Discovering Ragusa, a Unesco Heritage City
Ragusa is the southernmost provincial capital of Italy and has always played a fundamental and important role in the history of the island. It is a city in the heart of the Val di Noto and together with Scicli, Modicaand Syracuseis declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You will be struck by the Baroque architectureof its oldest area, Ragusa Ibla, characterized by narrow streets and houses that seem to be built on top of each other. We could distinguish two real cities connected to each other by a dense network of stairways and bridges: Ragusa Ibla (or lower) and Ragusa Superiore, built following the devastating earthquake of 1693. It can boast ancient churches, historic works of art, picturesque alleys and grandiloquent architecture that make it a unique city in the world.
What to see in Ragusa
The most modern part of the city, Ragusa Superiore, is also called “City of bridges” due to the presence of three picturesque bridges, Ponte Vecchio also called “Ponte dei Cappuccini”, Ponte Nuovo or “Ponte del Littorio” and Ponte San Giovanni also known such as “Ponte di San Vito”, which connect the city to its oldest part. Crossing these you will be able to admire the wonders of the landscape below, made up of paths and ancient huts surrounded by green nature.
Before reaching the heart of the city, a stop must be the Cathedral of San Giovanni (patron saint of the Upper City), a social gathering center and fulcrum of city life, it was built following the earthquake. The church is richly decorated in Baroque style and is characterized by an elevated churchyard, compared to the square of the same name, surrounded by a pitch stone balustrade. The interior has three naves and the peculiarity lies in the presence of fourteen columns, in Ragusan pitch stone, and the floor that alternates stone with white limestone.
One of the few examples of Gothic architecture is located between the two cities and is the Church of “Santa Maria delle scale”; along Corso Mazzini, which connects Ibla to Ragusa Superiore, there is the church of Santa Lucia which houses a raised balustrade with respect to the road that offers you a special view of Ibla.
Walking through the streets and observing the ancient buildings of the 1700s or 1800s, you will grasp the Baroque style that characterizes Ragusa; for example the elegant balconies, supported by very ornate corbels with mythical and fantastic characters typical of this style, of Palazzo Cosentini; then let yourself be carried away by the story told by the three masks present in the vaults of Palazzo Bertini: The first mask would represent the deformed poor man, who, with his tongue out, with some missing teeth and with an enormous nose, has the expression of one who, possessing nothing, he cannot be deprived of anything. On the other side it would be represented the merchant wearing a turban, with a well-groomed mustache and a calm appearance, a symbol of the one who has everything and who can do everything thanks to his money. And the central figure would represent a noble gentleman, with a firm and confident gaze, the one who can do anything, and therefore would represent the power of the aristocracy.
One of the most beautiful is Palazzo Zacco, built by Baron Melfi, and is home to the Museum of Ragusan traditions, while the largest is Palazzo Schininà di Sant’Elia.
After admiring the majesty of these buildings, a characteristic is the pedestrian path to reach Ragusa Ibla. The route starts from the church of Santa Maria delle Scale and reaches Piazza della Repubblica, known by the name of Piazza Archi or Archi in reference to the name of the area, passing through alleys and stairs that reveal breathtaking views. A marvelous staircase of 340 steps that will lead you into an intricate network of narrow streets and alleys. Here stop in the Cathedral of San Giorgio, one of the most beautiful expressions of the world baroque, whose stained glass windows portray thirteen episodes of the saint’s martyrdom. Next to it is the Portal San Giorgio, a symbol of the city of Ragusa, built in the Catalan-Gothic style in the first half of the 13th century, which survived the earthquake; probably it was the access to the church from the side, it is decorated with carvings depicting the saint, on horseback, killing a dragon and is a treasure of extraordinary beauty.
Moving only 20 km from Ragusa towards Santa Croce Camerina we can reach the Donnafugata Castle, former summer residence of the Arezzo nobles, today a museum that houses inside rooms of rare beauty and period furnishings such as the picture gallery and the hall of mirrors, a room with large mirrors that cover almost all the walls, with fine curtains and an antique grand piano. It is the flagship of the province of Ragusa and represents one of the most evocative architectural works of the entire Ibleo area. It is characterized by a set of different architectural and artistic elements, it embodies eighteenth-century features (such as the tower) together with Gothic-Venetian elements (especially the loggia with trefoil arches). slightly uphill road flanked on the sides by those typical buildings that once were the abode of the peasants who worked under the lord. Today, however, they host businesses and restaurants.
What to see in Ragusa IBLA
Following the earthquake of 1693 the city was divided into two agglomerations. In fact, some of the inhabitants decided to build new homes in the highest part, on the plateau, giving rise to a new, more modern city, with wider and more comfortable streets. Others instead wanted to rebuild the houses in the same place where they were before, respecting the traditional medieval layout. Most of the artistic heritage is enclosed right in the old quarter of Ibla, with over 50 churches all baroque and late baroque.
In addition to the majestic Cathedral of San Giorgio which stands near the staircase that connects the two areas of the city, the Church of Santa Maria dell’Itria is also attractive: its peculiarity lies in the blue-colored dome, also visible from the surrounding countryside. The church was built for the order of the Knights of Malta in 1639 and the cross of the Maltese order can still be seen on the door. The interior is sumptuous, with sumptuous decorated altars, different from each other. The bell tower of the church, located to its left, in addition to the belfry, supports a balustrade surrounding a small dome, whose octagonal base is covered with polychrome Caltagirone tiles, decorated with vases and flowers.
Among the many churches, in Piazza Pola there is the Church of San Giuseppe, inside which you can see a delicate statue of the saint, completely in silver; you can see the simple facade adorned with a beautiful portal with the coat of arms of the convent order and a small baroque bell tower.
At the beginning of via Orfanotrofio, the Church of Sant’Antonio, formerly Santa Maria La Nuova, welcomes us, with an ogival portal residual of the ancient Gothic-style church positioned laterally, and the current Baroque-style portal. Inside the sacristy there are also traces of the ancient church of Santa Maria La Nuova.
Built in such a way as to form one with the rocks is the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, built following the discovery of a small picture, of Byzantine origin, depicting the Madonna and child.
In Piazza della Repubblica (also known as Piazza Archi) there is the church of the Santissime Anime del Purgatorio, which is one of the few that resisted the earthquake.
The convent and church of Santa Maria del Gesù has a characteristic hut shape and the only external ornament is the portal marked by two semi-columns supporting a broken tympanum, while the interior is richly adorned with stucco and frescoes. The Convent and Church of San Francesco all’Immacolata was probably built in the thirteenth century and the Franciscan friars wanted to allocate it at the far end of the town in order to welcome and care for the sick. The bell tower is one of the oldest in Sicily, dating back to the Swabian period.
Located in Piazza G. B. Hodierna, at the entrance to the Iblei Gardens, is the deconsecrated church of San Vincenzo Ferreri known as the church of the Madonna del Santissimo Rosario.
Walking through the village you will discover the quantity of religious monuments that enrich the heritage of Ragusa Ibla, but there is no shortage of buildings and military architecture, such as the walls; in fact during the Byzantine period the city was surrounded by walls, becoming part of the castle of Ragusa, a military fortress and civil center which, located on the highest part, controlled and defended the center. The walls, later enlarged during the Norman period, are now visible in the area next to the Church of SS. Lord Found and in the Archi district, next to the Churches of SS. Souls in Purgatory.
After admiring the beauties of the place, to rest and enjoy some peace, the city gives you the opportunity to relax in the nature in the municipal villa, also known as the Hyblean Garden. A large well-tended green area full of typical local plants, overlooking the Irminio valley. The garden extends for over 15 thousand square meters and also hosts three medieval churches, that of the Capuchins with a convent, that of San Giacomo and that of San Domenico or del Rosario. The villa is surrounded by a terrace that offers you a view of the Iblei Mountains and the beautiful valley that surrounds the historic center.
Where to eat in Ragusa Ibla
In Sicily, art is also at the table! The dishes are colored and smell of distant traditions: the “ciappi” that is fresh tomatoes; the “strattu”, a particular tomato puree excellent for seasoning pasta; one of the oldest cheeses on the island, “Ragusano D.O.P”; baked pasta with sardines or pasta with fresh broad beans; the badotti di San giuseppe or the vermicelli alla carrettiera and many other dishes; do not let them tell you, try them in the many local restaurants.
In the center of the city in Piazza S. Giovanni there is the “Tipico”, which combines, with its cuisine, the authenticity of the products with the rediscovery of new flavors.
In Corso Vittorio Veneto, the “screw turn” tavern or “La Taverna del Lupo” to taste the typical Ragusan dishes in this excellent trattoria with retro-style interiors.
Just outside the historic center there is the “Nto Cumannanti” restaurant with a sober atmosphere and colorful tones. It specializes in land cuisine and offers simple and tasty dishes at very affordable prices.
In the frame of Ragusa Ibla, let yourself be delighted by the dishes of the family-run restaurant “La Battola” with generous portions and products cooked with excellent raw materials. A few steps from the Duomo and the Hyblean garden there is a room built inside the rock, like a sort of cellar, with outdoor tables, with always innovative tourist menus and excellent pizza: “Ristorante Pizzeria U Saracinu Ragusa Ibla “.
A good tourist knows how to get carried away in the magic of the local tradition by combining culture, folklore and gastronomy !!!
What to do in Ragusa: events, festivals and parties
Holidays are the ideal time to relax, get away from the routine, have fun and discover new places. Ragusa is rich in culture and traditions, but there is no lack of fun. For the youngest, the ideal period is summer, the steps of the cathedral are swarming with kids who spend their evenings in company, but the nightlife is a few kilometers away, in Marina di Ragusa, the hub of entertainment in the Hyblean area. Here you can go wild dancing in the various clubs and discos that organize evenings until late at night, offering drinks and cocktails.
But in every period of the year there are events, parties and shows that will brighten your stay. Ragusa is full of theaters and cinemas for art and culture lovers, these always organize shows of great interest.
For folklore lovers, the feast of St. John is the most important religious event in the city that combines the sacred and the profane. On 24 June, the day of his birth, the feast of St. John the Baptist is celebrated liturgically with a solemn mass and with the display of his relics. The solemn celebrations, on the other hand, take place on August 29, the date of his martyrdom. The statue of the saint, in limestone and dating back to the early 1500s, is carried in procession, accompanied by the musical band, through the Hyblean streets. It is a truly suggestive procession, not to be missed.
The Feast of San Giorgio is also very much felt by the inhabitants, and is celebrated by decorating the Mother Church with ancient drapes and portals of red damask and large floral compositions. The statue of St. George and the Holy Ark are displayed for the veneration of the faithful on both sides of the transept where they remain until, with a suggestive ceremony, they are placed in their niches above the side doors. Spectacular are the fires that are lit on Sunday on the steps of the Church, at the exit and at the entrance of the procession in front of an imposing crowd with many people who also arrive from neighboring countries and the many tourists who will always remember this great show. In addition to the two bands that follow the simulacra, Ibla offers many collateral events, with exhibitions, concerts and performances by groups of artists.
For Opera lovers, the Organ Festival is organized in the city’s churches in winter, where you can listen to and relive the sound of ancient organs in the majestic Baroque churches.
August is the ideal month if you are a beer lover! The “Birrocco” is an event that takes place in Ragusa Superiore and also boasts the presence of international and international artists, in addition to the organization of sensory workshops and tastings at equipped stands. Choose your favorite beer, among the over 100 craft beers that are served, and enjoy the landscape sipping it in the streets of the village in the company of your friends.
Between parties, theaters, festivals and clubs that organize evenings, spending your holiday in Ragusa will surely be unforgettable.
How to get to Ragusa
Ragusa is well connected with the main cities of Sicily thanks to the train station and Comiso Airport, where you can also take advantage of the shuttle service that reaches the city and also the town of Marina di Ragusa.
To reach Ragusa by car from Palermo (248km):
- Proceed on the E90 motorway towards Messina
- Take the A19 towards Caltanissetta;
- In Caltanissetta turn towards the SS640 and continue onto the SS626
- At Butera, take the SS115 and continue until you reach the SP52 which will take you to the gates of Ragusa.
To reach Ragusa by car from Messina (200km) and Catania (105Km):
- Proceed on the A18 (E45) motorway towards Catania;
- At Lentini, take the Lentini-Carlentini exit and continue on the SS194 and then the SS514 towards Ragusa;
- Finally, turn left onto the SP52 towards Corso Italia in Ragusa.