The History of Sicily

The Great Earthquake of 1693 and the Sicilian Baroque

The seventeenth century in Sicily, especially eastern Sicily, ended worse than it had begun. On January 11, 1693, the greatest earthquake in Italy to date struck the area around Catania, destroying 45 cities and affecting over 5,000 square kilometers. At the same time Mt. Etna erupted, and a tsunami struck the shoreline along the Ionian Sea. More than 60,000 lost their lives. In Catania, two-thirds of the population perished.

The destruction of Sicily’s many cities and towns in the east prompted a rebuilding program, which introduced a new and impressive architectural style: the Sicilian Baroque. Like other types of Baroque, the Sicilian relies on a heavy but balanced geometric style in which parallel elements create equilibrium and strength. However, Sicilian Baroque is often more ornate. Decorative effects include the use of grotesque masks, puti, and other intricate stone carvings on the faces and even sides of buildings. In churches, belfries rise not next to main buildings but right from the façades. Ornate staircases and concave or convex fronts can also be seen. Architects also made use or rustication, a technique which combines different textures and surface styles. Many surfaces are decorated with representations of natural objects such as leaves, fish, or seashells. Finally, many Sicilian palazzi boast ornate double staircases, which lead to the building’s piano nobile.


Duomo, Catania