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Caltagirone had its own second Rinascimento in the second half of the 20th century, driven, as with every great artistic expansion, by an investment in architecture. In this case it was the restoration of the Scala Santa Maria del Monte, the emblem of the city of Caltagirone.
All 142 steps climbing up to the peak of the city on top of Mount Erei were refaced with ceramic tiles and this created markets for existing workshops as well as catalyzing the creation of many more workshops producing terracotta and ‘white’ clay products – traditional and modern.
Sadly all the clay is brought in from afar as no clay materials beneficiation plant was opened to refine the local clay bodies. Yet this has not hampered the artistic skills of the local potters in producing some truly unique and fine works.
One of the elements evident in a rinascimento is bringing to life traditions of the past. In Caltagirone this tradition is of the two saints honoured by the city. St James is the patron saint of Caltagirone (since the a battle in July 1091 when Count Roger the Norman, assisted by the local Genoese, routed Arab raiders located to the south of the city).
Afterwards, the Count made a triumphal entry into the city and decided to create a church in honour of St James because the victory had occurred on his sacred day, July 25. Now, the evenings of 24 and 25 July, are celebrated in honor of this Holy patron of Caltagirone. Also, on the evenings of August 14 and 15, Santa Maria del Monte is honoured. This honour, for four nights of the year, consists of the stairs becoming alight, myriads of lights on the stairs in artistic arrangements and colours.
One family only is authorised to undertake this grand task. Thousands of tiles, prepared and stained strictly by hand, according to an ancient skill that has been handed down from father to son, are placed along all the steps to form one beautiful design. In the bottom of the tile, is placed a translucent paper vase which is filled with olive oil.
After each of these thousands of lamps are lit, a flaming light illuminates the tiles and the whole memorial illuminated staircase, creating a wonderful spectacle as the dusk turns into night. The glow of the tiles is a continuous crescendo of flickering lights in a magical night, until with the natural exhaustion of the oil, the stairs go dim and sleep comes over the town.
Possibly the best positions to view the spectacle is the Town Hall Square or along Via Principe Amedeo, so that the whole image of the staircase can be seen and a picture of this unique event can be burned into your memory.

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine