Sicily has a number of villages that produce ceramics such as Sciacca near Agrigento and Santo Stefano Di Camastra near Messina but without a doubt the town of Caltagirone is the specialist in this type of art.The name itself comes from the Arabic phrase “qal at ghiran” which means “castle of vases”. Over the centuries the ceramic artists have made this town very beautiful by using ceramics to adorn and decorate its churches, palaces, theatres and other important buildings. Nothing can be compared to the Steps of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608 to link the highest part of town, which was the religious centre, with the lower part of town where the ordinary population dwelt.
There are 142 steps which are made from lava stone and decorated with ceramic tiles using a thousand different patterns. The artisans use the four elements water, earth, fire and air to produce their handmade ceramics which vary from objects for domestic use to elaborate decorative pieces of art. The art of ceramic production has been influenced by particular dominations of Sicily which are represented in its unique designs still being produced today.
For example there are pieces reminiscent of prehistoric times, pieces that reflect domination by the Arabs, Greeks and Romans. Of course the ceramics have also been infuenced by modern and contemporary design. Visitors can watch the artisans at work and choose a souvenir to take home or gifts for friends and family from the wonderful selection. Another place worth visiting not far from Caltagirone is La Villa del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina. This Roman villa contains fantastic mosaics representing hunting scenes and the one in particular which gets a lot of attention shows girls in ‘bikinis’ at Roman baths.
Piazza Armerina is also famous for the Palio dei Normanni which celebrates the town’s victory over the Saracens. During the Palio the townspeople dress up in medieval costume and participate in games from this period. The province of Enna borders the province of Catania and for those travellers who are interested in learning more about the history of Sicily a further trip into the Enna region is a must.