Caltagirone city of ceramics
The City of Caltagirone rises at the top of a mountain that separates the plain of Gela from that of Catania. The territory is rich in archaeological sites (S. Mauro, Montagna, S. Ippolito, etc.) that testify to settlements since prehistoric times. Various artifacts, including terracotta, dating back to pre-Hellenistic times were found during excavation campaigns. The ‘use of clay, present in large quantities in the Calatino territory, is an opportunity for craft and economic development as early as the sec. VII BC to become, around the sec. V BC, more refined and recognizable.
With the Arabs, Caltagirone experienced a flourishing period both in agriculture and other sectors and, certainly, in the production of terracotta artifacts that became majolica thanks to the glazing technique imported by the Saracens.
Caltagirone pottery, consisting at that time of everyday artifacts, spread rapidly throughout Sicily.
Later the “cannatari”(jug makers)” , the “ciaramitari”(tile makers), the “stovigliari”(crockery makers), had recognition of their worthiness so much so that Caltagirone pottery could circulate freely in the Kingdom of Sicily free of taxes.
Unfortunately, the 1693 earthquake, nefarious for all of eastern Sicily, not only collapsed much of the City, but also ruined almost all of the ancient ceramic artifacts that had been preserved up to that moment. Fortunately, the spread of Caltagirone ceramics makes it possible to find pre-earthquake objects in collections around the world.
The reconstruction greatly engaged the City’s administrators, the Senators, who gave commissions to the best craftsmen. New roads were opened downstream from the original core, and the city took on the Baroque appearance that we can still admire today.
The early 1800s saw the beginning of the flourishing activity of figurine makers who initially produced only crib shepherds. In 1848 the figurine maker Giacomo Bongiovanni undertook to supply the City of Caltagirone annually with four groups of figurines for the consideration of seven hundred and two ducats per year.
Bongiovanni had the merit of dressing his figurines in clay. Before him, only the heads , hands and feet were made of clay and the rest of the body was made of cloth or papier-mâché in the manner of Neapolitan puppets. Figurinai who distinguished themselves over time are to be remembered the Morretta, Bonanno, Bongiovanni Vaccaro, to reach our times with the Scuto, Branciforti, Romano, Patrì, Raimondo, Biondo, etc.
In the 1800s ceramics found widespread use in architecture so much so that masterpieces such as the Villa Carolina, later Vittorio Emanuele, with furnishings by Basile made by the Vella factory in Caltagirone, or the Neo-Gothic-style Cemetery, in which the designer Nicastro wanted all the architectural details in terracotta so that it constitutes a unique example of its kind.
The Public Garden is also an important example of the various artistic styles in which Caltagirone is rich; in fact, one can admire the Art Nouveau-style balcony of the little theater, the Baroque-style vases and statues, and the gazebo of exquisite Arab taste. The last major public work in which ceramics was employed was the covering of the fronts of the steps of the famous Maria SS. del Monte staircase made in the 1950s by the Caltagirone School of Art directed by Prof. Antonino Ragona to whom we also owe the establishment of the Museum of Ceramics.
This staircase, during the July festivities in honor of the patron saint St. James, is illuminated by thousands of oil lamps drawing beautiful tapestries. This ancient tradition was codified in the mid-1800s by Franciscan Father Benedetto Papale.
Today Caltagirone offers visitors a Historic Center in which medieval, baroque and art nouveau buildings coexist, which has its heart in the old Piazza della Loggia (Town Hall) bordered by the majestic Palazzo dell’Aquila, the Corte Capitaniale, the Palazzo Gravina with its long Gaginesque balcony, and the Galleria Luigi Sturzo in whose interior is the largest ceramic panel ever made, in which the Master Pino Romano portrayed the battle of Judica that saw the Calatinians victorious over the Saracens. This event began the power of Caltagirone, which was enfeoffed the Barony of Camopietro.