Noto is in the Province of Syracuse, Sicily. It is 32 kilometres southwest of of Syracuse at the foot of the Iblean Mountains. It lends its name to the surrounding area Val di Noto. In 2002 Noto and its church were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old town, Noto Antica, lies 8 kilometres directly north on Mount Alveria. A city of Sicel origin, it was known as Netum in ancient times. In 263 BC the city was granted to Hiero II by the Romans. According to legend, Daedalus stayed in the city after his flight over the Ionian Sea, as did Hercules after his seventh task. During the Roman era, it opposed the magistrate Verres.
In 866 it was conquered by the Arabs, who elevated the city to become a capital of one of the three districts of the island (the Val di Noto). In 1091, it became the last Islamic stronghold in Sicily to fall to the Christians. Later it became a rich Norman city.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the city was home to several notable intellectual figures, including Giovanni Aurispa, jurists Andrea Barbazio and Antonio Corsetto, as well as architect Matteo Carnelivari and composer Mario Capuana. In 1503 king Ferdinand III granted it the title of civitas ingeniosa. In the following centuries, the city expanded, growing beyond its medieval limits, and new buildings, churches and convents were built. These, however, were all totally destroyed by the 1693 Sicilian earthquake.
The current town, rebuilt after the earthquake on the left bank of River Asinaro, was planned on a grid system by Giovanni Battista Landolina. The new city occupied a position nearer to the Ionian Sea. The hiring of architects like Rosario Gagliardi, Francesco Sortino and others to rebuild the city helped make the new Noto a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque, dubbed the "Stone Garden" by Cesare Brandi and is currently listed among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Many of the newer structures are built of a soft tufa stone, which assume a honey tonality under sunlight. Parts of the cathedral suddenly collapsed in 1996, a great loss to Sicilian Baroque architecture.