Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte

Landmark in Caltagirone

Image by Krzysztof Dydynski Getty Images

Caltagirone's most evocative sight is this monumental staircase, known locally as the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, which rises from Piazza Municipio to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte, at the top of the town. Built in the early 17th century to connect the old hilltop centre with newer developments around Piazza Municipio, it was originally divided into several flights of steps separated by small squares.

These tiers were eventually unified in the 1880s to create the 142-step flight that stands today. The hand-painted majolica tiles were a relatively recent addition, only being added in 1956. It's all very impressive, although by the time you get to the top, you'll probably be more interested in having a sit-down than admiring the tile-work. Fortunately, the huge views will quickly restore your will to move. Flanked by colourful ceramic shops, the steps are at their finest during Caltagirone's annual celebration, the Festa di San Giacomo (Feast of St James) on 24 and 25 July, when the entire staircase is lit by more than 4000 oil lamps. The spectacle is repeated on 14 and 15 August.

At the bottom of the staircase, Piazza Municipio is overshadowed by a number of grand buildings, including the Palazzo Senatorio, where the town senate once sat. The building is now home to a cafe.