The Sicilian Baroque style of architecture was introduced following the devastating earthquake of 1693. The epicentre was at the town of Noto which was destroyed along with 54 other towns and 300 villages. 100,000 people lost their lives. In the middle ages, Sicily was a wealthy country. Its economy was based on the production of lemons, wine and, above all, wheat. It was run on a feudal system, left over from the Norman occupation, with the peasant class little more than slaves to the land-owning aristocracy.
Although Sicily was now officially under Spanish rule, authority was delegated to these local aristocratic families together with the Roman Catholic church.
It was the custom at this time for the younger children of the aristocracy to be taken into religious orders, thereby protecting the estate from division. The Church expected a large fee for faciliating this convenience and had grown rich on the proceeds.
After the earthquake, the poor rebuilt their hovels as before, but the wealthy families, along with the church, entered into an orgy of extravagance. They employed architects trained in Rome, and gave them free reign to indulge in every more lavish creations in the Baroque style. The Palace of Versailles had been completed in 1688 and was being emulated by the rich and powerful across Europe. The architects of Sicily however, would take the excesses of Baroque style to ever greater heights and built churches, cathedrals, private houses and palaces that would eventually make Versailles seem a model of restraint. This highly decorative Baroque style lasted barely 50 years, but it left Sicily with a unique architectural identity that enriches the culture of Italy.
Wonderful examples this this style of architecture can been seen in Noto, Ragusa and Modica as well as in the larger cities of Palermo, Catania and Siracusa.
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