noto antica sicily

These crumbling ruins are the spectacular remains of a town called Noto Antica, on the island of Sicily, now in the country of Italy. The city walls you see here are part of the old fortress that was originally created by the Normans when they conquered this area in the late 11th century. At the far right you can see part of an archway that I believe was built in later times, leading to the narrow streets of the abandoned city. Although now an important archaeological site and tourist attraction, no one lives in Noto Antica anymore. The reason why they stopped doing so goes back to a disaster that occurred 323 years ago today, on January 11, 1693.

At about 9PM on that evening, a tremendous earthquake shook the coast of eastern Sicily, leveling villages, cracking stone walls many feet thick and triggering giant landslides that buried and wiped away entire communities. In addition the earthquake created a monster tsunami that devastated coastal regions throughout the Ionian Sea. As many as 93,000 people may have died as a result of the quake and its various associated disasters. Noto Antica was almost completely destroyed. The level of devastation was so great, and rebuilding judged to be so difficult and costly, that instead of returning to their shattered homes here the survivors decided to build an entirely new replacement village further down the slope. Thus ended a human community that had existed here possibly since the Bronze Age.

There is still a great deal left behind in Noto Antica, however. The ruins of cathedrals, smaller churches, monasteries and burial vaults cover the gamut of the town’s history, from Etruscan times through Byzantine, Norman and other medieval settlements. The images of menorahs scored into the rocks in some parts of the town attest that a vibrant Jewish community once thrived here. Due to a number of factors–including the fact that much of Noto Antica is now on privately-owned land–the archaeological bounty of the site has not been fully studied. It’s therefore entirely possible that some amazing historical and cultural treasures remain locked within Noto Antica’s old crumbled stones, waiting for some future scholar to discover them.