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  • Day82

    Flight of fancy

    January 17, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    What raises the blood pressure of the Caltagirone people is this big staircase, the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, which rises from Piazza Municipio to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte, at the top of the town.
    Originally there were several flights of steps separated by small squares built in 1606 to connect the old town on top of the with newer developments on the flatter base.
    These tiers were eventually unified in the 1880s to create the 142-step flight that stands today.

    The Erei mountains, on which Caltagirone perches, separate the plains of Gela and Catania and are fractured by many cracks filled with a very fine clay. Since the paleolithic era, local potters have been capitalising on this abundance aided by a plentiful nearby wood supply for firing their pots. The local ceramic technique was influenced and perfected by the Cretans, who introduced the wheel during the Greek colonization of Sicily in the 8th century BC, then by the Arabs, who introduced the glazing technique, which rendered the ceramic objects impermeable to water, in the 9th century. Under the Arab rule the town took the name of Qal ‘at al Gharùn or qal’at-al-ghiran meaning “Castle (or fortress) of vases” with reference to the processing of clay.

    So in 1956, hand-painted majolica tiles were added to the riser of the steps to celebrate the town's ceramic heritage. The motives alternate between a row of tiles with a floral or organic pattern, a row of geometric patterns and a row of figurative decorative patterns..
    In case you can't wait to see them, the best times are:
    * in May, when it becomes “flowered” in honor of the Madonna, (the Scala Infiorata in honor of the Madonna di Conadomini;
    * at the the end of July when it is illuminated by 4000 coloured oil lamps (coppi) on the occasion of the feast of the Holy Patron, Saint Giacomo;
    * during the mid-August nights when it is lit up again;
    * at Christmas the stairs are decorated with cyclamen and Christmas stars.
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