Palace of Nicolaci di Villadorata

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Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata is one of the largest private residences in Nota. Built in the 18th century in Baroque style, it was the town residence of the noble Nicolaci family. Its splendid baroque balconies, together with the elevation of the church of Montevergine, make it one of the most characteristic corners of Noto. In the street overlooking the palace, called Via Nicolaci, the Infiorata di Noto is held every year.

History of the Palace Nicolaci di Villadorata

The Nicolaci di Villadorata Palace was the town residence of the Nicolaci, one of the noble families of Noto. The construction of the palace began in 1720 and was completed in 1765. The initial project, however, consisted of several one-story dwellings. It was Giacomo Nicolaci, known as “Giacomo the Hunchback”, who in 1737 decided to build the palace as we see it today. In 1983 the Municipality of Noto bought the main wing of the palace and, after extensive restoration work, opened it to the public. Part of Palazzo Nicolaci houses the Municipal Library, founded in 1817 and filled with thousands of Latin and Spanish volumes and manuscripts. There is also a gallery of portraits of Noto’s illustrious men, a gift from Baron Astuto. During the 19th century the Nicolaci family made many changes to the building. Some rooms were added, the new double staircase leading to the second floor and the frescoes in the Salone delle Feste were painted.

The interiors of the Nicolaci Palace

Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata, built in the Baroque style, has four floors and over 90 rooms. The ground floor was used for stables and food storage. The second floor, known as the “Piano Nobile”, was the residence of Baron Giacomo Nicolaci, while the upper floor was used as a noble residence for family members. The top floor was reserved for the servants. Today it is possible to visit the nine furnished rooms of the Piano Nobile. They are reached by descending a splendid neoclassical staircase decorated with stucco that perfectly imitates marble. This is the beginning of a series of rooms decorated to suggest the activities and atmospheres of the period. We move from the Tea Room, decorated with delicate oriental motifs, to the Yellow Room, where the ladies probably met for conversation. The men met in the Blue Room, decorated with beautiful majolica floors, while the highlight is the Ballroom.

The Salone delle Feste

The most fascinating part of Palazzo Nicolaci is undoubtedly the Salone delle Feste (Ballroom). It was entirely frescoed in the 19th century by the descendants of Baron Giacomo Nicolaci. On the vault is a reproduction of a fresco originally painted by Guido Reni. It shows the god Apollo on his solar chariot, chasing the Aurora, surrounded by the Muses. On his sides are the personifications of the seasons and the signs of the zodiac. Along all the walls there is a mock balustrade using the “trompe l’œil” technique, in which many objects can be seen. Some are very common, such as musical instruments, baskets of fish and fruit. Others are certainly more anomalous, such as a portable electrostatic disk machine or a backgammon.

External architecture of the palace

As is often the case in the baroque towns of Val di Noto, the balconies are the most artistic expression of the private buildings. Palazzo Nicolaci has seven of them, each decorated with a different figure. It seems that they were inspired by those of the palace of the Baron of Trezzano in ancient Noto. In the middle of the elevation of the palace is the entrance portal that separates the first three balconies from the last three. It is in neoclassical style with two Ionic columns surmounted by a continuous frieze of triglyphs in the architrave. The balcony above the portal, the fourth in order, is called the Tribune of Honor.

The Baroque Balconies of Palazzo Nicolaci

The balconies of Palazzo Nicolaci are traditionally known by the names of the personifications depicted in brackets. They begin with the Balcony of the Adolescents and continue with the Balcony of the Winged Horses. The next balcony, known as the Balcony of the Turk, shows some men with beards and putti. The figure in the middle, a man with a pipe and flute, could be Giacomo Nicolaci himself. It continues with the Balcony of the Sirens, the Balcony of the Winged Lions, and ends with another balcony decorated with human figures. The exquisite wrought iron railings that decorate the balconies are called “goose-breasted” because of their shape. They were specially made to hold the ample dresses of the aristocratic ladies who overlooked the street.

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