Ispica is a precious jewel in the province of Ragusa. It is nestled in a beautiful natural setting. The town brightens up the space around it with its Baroque personality, its Art Nouveau verve and the ancient charm of Parco Forza.
To better understand the essence of Ispica, we need to know that it has many souls. The late Baroque style of the splendid churches, the Art Nouveau character of the magnificent palaces, the archaeological sites of Kamarina and Cava d’Ispica.
The starting point of our city tour is Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, where we visit the namesake Basilica. Inside is the “Christ at the Column”, which is the most beloved simulacrum of the citizens of Ispica. On Holy Thursday it is carried in procession.
The elegant semi-circular Sinatra Loggia is a rare example of the structure in use between the 17th and 18th centuries. It was usually made of wood to housing fairs during religious festivities. This place looks familiar, where have we seen it before? Of course! It is one of the sets of Commissario Montalbano. Let’s follow the itinerary dedicated to the successful TV series.
Not far away is Piazza Regina Margherita, where an imposing staircase leads to the Church of San Bartolomeo. Looking at the façade of the Mother Church, we see late Baroque elements harmonised with a neo-classical style.
Walking through the streets of Ispica, we notice that many of the buildings in the centre are decorated with Art Nouveau elements. While strolling among these sober palaces, we notice the fine sculptural details, which reveal the masterful skills of master builders and stonemasons. In Corso Umberto I, Palazzo Bruno di Belmonte stands out: it is the most important Art Nouveau building in the whole province of Ragusa.
The palace houses the Town Hall. Its shape recalls a Gothic castle, but Art Nouveau decorations enliven and lighten its structure. Ernesto Basile designed the mansion: he was one of the most important architects in Europe. He also realised the Villa Igiea, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo and the Pianto Romano memorial in Calatafimi-Segesta.
We continue our walk to the church of Santissima Annunziata, which spectacularly closes the square of the same name in front of it. The original façade was supposed to be similar to that of Noto Cathedral, but during the reconstruction, financial constraints forced the decision to choose a simpler architecture. The church has a large dome. The stucco work is a very fascinating element inside the Cathedral. Outside, to its left, is the bell tower.
Another beautiful Art Nouveau building is the eclectic Palazzo Bruno. Its architectural elements belong to the classicist tradition. Like many Iblee Villas, the Palace has a belvedere tower, which offers a magnificent view of Piazza
Moving away from the centre, following Via Massimo D’Azeglio, we come to the Convento dei Frati Minori di Santa Maria del Gesù. The convent is on a rock and has a very simple style. From this natural balcony, you can see the lower part of the city and, in the background, the sea.
The city’s ancient history was brutally interrupted by the devastating earthquake. To discover more about its roots, we must head northeast. Here stands the Parco Forza (from Fortilitium, it indicates the fortification that protected the Ispica territory), inside the archaeological area of Camarina and Cava d’Ispica (discover the route).
Hidden in the vegetation is the ancient Spaccaforno, a Bronze Age settlement. In the grotto walls, we can see the holes of cave dwellings and tombs dug into the rock.
Don’t miss the Centoscale cave: two hundred and eighty steps carved into the rock connecting the bottom of the valley with the top of a rocky spur.
The ruins of the Church of the Annunziata and traces of the Palazzo Marchionale bear witness to the old Ispica, destroyed by the Val di Noto earthquake.
Traces of frescoes are still visible in the church of Santa Maria Della Cava, while the cave of the Tannery features a series of tanks used for leather processing.
The past returns to excite and enrich the present, especially at Christmas, when Parco Forza becomes the natural setting for the famous Ispica Living Crib. The open-air scenography makes this Living Nativity Scene one of the most characteristic in Sicily.