This city is a beautiful mix of ancient and modern style, a shining jewel among all precious treasures of Sicily. It’s an essential destination for art, architecture, history and landscape: welcome to Ragusa.
Ragusa: where and what
Splendid Sicily is almost like a continent rich in peoples, tastes, nature, sensibilities where everything expands to infinity. A sweet and harsh land, soft and rough, bright and veiled: a world full of art and history. And today I’m taking you with me to one of the unique places on the island. I’m talking about the spectacular Ragusa and their 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
Meanwhile, let’s define where we are: here we are, about 20 kilometers away from the Mediterranean Sea, by the south-eastern coast of the island. Perched on the southern part of the Hyblaean Mountains, it has two sides: the most recent is on the plateau and the oldest is called Ibla: this is Ragusa. All around, any visitor can see a unique and incomparable scenery that seems to summarize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the rocky promontories, the clear stones, the long beaches…
And now let’s discover some curiosities!
Did you know that it is called ‘The City of Bridges’ because the neighborhoods of the city are connected by three bridges, namely Ponte Vecchio, Nuovo and Nuovissimo? And did you know that it is also called ‘The City of the hundred wells’? The legend says that the devils from the hell came back to earth from these wells. Did you know that after the earthquake of 1693 the citizens were divided between ‘sangiorgiari’ that is nobility and ‘sangiovannari’ that is bourgeoisie, so they built two cities called Ragusa? And did you know that the two municipalities, Ragusa Ibla where the nobles used to live and Ragusa Superiore that belonged to the bourgeoisie, were unified in 1926? You will be amazed to see Greek remains, Roman ruins, Arab neighborhoods, old monasteries, baroque churches and endless beaches coexist!
From an artistic and architectural point of view Ragusa is fundamentally Baroque…but do you know why? Catania, Caltagirone, Militello, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Scicli and Ragusa were destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and were rebuilt following to the style in vogue at that time. These late Baroque cities are so special and interesting that they are listed among the 10 UNESCO sites in Sicily!
Ragusa: how and when
Nowadays the city is one of the most famous and touristic places in Sicily but how and when did Ragusa become so popular? According to many people, the name ‘Ragusa’ dates back to the Greek Ρογος (Rogos) or ‘granary’ thanks to the rich crops of the area. The Arabs changed the name to Rakkusa that means “famous place” maybe to commemorate a battle, finally in Norman and Aragonese times it was latinized and turned into Ragusia. The first settlements date back to the 20th century BC., it seems that the Sicilian king Hyblon had founded the first settlement called Ibla. It would explain the reason why, after the earthquake, the ‘aristocratic’ part of the city was named in this way.
The city that the Byzantines had fortified in 700 AD. was then conquered, in the mid-800 AD., by the Arabs. In less than 200 years, they were able to develop agriculture thanks to the cultivation of cotton, citrus groves and terracing. Later, Ragusa knew the period of Norman domination and then, the autonomous administration of many counts entrusted by the Angevins and Aragonese lasted more than five hundred years. So, as in the rest of the Island of Light, the great families that dominated for many centuries gradually arrived: Spaniards, Savoyards and Bourbons! In 1860, some armed volunteers from Ragusa helped Garibaldi who had disembarked in Marsala. The city became part of the Kingdom of Italy. The rest is modern history…
10 wonders to see in Ragusa: let’s find out the top three!
Well now you know enough to go further and as I promised, I will list one by one 10 wonders to see in Ragusa: let’s discover them!
1 – Ibla, the ancient city
Our visit starts from the wonders of the ancient city: Ragusa Ibla and the aristocratic palaces. We are right in the ancient heart of the city, and believe me, you will be amazed by baroque decorations, stuccos, ornaments, carvings! Are you ready to take spectacular photos immersed in a magical setting made up of churches, fountains, squares, gardens and palaces? So, let’s go: every corner will enchant you, but I don’t want to spoil too much… In the meantime, I will give you some information about the most interesting palaces.
According to many people, Palazzo Zacco represents the most extreme Rococo because of its showy capitals, mascarons and balconies. If you want to visit it, remember that it houses the museum of peasant time. Palazzo Sortino-Trono stands out on the famous Piazza degli Archi and was built on part of the walls of an ancient castle.
The largest palace in Ragusa, known as Schininà di Sant’Elia, occupies an entire block: look at the central door decorated with some huge Baroque garlands. Palazzo Bertini intrigues and entertains with three “mascarons” representing typical characters of the culture of that time: the toothless beggar, the elegant nobleman, the plump merchant. Just a doozy: in the Conversation Circle also called Caffè dei Cavalieri, you will find a neoclassical structure – that is still intact – with the city coat of arms.
2 – St. George’s Cathedral
Don’t miss a visit to St. George’s Cathedral, a true masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque that stands on St. George’s square. The church we see today was built following the project of an architect, Mr. Gagliardi, who wanted to build the church on the foundations of the old Church of San Nicola, destroyed by the earthquake in 1693. The charm of the majestic staircase and the beautiful gates is enhanced by the white facade enriched by the Gothic-Catalan portal of the 15th century. If you want, you can also visit the small Cathedral Museum full of artworks saved by the terrible earthquake. Another gem: Via Solarino, that is located next to the stairways, is known for being one of the most popular spots to propose at sunset: if you are in love…
3 – The Hyblean Garden
If you need a relaxing break, but not only, visit the Hyblean Garden that has existed since 1858 thanks to the contribution of wealthy citizens of that time. So let’s go into the wide and long avenues shaded by tall palm trees and Mediterranean essences and nice benches. Among the colors and scents of this park we find three churches and a monument. I am talking about the church of San Vincenzo Ferreri, the church of San Giacomo and finally the one of the Capuchins. The monument is dedicated to the soldiers who dies during the II WW. Keep on walking up to the grandiose stone balconies: and here is an unexpected view of the Irminio Valley and the Hyblaean Mountains!
10 wonders to see in Ragusa: let’s find out two more!
4 – Stairways and alleys in Ibla
We said it: the city, or – to be precise – the cities are connected by bridges and many stairways! Did you put a pair of sneakers in your luggage and above all do you want to enjoy urban trekking? Well, let’s discover the fascinating pedestrian path that connects Ragusa Superiore to the baroque Ragusa Ibla. Our first stop is the Church of Santa Maria delle Scale. Then, be brave and face climbs, descents, streets, steps that give you some breathtaking views, perfect to take pictures. Finally, we will reach Piazza della Repubblica, known as Piazza Archi. Here, you can see the Church of Holy Souls that is the centerpiece of a ghost story! Do you still want to walk? Really? You can get lost among the alleys…it’s almost a labyrinth of an Arab medina!
5 – St. John’s Cathedral
It’s time to move to the modern city that is also called Ragusa Superiore where you can see palaces, squares and churches characterized by different styles. Did you know that this city has two patron saints: Saint George in Ragusa Ibla and Saint John in Ragusa Superiore? I have already talked about the Cathedral dedicated to St. George, so now let’s know more St. John’s Cathedral. We are now in front of one of the biggest Sicilian churches built in the center of Ragusa Superiore at the end of the 19th century. Inside, we find fourteen Ragusan pitch stone columns and a beautiful floor, moreover we can visit the interesting Museum. Outside, we can see a huge churchyard bordered by a pitch stone balustrade: let’s stop and admire it!
10 wonders to see in Ragusa: let’s find out more and more!
We visited 5 out of 10 wonders to see in Ragusa! Now it’s time to get to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
6 – On location: Inspector Montalbano
It is time to take our car and discover some places that maybe you have already seen on TV. Do you know the famous TV show ‘Inspector Montalbano’ (Il Commissario Montalbano)? All the acclaimed episodes of this show were shot in Ragusa Ibla and in many other Sicilian areas in the province of Ragusa. To live the emotions in person, I would start right from the inspector’s house in Punta Secca near Santa Croce Camerina. Here is a curiosity: do you know that this house on the beach can be rented when they are not filming, of course? Some other scenes were shot in locations such as the Donnafugata Castle, Modica, Scicli…let’s discover them all!
7 – Donnafugata Castle
And now, let’s drive 15 kilometers away from Ragusa to get to the Donnafugata Castle that was built by Count Bernardo Cabrera. We are immediately attracted by the Gothic-Venetian style facade characterized by some Moorish elements. But the best is yet to come: I am talking about a sumptuous nineteenth-century villa with over 120 rooms and a monumental Mediterranean park. It was also used to shoot some films created by great directors and as a location for fairy-tale weddings! Nowadays it is possible to visit part of the furnished rooms, the art gallery and the shining hall of mirrors! But have you ever wondered why the castle has this peculiar name? They say that the White Queen of Navarre, when her husband King Martin I of Aragon died, was imprisoned here by Count Cabrera. But she somehow resisted the count’s inopportune requests and ran away … precisely a ‘fugitive woman’!
10 wonders to see in Ragusa: let’s find out the last three ones!
8 – Modica
Let’s discover the town of Modica that is located a few minutes away from Ragusa. In the past, it was crossed by two rivers that had led to the construction, up to the 19th century, of 17 bridges and mills. The highest spot is the ancient castle surrounded by a tangle of stairs and medieval alleys. All around, there are many houses with some rooms carved into the rock of the plateau. Apart from these districts, Modica is the city of the Baroque: aristocratic palaces, grandiose churches, monasteries are the signs of the ancient prosperity of the city. I suggest visiting St. George’s Cathedral and the staircase with 250 steps, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Church of Santa Maria. Do you want to taste something delicious? In the 16th century, the Spaniards introduced a very special way to produce chocolate: try it!
9 – Scicli
Let’s drive for 10 kilometers to get to Scicli, another Baroque city that rises in a valley among the hills. We have no traces of the late Byzantine and medieval origins because of the earthquake happened in 1693. The city was rebuilt following the Baroque style like the other cities now protected by UNESCO that definitely deserve to be visited. Let’s get lost in a maze of alleys by the rich city center full of elegant churches and palaces.
Don’t miss to visit some churches such as Santa Maria La Nova, San Matteo and San Giovanni. Then, go to the Convent of the Capuchins, and Beneventano Palace. Take note: if passing in front of the Town Hall you have a feeling of déjà-vu…well, you are in front of the Police Station where Inspector Montalbano works! And on the ground floor, the records office is the location where the TV series is shot: don’t miss it!
10 – Beaches
Finally, here is the last of the 10 wonders to see in Ragusa. Don’t forget that the province has over 60 kilometers of wild and sandy coasts! If you have visited the coast of North Africa, you will be amazed by the evident similarity with the coast of the Island of Light. The reason is simple: some of these gorgeous beaches are – geographically speaking – below the parallel of Tunis!
If you want to know more and explore some beaches, here is my advice. Let’s start from the equipped beaches in Marina di Ragusa and Marina di Modica that are now experiencing an increase in tourism. Then, there is Pozzallo that is characterized by an intense blue sea that has already been awarded with the prestigious symbol of the blue flag. Visit Scoglitti and the Riviera of Kamarina, an ancient Greek colony, with beach volleyball and beach soccer fields where international events take place. Last but not least, Sampieri is ideal both for families who love sand and for sports lovers that want to practice snorkeling.
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Ragusa? Don’t think that’s all! Sicily is much more than this: come and discover it thanks to the itineraries organized by Dimensione Sicilia. One of the best ideas? Eco-tours by electric cars! These itineraries are customizable itineraries according to your time and budget to enjoy 8 days in Western and Eastern Sicily or 14 days, if you prefer. You will visit the most beautiful places on the island such as 10 UNESCO sites of Sicily including Ragusa and its surroundings. Or if you want to enjoy the beauties of the island in a different way, pick one of the tours suggested by Sicilian Secrets. In safety we trust, let’s go!
See you soon!
Translated by Gaia Guarino