The following article, written by Jerry Finzi, appears on GrandVoyageItaly.com.
In the baroque town of Caltagirone, Sicily, the main attraction is its ceramics industry. The name of the town derives from the Arabic word qal’at-al-ghiran, meaning Castle of Vases. There are ceramics everywhere you look: tile murals on buildings, as signs, and in the many ceramics shops just waiting for a savvy voyager to select a few special pieces to take back home.
But the tiles also adorn its stairways, the most majestic being the Scale di Santa Maria del Monte, built in 1608. Start to climb the 142 steps and you will be reading the town’s history, each step telling their stories on hand-painted ceramic tiles that clad each stair’s riser. There are many fantastic characters, battle scenes, landscapes and symbolic patterns. It’s a wonder to think that the staircase was rebuilt by the town after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed most of the city. The Scale is a symbol of the town’s resilience and rightfully, was honored as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.
The Scale offer even more beauty when they are used for other feasts and sagre. Each July 24-25 they are lighted with 4000 candles for la Festa di San Giacomo. During the Natale season, the stairs are decorated with cyclamen and Christmas stars, and during May there is the Scala Infiorata for la Festa di Madonna di Conadomini.
Caltagirone is located 43 miles southwest of Catania in southern Sicily. You can get there by bus from Catania but a car is recommended. Today the town thrives on tourists and ceramic collectors who visit over 130 ceramics studios and shops. The style of ceramics here is called Maiolica (Majolica) and is distinctively different from other areas of Sicily.