Pictured are the ruins of the Chiesa e Collegio de Gesuiti (Jesuit Church and College) built during the 17th century in Noto, Sicily. Today, you may visit this site in “Noto Antica,” or Ancient Noto, more than six miles away from the renowned city of Noto. Founded by Baron Carlo Giavanti, it’s hard to imagine that the collegio was a monumental baroque complex built over 20 years that was about 200 feet wide. In January 1693, it literally came crashing down when a massive earthquake shook southeastern Sicily.
The infamous earthquake wasn’t just one event. It was a series of tremors that started on January 9, 1693 with a hypothetical 6.2 magnitude (there was no Richter Scale at the time) followed by a hypothetical 7.4 quake at 9PM on January 11, 1693. Etna erupted. A tsunami struck the Ionian coast of eastern Sicily from the Strait of Messina to Portopalo di Capo Passero. There were aftershocks for more than a year and a half later with an estimated 60,000 deaths. The entirety of eastern Sicily experienced destruction with most of the damage in the Val di Noto–Catania, Ragusa, Siracusa, Noto, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, Scicli, Caltagirone, Augusta, and many, many other towns would never be the same.
When you see Noto Antica, this history becomes reality. But as is a universal lesson, from death springs new life, and today we have the outstanding reconstruction that occurred in the 18th century that led the aforementioned towns to create the Late Sicilian Baroque, an architectural style that is recognized by UNESCO.