decision was made to erect the church again at the same location on the hill.
In 1874 the church was finally abandoned after an ambitious renovation that began in 1704. The roof was removed to preclude any possibility of restoration, and the cathedral was moved to the Church of St. Ignatius located in Italy Square.
Looking from the rebuilt city following the earthquake, the church towers over the hill, offering a perspective of the side facade, culminating in the 18th-century bell tower erected to replace the previous one that was destroyed.
The unfinished facade, with its refined sobriety, has two levels: the first has three main entrances, embellished with pilasters and colonnades, while the upper level is embellished with a large central window, flanked by naturalistic decorations and spandrels.
The imposing structure of St. Matthew’s Church is characterized by a basilica layout with three naves and a series of rectangular apses that create a visually striking sacred space. The presence of a crypt under the church, historically used for burials until 1884, adds another level of historical interest.
Externally, a vast forecourt welcomes visitors both frontally and sideways, complemented by the presence of a clock, believed to be inspired by the pre-earthquake original on the old bell tower.
In the 1990s, a complex and multifaceted restoration effort brought St. Matthew’s Church back to life, aiming to stabilize its structure and restore damaged architectural elements. One of the most significant and contested choices was to make a new concrete roof to protect the building from the weather.
The new roof raised concerns about the aesthetic impact and compatibility with existing structures, as well as potential static problems related to the weight of the new roof and the different stress response of the materials used compared to the original ones.

The Church of St. Matthew from the hill of the same name

The neighborhood of St. Matthew

The district of San Matteo stretches around the church of the same name and is perched along one of the hills that dominate the town of Scicli. This neighborhood, among the oldest in the city, is characterized by a network of narrow alleys and stairways that wind their way between historic buildings, offering striking views and breathtaking panoramas of Scicli’s center.
Strolling through the neighborhood of St. Matthew, one can feel the charm of a bygone era, with homes retaining the warmth and atmosphere of a bygone era. Prominent among these buildings are aristocratic mansions, evidence of the area’s former prosperity, and small churches that reveal the neighborhood’s intense religious life.

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The panoramic view from the San Matteo district over Scicli

Beneventano Palace

Beneventano Palace , located in the heart of the town, is one of the most exemplary and emblematic monuments of Sicilian Baroque. It was built on the remains of an earlier medieval building that was severely damaged in the earthquake. Its construction is attributed to the Beneventano family, one of the most influential in Scicli, who commissioned it as a symbol of their power and social status. Palazzo Beneventano, is famous for its extravagance and decorative richness, highlighted by light effects and abundant ornamentation. Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian, considers it one of the most important and original Baroque monuments of the 18th century. It features balconies with wrought-iron railings and supported by corbels decorated with fantastic animals, grotesque expressions depicting mythological figures, animals and plant motifs.
These decorative elements are not purely ornamental but symbolize power, protection, and fertility, according to Baroque symbolism.
Palazzo Beneventano, is described as a “masterpiece of human creative genius” of the late Baroque era.

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The facade of the Beneventano Palace
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The view of St. Matthew’s Hill from the balconies of Palazzo Beneventano

Its interior, normally not accessible to the public, has been shrouded in mystery for years. Subsequent to the extraordinary opening during “The Ways of Treasures,” they revealed grotesque decorations, stories of Saracen raids and piracy in the Mediterranean, giving us a unique insight into the culture and art of the period, aiming to amaze and wonder visitors.
One of the remarkable aspects of the building is the presence of an inner courtyard, a characteristic feature of Baroque residential architecture, which served as a private outdoor space. This area is also surrounded by an elegant ornate arcade.
The building is particularly notable for its corner section characterized by an imposing cornice that connects two stylistically similar facades, creating a unique vertical demarcation point. This area, so unique in its kind, is embellished with decorations on the rusticated pilasters and enriched by two Moorheads in an elevated position, with a depiction of St. Joseph at the bottom.
Today, the palace attracts visitors from all over the world, eager to admire its elaborate facades.

St. Bartholomew

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The Church of San Bartolomeo, Scicli

Located in the heart of Scicli, the Church of San Bartolomeo is a valuable witness to the city’s architectural and cultural history. It dates back to the early decades of the 15th century and largely survived the disastrous earthquake of 1693. This sacred building, with its majestic façade, is an eloquent example of the transition from rich late Baroque exuberance to the sobriety of Neoclassicism. A change in taste evident even in the early work of its prgettista, Syracuse architect Salvatore Alì.
The facade is characterized by a neoclassical influence in the use of trabeated columns that reflect Palladian rigor and are arranged in an ascending sequence toward the large ribs of the dome. For this reason, the building reveals a distinct stylistic transition. Despite these elements, the volumetric composition and scenic effect give the building a Baroque character, emphasizing a continuity with the earlier artistic tradition.

The interior of the church, articulated in a single nave with a rectangular exedra at the end and two symmetrical chapels in the middle, serves as a transept but with reduced vault heights, showing a clear spatial arrangement, typical of Baroque churches, that allows the attention of the faithful to be directed toward the high altar. The hall is introduced by a narthex and embellished with a rich decorative stucco apparatus, partly gilded, covering the time span from the mid-18th century to 1864, representing one of the best examples of Baroque and Rococo spatiality in Sicily.
The frescoes that adorn the vault narrate episodes from the life of St. Bartholomew, illustrating moments of prayer, blessing, and martyrdom. Light filters through the windows located above, creating light plays that enhance the richness of the interior ornaments, creating an atmosphere of contemplation.
Notable works of art preserved in the church include the high altar canvas depicting the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Francesco Pascucci and the Immaculate among Saints by Cassarino.
The 1573 wooden nativity scene, attributed to the Neapolitan school of Pietro Padula, is a masterpiece of rare beauty and quality. It originally consisted of sixty-five one-meter-high statues, of which only twenty-nine remain today. The Nativity scene is placed in the center, with peasants and shepherds serving as the chorus and angel-pastors suspending it in the sky, adding a touch of magic and transcendence to the church’s artistic narrative.

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The interior of the Church of St. Bartholomew

The District of St. Bartholomew

The surrounding neighborhood still retains its Baroque feel, with its winding alleys, noble palaces and houses with wrought-iron balconies overlooking limestone streets.
San Bartolomeo is a place charged with social and cultural significance. Here the community gathers to celebrate religious festivals and local traditions, keeping its customs alive. This social and spiritual dimension, together with architectural richness, makes the neighborhood a place, where historical heritage is inextricably intertwined with the lives of the inhabitants.

The Church of Santa Maria la Nova and religious holidays.

La Church of Santa Maria La Nova , which since 1994, has housed the Sanctuary of Maria SS. della Pietà, finds its origin in the Marian cult in the quarry of Santa Maria La Nova, in an ancient time, allegedly from the Byzantine era. Records attest to the existence of an earlier place of worship. A modest church dedicated to Sancta Maria Pietatis. the structure therefore has experienced a long history of changes, renovations and restorations that have defined its current appearance. It was rebuilt, following the earthquake, following the canons of Baroque art, which at that time found its highest expression on the island.
Santa Maria La Nova has an imposing and harmonious facade that seduces the eye with its interplay of volumes, niches and statues. The entrance portal, framed by twisted columns and surmounted by an elaborate tympanum, invites worshippers and visitors to enter a sacred space where time seems to be suspended.

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The interior of the Church of Santa Maria La Nova at Easter.

The building displays a clear neoclassical style, particularly evident in the interior through the harmonious use of pilasters, inspired by Roman bath buildings.
Internally, it is divided into three naves, with side altars dedicated to various saints, expanding upward and illuminated by soft light filtering through side windows. The vaulted hall is enriched by three interconnected domed chapels on each side, each dedicated to a saint or an episode from Mary’s life.
A deep quadrangular choir, by Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia, closes the hall, separated by a triumphal arch.
The center of attention is the high altar, dominated by the presence of a canvas depicting the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated. This work, along with the precious set of liturgical furnishings adorning the altar, testifies to the artistic richness and spiritual depth that characterize this place.
The complex abounds with sculptures, paintings and relics of considerable historical and artistic interest. Adjacent to the church structure is the garden of St. William with the little church of the same name and the trunk of the cypress tree that, according to tradition, was planted by the saint.

The Neighborhood of Santa Maria La Nova

The neighborhood around the church retains the atmosphere of yesteryear, with its narrow, cobblestone streets encapsulating stories of daily life and tradition. The houses, with their local stone facades, wrought-iron balconies, and interior courtyards, speak of an architecture that has stood the test of time, preserving Scicli’s most authentic charm.
In this neighborhood, life flows slowly, following the rhythms of the seasons and religious holidays, of which the most famous, heartfelt and beloved is definitely the Holy Week procession. On these occasions, the square in front of the church is transformed into a prayer space where citizens and visitors gather to actively participate in the spiritual life.

Religious Feasts

These holidays, which we told you about in our previous article dedicated to Easter in the Val di Noto, are opportunities for the community to reaffirm its traditions. Religious celebrations in Santa Maria La Nova, with their wealth of symbols, music and sharing, help keep alive the bond between citizens and their history, while promoting the city as a place of cultural and tourist interest.
Among the celebrations held there, the Feast of St. Joseph is particularly significant. This anniversary, which falls on March 19, sees the church and surrounding streets adorned with flowers and lights. Traditionally, an “altar of St. Joseph” is set up inside the church. Here artistic breads and other foods, symbols of abundance and prosperity, will be displayed and distributed to the needy. The procession with the statue of St. Joseph, accompanied by sacred music and prayers, passes through the streets of the city in a moment of deep devotion.
Another highlight is the celebration of Holy Week, culminating with the Feast of Easter and the Risen Christ, “U Gioia, a joyous and colorful procession. During these days, the church becomes the focus of ancient rites and evocative processions that retrace the last days of Jesus Christ’s life. The particularly moving “Good Friday” is marked by the procession of a magnificent simulacrum of Our Lady of Sorrows, known as “of the Hospital.”

Chiafura caves, a journey through time

Chiafur a now an archaeological park, is an area that dates back to the 8th-10th centuries. Located along the side of St. Matthew’s Hill, it stretches from the top of the hill, near the fortifications of the Castle of the Three Cantons, to the valley below of St. Bartholomew.
Information on the archaeological site in protohistoric times is limited. However, ceramic sherds dating to the Early Bronze Age and other periods indicate continued frequentation of the site.
In fact, before becoming a rock settlement, the area served as a necropolis in the Byzantine period, between the 5th and 7th centuries AD, with arcosolium tombs that became dwellings. It was later transformed into residential settlements during the Early Middle Ages, becoming an urban district between the 8th and 10th centuries, following the encastellation that began in the Byzantine era, a period coinciding with the Arab conquest. The troglodytic settlement occupied terraced walls formed by the confluence of two quarries, with living caves aligned.
The need for defense against raids had prompted the inhabitants to move from the coastal area to the interior. And at Chiafura, protection was provided by the strategic location on natural spurs.
After the fall under the Normans in 1091, the phenomenon of troglodyticism in Sicily grew, influenced by the arrival of populations from southern Italy. The earliest evidence of rock dwellings dates back to the 14th century, but it was not until the 15th century that the settlement began to expand.
The caves remained inhabited until the mid-20th century; with the advent of modern housing, they were gradually abandoned, albeit with much resistance from residents who experienced a strong sense of community and belonging in them.
This place tells us about the daily life of a community, from the agriculture that sustained it to the religious practices that kept it together. Caves are an ancient reflection of a society deeply in tune with its environment, which used natural resources to build a life rich in social interactions.
In 1959, a group of intellectuals, including. Renato Guttuso , Carlo Levi, Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Antonello Trombadori and Paolo Alatri, visited the site to explore the living conditions of the “aggrottati,” bringing to light social and housing challenges.
The late 21st century saw renewed interest in Chiafura, with efforts to preserve its value.
The Caves are a living rock museum, a testament to human ingenuity and resilience, to be preserved as a memory of the past for future generations. The history of this place is our history, a mirror reflecting the human experience through the centuries.

The Church of the Consolation

La Church of the Consolation , is located in the heart of the picturesque quarry of S.M la Nova. A place of worship distinguished by its rich historical and architectural stratification, bearing witness to the phases of reconstruction that have followed one another over the centuries. In the 15th century, the presence of a temple dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle marked the beginning of the history of this sacred site. Later, in the second half of the 17th century, the church was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693.
The facade of the church, is characterized by an imposing structure divided into two orders. The first order features Tuscan pilasters and an elegant central doorway. The second is embellished with composite pilasters framing the main window, a source of light for the nave. The triangular tympanum crowning the facade and the privilege of Patrona Civitatis, granted by Philip IV of Spain in 1645, underscore the historical importance of the place.
The interior, characterized by a late Baroque style, is divided into three naves supported by Tuscan pilasters. Here, there are barrel-vaulted side chapels and a semicircular apse, covered by a lowered dome. The church building retains a rich artistic heritage, including a 17th-century Gothic entrance portal and a limestone and pitch floor decorated with geometric and floral motifs.
The building’s isolated bell tower is notable for its spire decorated with colorful ceramics, a unique element in Scicli’s religious architecture. The Consolation houses valuable works of art, such as wooden statues depicting the Flagellation of Christ and a 17th-century canvas depicting Jesus with the souls in Purgatory.

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Church of the Consolation, Scicli

Rosary Convent

The Convent of the Rosary , stands on top of Mount Campagna, one of the three main valleys of Scicli. It was built in 1516 and originally consecrated to Our Lady of Montserrat. It was later enlarged thanks to the contribution of many local believers.
In 1567, it became the property of the Dominican fathers, changing its name to the Church of the Most Holy Rosary. The convent thus came to be dedicated to the veneration of the Rosary, a devotional practice central to Catholic spirituality, particularly promoted by the monastic order to which it was affiliated. Over the past three centuries the building has undergone restoration and alterations, although it escaped serious damage during the 1693 earthquake. Externally, it has an elegant neoclassical style that fits harmoniously into the urban and natural surroundings. Inside, the church has a single-nave structure inspired by late Sicilian Baroque and 19th-century remakes.
Today, the convent place of beauty and peace, also houses a day care center for training children from the neediest families. Reflecting commitment to supporting the local community.

Convent of the Cross

Santa Maria della Croce in Scicli , is a site of great historical and cultural importance, located on the top of the hill of the same name. Founded in 1528, as indicated by a lozenge cartouche on the church façade, the complex includes a convent, church, oratory and two courtyards, making it one of the oldest and most representative buildings in the city following the devastating earthquake.
The history of this place begins in the 16th century, with the oratory dedicated to Our Lady of Sion preexisting the construction of the church and convent, dating from the second half of the 15th century. This oratory is notable for its 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, now preserved in the church of Santa Teresa in Scicli. After the Unification of Italy, the complex was sold and became private property, only to be expropriated by the Region of Sicily at the end of the 20th century and then restored.
The church and convent are distinguished by late Gothic elements that survived the 1693 earthquake, fitting uniquely into Scicli’s predominantly Baroque context. The first presents a single nave with a semicircular apse. The facade, in late Gothic style, features twisted columns and arches, round and pointed. Next to it is the Oratory of Our Lady of Sion, with an elevation decorated with half-columns and a trefoil arch.
In addition to its architectural importance, the complex has played a significant role in the religious and cultural life of Scicli, hosting the Friars Minor of the Franciscan order. Today, the complex is open to the public and offers the opportunity to explore the artistic and historical beauty of the site. It is also part of the contemporary life of the town by hosting musical events and theatrical performances.
The complex is easily accessible from the historic city center. Its elevated position offers breathtaking panoramic views of Scicli and its surroundings.

The Church and Convent of Carmel

La Church and Convent of the Carmine stand out for their location in a charming square in Scicli, with the church standing out for its Baroque-style architectural beauty, particularly when the sunlight highlights the building’s golden limestone. This complex is appreciated for its quiet atmosphere and the pedestrian area in front, where visitors can relax and enjoy the square.
The building erected in the 18th century, was built on a pre-existing structure, testifying to the resilience and dedication of the local community in preserving and renewing their places of worship.
Externally, the facade is sober but elegant, a typical feature of Sicilian Baroque. It features a majestic portal, surmounted by a curved tympanum, and ornate windows that allow light to filter into the interior, creating a mystical atmosphere. A small bell tower, located next to the church, completes the exterior, adding a vertical element.
Upon entering the Carmine Church, one is immediately struck by the brightness and breadth of the single nave, an element that distinguishes many religious buildings of the Sicilian Baroque period. The interior is adorned with exquisite stucco and valuable works of art, including canvases and sculptures telling biblical stories and saints of the Carmelite cult.
The ceiling is adorned with thematic frescoes, masterfully executed by artists of the time, inviting spiritual reflection. The high altar, a work of fine workmanship, is a focal point that draws the gaze of the faithful and visitors, symbolizing the Eucharist and Christian sacrifice.

A full tour of the narrated sites takes an average of about 8 hours.

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