The town of Ispica and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Updated on Aug 04, 2017 by Kathryn Burrington

Blog > The town of Ispica and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

A stroll and photography session around the beautiful towns of Val di Noto in the south-east of Sicily.

The towns of Val di Noto in the south-east of Sicily are famous for their beautiful buildings but when I visited lesser known Ispica for the first time, earlier this year, one here stood out to me as a real gem, namely the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

The ancient town of Ispica, together with many of the towns in the south-east corner of the island, was levelled by the 1693 earthquake, one of the largest recorded ever to hit Italy. Like many of the towns Ispica was rebuilt but the majority of the old town was abandoned for a new location.

The highlight of the ‘new’ town for me was without doubt the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, famous for many stunning post quake buildings. The church, together with the loggiato that stands in front of it, are wonderful examples of late Baroque architecture.

Above: Sinatra’s loggiato inspired by the columns in front of St Peter’s in Rome.

Inside you’ll find a beautiful series of frescoes by Olivio Sòzzi who was prolific in Sicily, painting many sacred oils and frescos in numerous churches and monasteries.

The whole collection of 26 frescoes is considered one of the most important in Sicily. Dating back to 1763, they include what is considered to be his masterpiece, a large fresco some 40 square metres on the vault, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament (pictured below).

Sòzzi’s final works are found here as he sadly died in a fall from scaffolding while working on the ceiling. You can still quite clearly see the final brush stroke he made as he fell.


The Archaeological Park of Cava Ispica

When the town of Ispica was re-built, however, not quite all of the old town was completely abandoned. Visit the Archaeological Park of Cava Ispica to see prehistoric tombs, catacombs (pictured below), churches and troglodyte dwellings that were inhabited from the Middle Ages to as late as the 1950s.


Modern Ispica

Today Ispica is a beautiful town well worth visiting with many fine architectural examples and some very good restaurants serving traditional, local fare. I’m pleased that as yet it seems to be off the radar for most tourists and doesn’t attract the crowds that can be found in other better known Sicilian towns. This is quite possibly because it was not included in the UNESCO World Heritage listing for the Val di Noto region although perhaps it should have been. For now let’s keep it our little secret.

Check out our website for holidays near Ispica


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