Ragusa is a two souls city: the modern city and the ancient Ibla, its Baroque lounge.
This duality came after the famous 1693 earthquake, when the Ragusans adopted the 2 x 1 formula, maybe because they could not agree on the reconstruction plans. We are kidding, of course, although if you want to analyse it deep down there is some truth in it.
RAGUSA SUPERIORE is the new town, where efficiency has pragmatically taken over the place from the church bourgeoisie in the name of transformation.
But almost as if the tradition wanted to compensate for the renovations, the history of these places is told here through the MUSEO ARCHEOLOGICO REGIONALE IBLEO.
The museum occupies the first floor of the Palazzo Mediterraneo on via Natalelli. There are dedicated sections for the prehistoric period, Camarina, Sicilian archaic and classical dwellings, Hellenistic centres, and late Roman settlements. The stele dedicated to the Warrior of Castiglione, on display in the section of the Sicilian dwellings, is very interesting and valuable.
It commemorates the soldier Pirrinoi who probably was a lookout for Castiglione on the Iblei Mountains, in order to protect Camarina city around the sixth century D.C. It is a bas relief on a single sheet of local limestone, depicting an armed warrior on horseback. The importance of this find lies in the incision in Greek characters in a Doric dialect, that makes us think about an indigenous character.
Another interesting location is the beautiful CATHEDRAL SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA, which rises imposingly on the intersection of two main streets of Ragusa, Via Roma and Corso Italia.
Its construction started on 1694 and its large roof terrace looks onto Piazza San Giovanni. The broad and lively façade is flanked by a massive bell tower topped with a spire, recently renovated. The interior has three naves, and the nineteenth-century chapels are decorated with fine stucco.
RAGUSA INFERIORE OR IBLA The reconstruction works put a lot of attention to this part of the city with the result of creating a one-of-a-kind place, thanks to the artist’s inspiration which, in the flowering baroque style, realized wonderful palaces and churches, built with the local stone. The architectural masterpieces built after the earthquake, together with all those of Noto Valley, since 2002 belong to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Going on Corso Italia, we reach Corso Mazzini that combines Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Inferiore or Ibla on a tortuous path. You can access Ragusa Inferiore either via one of the three bridges (Old Bridge or Capuchin Bridge, New Bridge and John XXIII Bridge) or by descending a staircase hundreds of steps long, but how can you give up the latter, which is so picturesque and so inviting?
Here, at the beginning of our route, on the boundary between the two town centres, there is the CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLE SCALE, built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and rebuilt after 1693; inside, there are still elements of the old structure: the three Catalan Gothic portals on the right nave, and, in the last chapel of this same nave, another portal in the refined and elegant Renaissance style.
Walking down to Ibla, we get to Piazza della Repubblica, dominated by the Church of Purgatorio, which has a beautiful Baroque portal on the facade. This 1000 churches town, strangely laying lower than the modern one, seizes our heart more and more..
Going up on Salita Commendatore, here it is the typical BAROQUE style with its exuberant shapes, showing off in Palazzo Cosentini and Palazzo della Cancelleria (eighteenth century).
Here you can find the Church of Santa Maria dell’Idria, that looks majestic among the narrow alleys. It was founded by the Knights of Malta in the seventeenth century and it has an original bell tower, covered with Caltagirone ceramic tiles. Inside you can admire a canvas of San Giuliano, attributed to Mattia Preti.
Now either walking through the Via del Mercato or other neighbouring streets, we finally arrive in front of the Chiesa di San Giorgio, THE CATHEDRAL OF IBLA. It was built and designed by Rosario Gagliardi between 1739 and 1775. The beautiful scenic façade features juxtaposed and superimposed columns, and the central structure is jutting upward. The interior has three naves divided by strong pillars. There are three good quality paintings by Vito D’Anna and some valuable silver objects held and displayed in the church’s treasury.
Let’s have a break and taste a nice granita while admiring Piazza Duomo and, soon after, let’s take a stroll along the pedestrian precinct, until we find the CLUB OF CONVERSATION. We peek out the living room from outside and try to imagine the times when the erudite local bourgeoisie gathered in this meeting place and argued “with the ambition of having a solution for everything”.
A little bit farther down, with a shape similar to the church of San Giorgio, there is the church of San Giuseppe that holds a silver statue of the Saint dating back to the 17th century. The nearby church of Sant’Antonio, built in the Norman age, still has a Gothic portal on its facade, while the one of the sacristy has a Baroque style. Going to the left, we find the Church dell’Immacolata with another beautiful fourteenth century portal. While near the historic Byzantine walls, is the Church del Signore Trovato that was rebuilt between the 18th and 19th centuries. A beautiful painting, the Madonna del Carmine by Vito D’Anna, can be admired in the Church of Santa Maria di Valverde. In Piazza G.B. Odierna, the facade of the church of San Giorgio Vecchio is very interesting, with its wonderful Gothic-Catalan portal. A bas relief on the bezel depicts St. George slaying the dragon, with Aragonese eagles overhead.
But after losing count of the many churches we’ve viewed and visited, let’s rest in the beautiful IBLEO GARDEN, planted in the nineteenth century. It is nice and relaxing to walk inside and admire the stunning scenery. The garden, built in 1858, houses the imposing 2nd War Memorial and the churches dedicated to San Vincenzo Ferreri, San Giacomo and of the Cappuccini.
Near the garden, there are the archaeological excavation of Ragusa Ibla which brought to light many finds coming from ancient Hybla.
DONNAFUGATA CASTLE The name comes from the legend telling a story about Princess Bianca of Navarra who was a prisoner of Count Bernardo Cabrera, that fled through the galleries of the Castle that led to the surrounding countryside (donna fugata = woman escaped). This green area today is a lush park of almost 8 hectares having big Ficus trees and others exotic essences.
It is said to have been built on the old structure of a thirteenth-century tower; part of the building dates back to the mid-eighteenth century but, as a whole, the building was built by Baron Corrado Arezzo a century later, and completed the main facade adding the loggia with the elegant three-lobed arches. On the main floor the castle has ancient furnishings and a large monumental pitch-stone staircase.
Worthy of note are the coats of arms room, frescoed with noble insignia of the great Sicilian families, the hall of mirrors, the music room, the billiard room, and finally the so-called Princess Bianca’s bedroom, an unlikely circumstance from a chronological point of view but very fascinating for the legend that shrouds the Castle. The rooms, the halls and the corridors are decorated with stuccos and frescoes.
FOOD AND WINE Let’s start our gastronomical tour with the pastieri, a pasty filled with minced lamb and goat, seasoned with pepper, cheese and eggs, typical of the area of Modica;then let’s taste the scacce, a thin puff pastry stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese or broccoli, tomato, eggplant. The scacce are also called impanate during Easter time.
We can also taste the partuisa rabbit, or the chickpeas cooked with pork and the macco, a cream of fava beans. Don’t forget the caciocavallo, the typical cow’s milk cheese, rectangular shaped whose name comes from the particular location where it was placed during seasoning.
In Modica the chocolate is a must. It’s the best one for its particular and ancient workmanship. Then the affucaparrinu biscuits, the cakes with almonds, macaroons and finally the typical ‘mpanatiggi, with almonds, chocolate, beef and various spices.
Let’s end with a good wine: Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Ambrato di Comiso and Albanello.
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