A Caltagirone Spree

May 2, 2010

“Where come from?” asks an artisan who stands puffing a cigarette in a doorway in Caltagirone. He looks like a Sicilian baron, with lush lips, an important nose, and hair shiny with pomade.

The U.S.”

“Ah! I have cousin Stefano Battaglia, he live in New Jersey. Maybe you know?”

“No0000. It’s a very big place!”

“Take me to America!” the man says with a sudden smile. “America more beautiful than Sicilia.”

I wonder why Sicilians always respond like this when I say where I’m from. Are they hungry for a compliment or do they really believe America is a better place?

When I tell him Sicily is più bella, he frowns, like he doesn’t believe me.

I’m in Caltagirone for my ceramics fix. Some recent purchases: a fragile pot, pasta bowls, and a holy water font, all in Caltagirone’s colors of citrus yellow, Ionian blue, and basil green.

Caltagirone Ceramics, photo by Jann Huizenga

Little mom and pop shops brimming with tiles and jugs and mugs line the famous stairway. The quality varies, and you have to bargain. Some of the best artists are represented in the Palazzoceramico, on your right after you’ve gone up a handful of steps. There’s a museum and a cute coffee shop inside, too.

Or you can fuel up on espresso on the main piazza, Piazza del Municipio. Go up the staircase into the big building with the three arches, and you’ll bump into this cafe.

Caltagirone Cafe, photo by Jann Huizenga

Crane your head upwards and a huge, tangled battle scene with the Moors will come into view.

Caltagirone Mural, Photo by Jann Huizenga

Caltagirone is one of the eight baroque World Heritage Sites in southeast Sicily. It has lush churches, a superb ceramics museum and pretty gardens. Restaurants are few and far between, but I can recommend la Piazzetta for its good quality and prices (try the cool semifreddo with warm chocolate sauce for dessert). Shops close between 1pm and  4pm (of course), but most are open on Sunday.

Caltagirone Church, photo by Jann Huizenga

One more thing: Don’t forget to strike up a conversation with the charming pensioners standing in clumps all over town.

Have you been? Do you have other recommendations?


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20 comments to A Caltagirone Spree

  • catherine Billups

    Alessi….sorry about the typo. If you are ever in the Milano area there is a wonderful spaccio (discount store) at Alessi. Last time we found perfect white pasta plates and dinner plates at two euro apiece. They are normally around 25 euro each. Naturally, we stocked up because although I love Sicilian Alessi products I like for food to be served on white plates.

  • catherine Billups

    I have too much from BOTH Allesis. Quite different but equally wonderful.

  • My boyfriend’s father is from Caltagirone. We went up there twice to visit family and those were some of the best vacations I ever had. The food is amazing… Just thinking about it gives me cravings!

  • Karen

    I stand corrected – Alessi does not have a relative in Maine. They are clients – Roberto Bonechi Imports. The Pottery Company is in Exeter, NH. and they sell a lot of Alessi ceramics. (I don’t want to lead anyone astray.)

    • Jann

      Thanks, Karen. And just to let readers know, the Alessi potter you refer to (who makes gorgeous green, blue and off-white Caltagirone bowls and pots) is not the Italian guy of the same name who designs espresso makers, watches and all that other stuff.

  • Nostalgia! I haven’t been to Sicily for too long and Caltagirone is one of my favorite places. I could just sit and contemplate those stairs for hours. A few days ago in Perugia we had cannoli from a market stand, but Sicilians in Umbria can only produce a pale copy of the real stuff. Have one for me!

  • Margo Chavez

    Jann…will you take me these places when I go visit? I will go with an empty suitcase.

  • Karen

    There is quite a lovely ceramics museum -The Regional Museum of Ceramics in Caltagirone. It covers the thousand year history and explains the Arab influence on the Sicilian ceramics. (I believe Frederick II sent them to Caltagirone to continue their work when he took over – Caltagirone means castle of vases…). I found the museum very useful in understanding the styles and patterns that can be seen in all the shops. Sigh. I too need to go back…again. Did you know that Alessi has a cousin in Maine and his pieces can be bought there? Random, but someday I’m going.

  • I hope we can see it before we leave in June…beautiful photos!

  • I also have a ceramic addiction, in particular mugs and tiny bowls. Once I overdosed in Amalfi!

  • this is a very dangerous blog. it makes me want to go out and buy those ceramics now!! great writing, jan.

  • yes, i’ve been. in beautiful caltagirone. it is something that happens a lot in all country side in Italy. live in NY? do you know…? very funny.

  • joe girolamo


    As a devout fan of Deruta my first trip to Caltagirone was a delight. The quality of the artisans stand out. We were lucky enough to purchase a beautiful Sculpture by Felice Fiorentino. The sculpture is about 50 years old and is proudly displayed in our St. Petersburg home.

    Getting close we close in two weeks on our Modica Casa see you soon.

    joe g.

  • Christine

    Ciao bella-

    I’m getting “pumped” for our trip………..All these wonderful Sicilian experiences could me mine SOON!

  • Hi Jann, My wife Diana and I always go to Caltagirone whenever we visit Sicily. Your article describes it perfectly and we’ll have to check out your recommended restaurant la Piazzettaas as we didn’t even know that it was there. Every time we go there Diana has to buy a special plate to remember the visit. We have a box of them stored at a friends house in San Giacomo now and even one hanging here in Fiji. We hope to meet you someday in Ragusa Ibla. We love reading about your renovation and can certainly sympathise with you about your glass tiles! All the best, John

    • Jann

      Hello new neighbor! I look forward to the day you move to San Giacomo and we can compare our Caltagirone prizes.

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