To be completely honest I’m not much of a fan of most Baroque architecture, but the Rococo period can be quite nice and can, very occasionally, blow me away. Due east from Piazza Duomo there is just such a building…
Palazzo Biscari, 10 Via Museo Biscari, www.palazzobiscari.it
Palazzo Biscari is the most important private palace in Catania and a must-see in my opinion. It’s a sprawling 600-room Baroque beauty built on the old city walls that survived the 1693 earthquake.
It’s not really open to the public but Ruggero Moncada, a descendant of the original Biscari family, lives in one wing of the palazzo and gives tours of the most interesting rooms by appointment. I emailed him at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a view but had some difficulty in arranging a suitable day (tip: get on it as soon as you arrive). Eventually though I managed to join a small group of three different nationalities that met at 10.30 one morning at 10 Via Museo Biscai, in front of the double staircase in the inner courtyard.
I was the only English speaker so Ruggero gave me a personal, if very rapid, breakdown of the history of the palace and his family.
He’s a nice guy with a wry sense of humour. Just for fun he stood next to the pictures of his family members so we could compare the prominent family proboscis.
The most striking room is the Rococo ballroom which is densly decorated with frescoes and stucco mirrors. My video here. Apparently British soldiers used it as a tennis court during WW2.
The orchestra was seated in a dome above the dancers, around a hole in the ceiling, down through which the music would travel.
The dome is accessed via a striking staircase at one end of the gallery next to the ballroom.
Sadly we weren’t allowed to go up it.
At the other end of the gallery you can get access to the balcony which looks out over the marina.
The balcony walls are positively writhing with cherubs (a Baroque symbol known as Putti).
The sculpted female figures either side of the windows taking the place of pillars are called caryatids.
Afterwards we were allowed to wander at will around the remaining acessible rooms. The “Princess Apartments”, “Birds Gallery” and “Don Quixote Room” were a bit dingy but still interesting.
I think about 45 minutes is enough there. Ruggero only asked for a small donation (I put €5 in) to help with the upkeep of the palace.
Back outside, part of the private garden can be viewed from off the street.
You’ll find all the Baroque buildings I mention on my Google map marked by a pin with a small castle tower in it.
Now for my favourite architecture, Stile Liberty…