Kathyrn visits Ragusa Ibla for the first time and explores its many churches and samples its delectable cuisine.
As the car rounds the bend, and we get our first glimpse of Ragusa, it really is an impressive sight with houses perched on a hill-top and spilling over, clinging to the cliff-face.
Ragusa Superiore, in the south of the Hyblaean Mountains, is the elegant capital of the region of the same name and one of the many towns and villages rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693, on the hill chosen by some of the survivors. Others, however, stayed in the original location for the town and rebuilt Ragusa Ibla. Both have wonderful examples of Baroque palaces and churches, 18 of which are listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s worth allowing a whole day to wander these enchanting streets and to admire the rich architecture. Sadly I only have a couple of hours.
The three churches of the Ibla Gardens
I had already heard a lot about the town and I’m eager to explore. The car dropped me off by my first stop, the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer (Vincenzo Ferreri).
By the entrance of Ibla Gardens this Dominican church, with its characteristic sundial on the facade, has an asymmetrically positioned bell tower topped with colorful mosaics. As I walked inside I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting art exhibition but I couldn’t linger for long as I had plenty more I wanted to see.
Ibla Gardens, laid out in 1858, is a wonderful green space on the south-eastern part of a rocky ridge overlooking the Irminio Valley.
Walking through the grand entrance gate is like stepping into another world as a magnificent avenue of palms stretches out before you.
Stone benches, flower vases and beds and exotic trees lead you to the far end, and a monument commemorating the fallen of the Great War near an old Capuchin Convent and its associated Church of St Agatha, pictured below.
Off to one side of the avenue you’ll see the Church of St. James The Apostle (Chiesa San Giacomo) pictured below. It’s well worth a look inside. This is the oldest of the three churches in and around the gardens, dating back to 1563, over a century before the earthquake.
San Giorgio Vecchio
From the gardens I head south down Vai dei Normanni to see the 15th-century Gothic side portal of the original Church of St. George (San Giorgio Vecchio). This is all that is left of the once huge church.
Though very worn, you can still make out St George on horseback slaying the dragon above the doorway and much of the intricate detailing around the arch. This has become the symbol of the town of Ibla.
San Guiseppe Church and Piazza Pola
Backtracking for a moment, I then head west along Corso XXV Aprile to Piazza Pola and San Giuseppe Church with its distinctive three bells, reflecting a Spanish influence. Take a look around the square and you’ll see some fine examples of different architectural styles.
Piazza Duomo and Duomo San Giorgio
Carrying on up the road there’s another larger square, Piazza Duomo, a favourite haunt of Inspector Montalbano from the hit Sicilian television series.
Gelati di Vini is the perfect spot for buying a refreshing gelato.
At the far end of the piazza you’ll see Duomo San Giorgio that was built to replace the original church dedicated to the same saint. The three-tiered facade was designed by Rosario Gagliardi in 1744. In the picture below you can just make out the 43m high Neoclassical dome built in 1820 by Carmelo Cutraro.
Lunch at Maredentro Ristorante
A climb up the stairs here will reward you with a stunning view, and leads on to Ragusa Superiore, but I only have time to explore Ragusa Ibla today and only a few of its architectural gems at that. It’s not long before it is time for me to head back to meet up with some friends for lunch at a fabulous seafood restaurant, Maredentro Ristorante on Corso XXV Aprile, before catching my flight back to the UK.
And what a lunch it is. More of a feast I’d say as plate after plate of local specialties are served. Here’s just a few of them.
Squid. Mussels. Clam spaghetti. One delicious seafood dish after another appears but when one of our party mentions that they can’t eat shellfish, the chef quickly whips up a tomato and basil spaghetti. How can something so simple taste so good? The finest, freshest ingredients I should imagine. And I can assure you none of us left the table hungry.
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