Militello in Val di Catania
Militello in Val di Catania, a UNESCO world heritage siteSituated between the Val di Noto, a few hills watching over the perfumed orange groves in the plain of Catania and the valley of the river Lèmbasi, Militello is a town of history and art, but also of oranges and traditional must and prickly pear cakes. Together with Caltagirone, Catania, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa, Modica and Scicli, Militello is one of the eight “comuni” (“municipalities”) which was declared a “World Heritage Site” by the UNESCO, hence included in its World Heritage List with the aim of protecting the “Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto.” Its place-name derives from the Latin “Militum Tellus,” that is “land of soldiers.” Indeed, according to tradition the town was founded by the Roman consul Marcellus during the siege of Syracuse in 214 BC. It was very likely a Byzantine rural home as this is evidenced by remains of religion-inspired frescoes discovered in several caves. The place was later occupied by the Arabs, and during the feudal period it was under the control of the Marquis of Barresi and Branciforte. Rich in churches, palazzi, and abundant buildings that display baroque decorations on their corbels, balconies and tympanums, their facades and gates, this artistic and cultural heritage of medieval and baroque origins makes Militello one fascinating stop over for the ones embarked on a Sicilian Baroque itinenary. On via Matrice, over an elevated platform with a molten rock staircase is La Chiesa Madre. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Salvator, the church was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1693. It displays a beautiful twentieth century dome, while stuccoes (“fine plasters”) and valuable paintings from the eighteenth century, as well as a baroque wooden crucifix can be found inside the church. Nearby is the Museum of San Nicolò, which holds precious works of art and sacred objects from the sixteenth century. In Piazza Municipio is the large complex of the Church of San Benedetto built in 1623 by the architect from Catania Valeriano De Franchis. Inside the church is a beautiful wooden choir displaying scenes from Saint Benedict’s life and a painting by Giovanni Battista Baldanza junior. Annexed to the church, the Benedictine Monastery, now seat of the town hall, was completed in 1649. A few other churches in Militello deserve attention: the Oratorio di Santa Maria della Catena, with its coffer ceiling and baroque stuccoes with gold inlay from the late seventeenth century; the Church of Sant'Antonio di Padova; the Church of San Francesco d'Assisi, housing paintings by Filippo Paladini; the late gothic style Church of Santa Maria la Vetere, and the 1722 Church of Santa Maria della Valle, with an independent and solid bell tower and a painting attributed to Andrea Della Robbia. Other examples are the church of Santa Maria la Stella with its facade full of intagli (“carvings”) from the 1700s, the Oratorio dell’Angelo, with its stunning 1785 maiolica pavement from Caltagirone, the aristocratic Palazzo Baldanza, Palazzo Baldanza-Denaro, Palazzo Majorana, Palazzo Reforgiato, Palazzo Rametta Reburdone. Traditional gastronomy from Militello is mainly based on confectionery. Almonds and mulled wine are the main ingredients of all sorts of cakes, hence their scrumptious Mediterranean taste. Militello is also well-known for its prickly pear mustard.