Hilltop Caltagirone is renowned throughout Sicily for its ceramics. The area's high-quality clay has supported production for more than 1000 years and still today the industry is an important money-spinner. The town's earliest settlers worked with terracotta, but it was the Arabs, arriving in the 10th century, who kick-started the industry by introducing glazed polychromatic colours, particularly the yellows and blues that have distinguished the local ceramics ever since.

Everywhere you go in Caltagirone you're reminded of its ceramic traditions, most emphatically at the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, the town's epic, ceramic-inlaid staircase.

Caltagirone's history dates to pre-Greek times, but the town's name is Arabic in origin, a derivation of the words kalat and gerun, meaning 'castle' and 'cave'. Little remains of the town's early incarnations, as it was almost entirely destroyed by the earthquake in 1693 and subsequently rebuilt in the baroque style so typical of Sicily's southeast.