We’ve all learnt about the devastating earthquake that hit Malta on the 11th of January 1693, but what we never really looked at was the huge effect it had on Sicily. The disaster claimed 60,000 lives and turned 70 towns and cities to dust. What survived along Sicily’s Eastern coast was then flattened by the subsequent tsunami.
The Kings of Spain, who at the time ruled Sicily as part of the Crown of Aragon appointed their Royal Engineer, the Flemish architect Carlos de Grunenbergh to supervise the rebuilding of the now-destroyed island. He and other engineers set out building the new Sicilian towns using what were then novel concepts in town planning.
As a result, a whole host of Sicilian towns today have developed way more systematically than their Maltese counterparts as they have expanded.
The town of Grammichele sits about 50 kilometres South West of Catania, and is home to around 15,000 people. It serves as the prime example of what the new builders had in mind, uprooting the narrow winding medieval roads and replacing them with wide main streets, often extending from open piazze on a rational grid system.
Grammichele’s hexagonal grid is probably one of the more impressive, and it has stood up well to three centuries of expansion.
Noto, right on the South Eastern tip of Sicily is another town built on a grid, albeit a more conventional one.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a southern Sicilian town that isn’t built on a grid.
By comparison, save for a few exceptions, most of Malta’s towns have tended to follow a much more organic style of development, expanding outwards from a central church.
Ultimately, given the almost identical social factors present in southern Sicily and Malta, it’s amazing that a whole host of Sicilian towns have evolved in a way entirely different to most Maltese ones purely because of an earthquake.