After we visited several other towns and cities in Sicily we went to explore Ragusa. And we were very much impressed! Ragusa is one of the most picturesque towns in Sicily we have visited. The town is separated in 2 parts: Ibla, the older part on its hilltop, and Ragusa Superiore, the more modern upper town. Like many towns in Sicily, the town was originally built on a small steep-sided hill with deep valleys on three sides separating it from the high plateau. Ragusa is in the Monti Iblei, a large area of high ground, divided up by dry stone walls and incised with ravines. In 1963 an earthquake of destroyed many of south-eastern Sicily’s towns and it was decided to rebuild Ragusa on higher, more level ground nearby. The new town was built, with straight streets and a rational layout. It is said that the local aristocrats didn’t want to move, and therefore built themselves a new palazzi on the ruins of the old town. That is the reason that Ragusa has 2 parts. The town spreads from the post-earthquake streets into more recent developments. The view from the upper town over Ragusa Ibla on its own separate hilltop is breathtaking. Ragusa is one of the UNESCO-listed Baroque towns of south-eastern Sicily. Just a nice thing to know: Ragusa is also one of the filming locations for the Sicilian detective drama Il Commissario Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano).
Churches and monuments
Both parts of the town have a lot to offer. Ragusa Ibla has a lot of Baroque architecture, including several stunning palaces and churches. The Duomo or Chiesa di San Giorgio or Cathedral of St. George by architect Rosario Gagliardi. The façade contains a flight of 250 steps and massive ornate columns, as well as statues of saints and decorated portals. The interior has a Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles ending in half-circular apses. It is topped by a large Neoclassical dome built in 1820.
There are many churches which can be visited like the Santa Maria delle Scale. Also called the “Saint Mary of the Steps”. Built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. This church is particularly interesting as it was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1693. Half of this church was rebuilt in Baroque style, while the surviving half was kept in the original Gothic style.
Other churches to visit are the Church of Santa Maria dell’Itria, with ceramics from Caltagirone. The church of St. Joseph, with an elliptic interior housing a seventeenth-century statue.The church of Sant’Antonino is an example of Norman architecture, characterized by a Gothic portal, while the Church of Immacolata boasts a fine fourteenth-century portal. San Giorgio Vecchio boasts a façade with a notable Gothic-Catalan portal, with a high lunette portraying St. George Killing the Dragon, and Aragonese eagles. The Hyblean Garden offers a good view to the three churches of the Cappuccini Vecchi, St. James (fourteenth century) and San Domenico.
The “uptown” part of Ragusa
Ragusa Ibla is a magnet for tourists, though Ragusa Superiore sure is worth a visit. The two towns meet at a saddle of land marked by the small Piazza della Repubblica. Another church, Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio, is alongside. The upper town can be reached by quite a climb. Put on your walking shoes!! There is also a little local bus from the Giardino Ibleo or Piazza della Repubblica. Ragusa Superiore is more than just the ‘modern’ part of town. It has elegant streets and noble palazzi. The main street, Corso Italia, which descends towards Ibla, is lined with attractive buildings. Don’t forget to look at the views walking down. And keep looking left and right into the small side streets! These are maybe even more attractive than the main street!
Ragusa Superiore also has its own Duomo, the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista, another eighteenth-century Baroque edifice which once stood in the old centre of Ragusa. After the tragic earthquake the church was rebuilt in the heart of the new town of Ragusa. It was a small church that could not satisfy the needs of a growing population. Expansion and restoration works started in 1718. In the nineteenth century the original lateral naves were replaced by small chapels within which the altars stood. On May 6, 1950 the church became a Cathedral as a result of the establishment of the Diocese of Ragusa.
The façade has many carvings and sculptures. It is divided into 5 parts by large columns and it also has three majestic portals (the central one is adorned with columns and statues of the Immaculate, the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist). In front of the cathedral consecrated a large, elevated above the square. On the left side of the Cathedral stands the bell tower, about 50 meters high. Something special is the floor made of slabs of pitch black adorned with white limestone designs.
We were very much surprised by this town. When we were there in January It was snowing that time which made the town maybe even more charming. Lot of people playing on the square of the Cathedral while having a coffee and sweets at the popular Caffé Italia. Parking the car shall be a problem in high season but there are parking garages available. When parking in the street do not forget to buy a tiket. You do not have pay between 13.00 and 16.00 when the Sicilians are having their siesta LoL! And put on comfortable shoes. Seeing the town walking around is a very nice way to explore but the heights are quite a lot. The height difference in total is 552 meters!
We also visited Marina Ragusa which is about half an hour from the center of the town of Ragusa. A pretty marina. The only disadvantage for me is that the town of Ragusa is quite far away. There is a Spar supermarket in walking distance. So daily shopping seems not to be a problem. By the time we were there, nobody was at the marina to ask anything but I think there is a yard where you can have repairs done. It looks like. And what I hear is that there is an active overwintering community and a lot of things are being organized.
All in all the town of Ragusa is a must-see destination! It exceeded our expectations and it was a great day despite the snow and the cold!