Discover How Sicilian Ceramics Are Made

Discover How Sicilian Ceramics Are Made

If pottery is your passion, the small town of Caltagirone (Sicily) is the best place to learn techniques and patterns of a fine tradition that began with the Arabs in ancient times; the name itself Caltagirone has Arabic roots: ‘qal'at-al-jarar’ meaning ‘castle of pottery jars’.

140 steps made of ceramics

Caltagirone Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, from below

The main attraction in Caltagirone is the majestic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, which was built in 1608. The Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is wedged between the narrow streets that intersect the old town running along Baroque churches and Liberty style architecture. The staircase was rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake in 1693 that destroyed most of the town.

The staircase can be ‘read’ from the bottom to the top; each step tells a different story drawn on hand-painted pottery tiles that clad each stair’s riser. Epic characters, battles, and symbols make the arduous journey to the peak a pleasant encounter with the city and its history. The steps of this monumental construction and the old city of Caltagirone became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.

The top of the staircase

Caltagirone Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, from above

Only after reaching the top, you realise that you never turned back to see the view, such is the curiosity to discover the end of the story. Only when you get to the last step, you turn to look with pride at the bottom. The ceramics suddenly disappear from your sight but the history of the city is once again present with a panoramic view that encompasses the beauty of the entire historic centre of Caltagirone, a breathtaking ‘belvedere’. That is a gorgeous view!

The pottery industry

Caltagirone: production of ceramics

There are several potteries that organise tours to illustrate the patient work that lies behind every finished ceramic artwork. Entering the many shops that sell colourful ceramics, just ask to see a demonstration of the production of ceramics - usually you have to book in advance. Locals can even show you the best and quickest way to book tours; Sicilians are easy-going and very welcoming hosts!

If the scene of the famous American movie ‘Ghost’, in which the two protagonists romantically shape a vase, is one of your favourites, you just need to watch and learn how to make ceramics from expert artisans. Perhaps you will bring back home a small Sicilian souvenir made by you to remember your special trip.

Of great importance for the beauty of their shape and meaningful story are the traditional heads of men and women decorated with lemons, grapes, peppers made of clay. Other famous ceramics are the typical water jars called by Sicilians ‘bummulu malandrinu’. They are an Arabic ceramic jar thought to contain tea and keep the temperature as constant as possible. And the ceramic water whistle, which is a lovely musical instrument that reproduces the sound of a small bird. You will not be able to resist the urge to try it!

An educational trip

Caltagirone is the ideal destination to understand the process behind the creation of ceramics and enjoy the beauty of the city and its folklore.

This is a perfect trip for adults and children to learn a new culture, every place has something to teach!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Rossella Scalia is a London-based architecture critic and independent researcher. She received her M.Arch from Reggio Calabria University (Italy) and her M.A. in Architectural History, Theory and...Read more

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