Caltagirone is a city in the province of Catania of about 39,000 inhabitants that rises 611 metres above sea level on a relief of the Monti Erei.
Famous thanks to the Arabs who imported ceramics, its origins are even more ancient: many Greek and Sicilian coins have been found, and monumental evidence of necropolises even dates back to prehistoric times. As in other cities, numerous dominations have followed one another, although the finds of some are very rare: we are talking about the Roman, Byzantine and Saracen periods.
In this regard, let us open a parenthesis on the help that the Maritime Republic of Genoa gave in order to rid the city of the latter. This would be exactly the reason why Caltagirone’s coat of arms would adopt the addition of a giant’s bone clasped between the eagle’s claws and the red crusader shield on a white field, supported by two griffins; the Genoese, on the other hand, erected a temple to their patron saint St George right on top of the city’s hill. This was in 1030.
The Muslims again came to dominate the city, until it was finally liberated by Roger the Norman in 1090.
After the Normans, the city came under the rule of the Swabians and then the Angevins (driven from the island following the Sicilian Vespers).
During the Vespers, Baron Gualtiero di Caltagirone fought exhaustingly for Sicilian independence, to such an extent that Pietro D’Aragona having discovered and arrested him with other conspirators, beheaded him on 22 May 1283 in the Piano di San Giuliano, today Piazza Umberto.
Caltagirone in the following centuries became the epicentre of illustrious visits. The Infante Giacomo I of Aragon visited it twice, as did Frederick III.
Unfortunately, in 1542 an earthquake devastated the city, never more so than the tremendous earthquake of 1693, which caused severe damage and destroyed many buildings.
At the time of the reconstruction, Caltagirone retained its late Renaissance layout represented by the crux viarum, formed vertically by the Santa Maria del Monte staircase and the Corso, and horizontally by the streets of San Giorgio and San Giacomo.
After the reconstruction, the city witnessed the emergence of modern and luxurious housing as opposed to peripheral and very poor neighbourhoods. This is why the Vittorio Emanuele II public garden was built to a design by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile.
From the 18th to the 20th century, the city played a political, social and cultural role. In this regard, we would like to mention the Civic Museum at the Bourbon Prison, the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Ospedale delle Donne, the Museum of Historical Caltagirone and Sicilian Villas at Villa Patti and the International Nativity Scene Museum ‘Luigi Colaleo Collection’ at the former S. Luigi Primary School, the Natural History Museum at the hamlet of Santo Pietro and the Hoffman Museum. The Regional Ceramics Museum is the only one in Sicily.
Today, Caltagirone is mainly known for its precious ceramic objects with which everything is made and its beautiful staircase.
Many events are held, both religious and otherwise, including Easter and the traditional ‘Passion of Christ’. Then there is ‘La Scala Infiorata’ (the ‘Flowered Staircase’), which is set up in May on which a giant design is made from flowers that takes up all 142 steps. The Feast of the Patron Saint St James, which is on 25 July, with the traditional ‘Luminaria’ Illuminated Staircase. This is achieved by arranging 4,000 cylinder-shaped tiles of coloured paper with oil lamps on the Santa Maria del Monte Staircase. At Christmas, on the other hand, everything focuses on the terracotta nativity scene.