The ancient city of Noto, on the slopes of Mount Alveria, was once home to a flourishing Jewish community which left the only known Sicilian siddur (prayer book); the book is now held at the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma (ref: ms parmense 1741/de’ Rossi 570). The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, and then rebuilt in its current position, in the Baroque style. The medieval Jewish quarter was also destroyed. There are still traces of the area’s Jewish past in the valley at the foot of Mount Alveria, in caves that were used as burial chambers. Some of these bear engravings depicting the menorah. The best known is the Grotta del carciofo (‘Artichoke Cave’ – reflecting how the local peasants had interpreted the menorah image). It was discovered east of the Fiaccavento house near the former Porta della Montagna, north of where the old city had been.
The Noto Civic Archaeological Museum (currently closed for refurbishment), contains a phylactery engraved on a limestone slab. It was found in 1940 on Mount Alveria, and dates from the 5th/6th century. Other magical phylacteries engraved on small metal plates are on display at the museum in Santa Croce Camerina (RG). From Noto it is easy to reach the Ippari river valley, along which are numerous underground Jewish burial chambers dating from the late classical period.
Grotta del carciofo
For visits please enquire at the nearby farmhouse hotel
Tel. +39 3389733084
Museo Civico Archeologico di Noto:
(currently closed for refurbishment)
Monastero di Santa Chiara
Monday to Sunday 10.30am-1.00pm; 2.30pm-4.00pm
Tickets: 2 euros