In Caltagirone you cannot escape the ceramics. This Baroque town in the heart of Sicily is world-renowned for its beautiful pottery decorated in vibrant colours. For the past 1000 years, the abundant clay in the area has provided the local artisans with the perfect medium to mould and decorate in bright, bold hues.
The ensuing results are quite stunning. Even with this in mind, I was not quite prepared for the profusion of majolica that decorated so many things in Caltagirone – from flower pots, to church domes and balustrades.
But the most spectacular and striking display of ceramics is La Scala Santa Maria del Monte (or La Scala – the staircase – for short).
La Scala consists of 142 steps that join the upper and lower parts of the town. Each step is decorated with tiles painted in a different motif.
The designs were so pretty that I would have liked to photograph each and every step. It would have been worth the effort. An Infiorata (an artistic design created with plants and flowers) to celebrate the feast of La Madonna di Conadomini, one of the patrons of the city, further enhanced the beauty of this unique staircase.
I thought that the staircase itself was utterly whimsical – a fairy staircase, a stairway to a magical realm.
Up, up and up we climbed till we came to the top - La Scala was beneath us, behind us the square and church of Santa Maria del Monte and, beyond the rooftops and church domes, the rolling mountains of Sicily.
I am not one of those people who can see a sight, take a few photos and move on to the next. Places like this move me. In 1608 it took several craftsmen a decade to create the unique ceramic tiles that line the steps. Surely such artisanship deserves more than a perfunctory glance? Could these men have ever imagined that 400 years later visitors from all over the world would come to Caltagirone to marvel at their workmanship … ?
It was siesta time and the small square in front of the church was deserted, except for some lines of bunting flapping gaily in the breeze.
The church itself looked a bit run down, with what appeared to be a wild fig-tree was growing out of the steeple.
For an inexplicable reason I felt a strange kinship with the place. Perhaps it was because the buildings were so strangely reminiscent of home. Or maybe it was the profusion of red geraniums that grow so abundantly here too.
Or it could have been a myriad other things: the balconies, the narrow alleyways, the little shrine to the Madonna & Child at the end of a cul-de-sac.
It was a strange feeling of deja-vu coupled with a sense of wonder that always comes to me when discovering a new place.
For a brief history of Caltagirone please go here.