Among the artistic masterpieces that the Sicilian Baroque has given us, the masks that adorn many period buildings are certainly the most curious. Among the best known are those of Scicli, in the free municipal consortium of Ragusa. A town, this in the Val di Noto, which is an architectural masterpiece.
Not only the palaces but also the churches of Scicli are considered masterpieces in this city, a symbol of the expression of Sicilian Baroque. And this beauty can be breathed by wandering through the streets of the center, admiring the oldest buildings, especially in Via Francesco Mormina Penna. Not surprisingly, this place that looks like a “nativity scene ” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ancient Cartia Pharmacy
An example of the architectural beauty of this city is given by the Antica Farmacia Cartia, a real jewel in Art Nouveau style that can be found along with Via Francesco Mormina Penna and inside which the ancient furnishings of the early twentieth century made by the carpenter and cabinetmaker stand out. Scicliano Emanuele Russino, in addition to the painting depicting Hygieia, the Greco-Roman goddess of health by Giovanni Gentile, and the old tools of the trade.
Bonelli Patanè Palace
Also on via Francesco Mormina Penna, there is Palazzo Bonelli Patanè, which externally takes on neoclassical but very sober forms, while inside it is a summa of styles ranging from liberty to neogothic. The splendid iconographic system is the work of the artist, Raffaele Scalia. The terrace of this building offers us a magnificent view of Scicli.
A recurring element on many city buildings, the masks give life to imaginative, terrifying, playful, ironic shapes, the meaning of which lends itself to different interpretations: perhaps they are a symbol of protection of the house to keep evil spirits away, perhaps a sign of victory about the pirates who infested the Mediterranean, or simply a fashionable embellishment of balconies and shelves. What was the starting point that gave rise to these masterpieces? Perhaps the monstrous animals of the gargoyles of the Gothic cathedrals? Or the shapes of some Romanesque capitals, or the animal-like shapes of the eaves of Greek temples? Whatever the source of inspiration was, in fact the masks are masterpieces that adorn these buildings.
Among the most famous masks are those of the eighteenth-century Beneventano palace where various figures are set, including arch keys and Saracen heads that could refer to the raids of pirates in the Mediterranean and their capture. We are in Via Francesco Mormina Penna, on the slopes of Colle di San Matteo and in the exact center between the ancient fortified citadel that rises on top of the hill and the city that instead rises in the two canyons of Santa Maria La Nova and San Bartolomeo.
Palazzo Beneventano was defined by Sir Anthony Blunt as “the most beautiful Baroque palace in Sicily” thanks also to the “irreverent” masks that adorn the two façades. The crowned coat of arms of the Benevento family with the two Moorish heads is today one of the city’s symbols. The beauty of this building is also given by the contrast between the soft colors of the facade and the dark one of the wrought iron of the balconies.
How do I get to Scicli?
Scicli can be reached by car from Catania along the Catania – Ragusa state road up to Modica then towards Scicli, while from Syracuse, state road 115 for Sampieri, then for Scicli. By train, from Catania: Catania – Syracuse line, with a change in the Syracuse – Scicli line. The nearest airport is Catania Fontanarossa