14 Sights of Ragusa worth visiting
Situated among the mountain peaks, northwest of Modica, Ragusa is a city “with two faces”. At the top of the hill is Ragusa Superiore, a lively city with a rational street network and all the trappings of a modern provincial capital. And on the slope of the same hill is “engraved” Ragusa Ibla, a magnificent old district with intricate alleyways, gray stone houses, baroque palazzos and small pretty squares, which is actually the historical center of Ragusa.
Like many other towns in the region, Ragusa Ibla (Old Town) was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. After that, a new town, Ragusa Superiore, was built on a high plateau. But aristocrats did not want to leave their dilapidated palaces and eventually rebuilt Ragusa Ibla in its former location. In 1927 the two towns were united.
In the same year of 1927 united Ragusa became the capital of the province of the same name, surpassing its main competitor – Modica. The sights of Ragusa are concentrated, as is to be expected, mainly in the Old Town. However, this does not mean that the new town is not worthy of attention – be sure to look there too, especially since these areas are essentially located next to each other.
Ragusa Ibla (Old Town)
Ragusa Ibla (Old City).
The site of the Old City is thought to have been the site of the Hibla settlement in ancient times and then the Greek Gebla Geraia. Like the New Town above, this quiet neighborhood with its narrow, crooked streets was essentially rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake. So amongst the old buildings that survived the earthquake you can find many examples of 18th century Baroque architecture. You can also find some traces of the old buildings, but not many.
From Piazza della Repubblica a broad staircase leads to the Baroque church of Anime del Purgatorio. Nearby are the two 18th century palaces, the Palazzo Cosentini and the Palazzo Bertini.
Address: Ragusa Ibla, Ragusa, Italy.
Cathedral of San Giovanni
San Giovanni Cathedral.
You may be puzzled to find in the Piazza del Duomo, not a cathedral as you might expect, but the church of San Giorgio. The cathedral is in Piazza San Giovanni, named after the saint to whom the temple itself is dedicated. This square, which forms a terrace because of the rough terrain, is shaded by the cathedral’s imposing facade and its tall campanile (bell tower).
The construction of the Cathedral of San Giovanni took most of the 1700s. The time was not wasted – something striking came out, with a facade in the typical Southern Sicilian Baroque style, with statues and three portals. The inner chapels, in the shape of a Latin cross, with a nave and two aisles, are richly decorated with gilded Rococo moldings and statues of polychrome marble. The columns separating the aisles are also decorated in gilt. Behind the cathedral is a beautiful Baroque presbytery.
Address: Cathedral of Saint John Baptist, Piazza San Giovanni, Ragusa, Italy.
Church of San Giorgio
Church of San Giorgio.| Photo: Andrea Schaffer / Flickr.
At one end of Piazza del Duomo is the church of San Giorgio, built between 1744 and 1775 according to the drawings of Rosario Gagliardi (his designs are preserved in the sacristy). It is one of the architect’s best works and, like the church of the same name in nearby Modica, a particularly beautiful example of Sicilian Baroque architecture.
The Church of San Giorgio rises majestically at the top of a wide staircase. It is flanked by three columns on each side of the main entrance doorway in the convex central part of the facade. These columns stretch up to the upper floor, from where a sculpted bell tower ornamented with bells rises up into the sky.
The high dome, located above where the transept crosses the nave, was added only in 1820. Once inside, be sure to take a look at the 18th-century altar, The Glory of Saint Nicholas, by Vito d’Anna.
Address: Church of Saint George, Salita Duomo, Ragusa, Italy.
The Garden of Ibleo.
Ibleo Garden. | Photo: Stijn Nieuwendijk / Flickr,
At the foot of the rocky ridge of Ibleo is the Giardino Ibleo public city park, which offers a beautiful view of the surrounding valleys. Serving as the pride of the city, this well-kept green garden is a favorite stroll destination for locals and tourists alike.
Watching the children with their parents or the grandchildren with their grandparents meeting in the Ibleo garden, watching the teenagers strolling along the green alleys under the arm, will allow you to get a closer look at the life of an ordinary Sicilian.
Address: Giardino Ibleo, Ragusa, Italy.
Church of Santa Maria del Itria
Church of Santa Maria del Itria.
Among the most beautiful sights in Ragusa is the bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria del Itria, located in the old Jewish quarter of the city and founded in the XIV century by the Knights of Malta.
Under its cobalt-blue dome is an octagonal drum of terracotta decorated with rococo patterns. Floral patterns are also carved into the portals and are reflected in the oldest of the five altars. Garlands of flowers and fruit also adorn the interior spiral columns.
Address: Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Itria, Salita Commendatore, Ragusa, Italy.
Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory (Anime del Purgatorio)
Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatorio (Anime del Purgatorio).
Like the cathedral and the church of San Giorgio, the Baroque Church of the Holy Souls rises at the top of a long, wide staircase. The entrance to the church is decorated with carved patterns of plant motifs, above which one can see reliefs depicting souls in Purgatory. The other portals are false: this is interpreted to mean that there is only one true path to heaven.
Inside the temple, you can look at the main altar in multicolored marble from the late 18th century, at a large painting depicting souls in Purgatory by Francesco Manno, and at sculptures of skulls with symbols of popes, cardinals, bishops and kings, meant to remind you of the transience of earthly attributes of power and wealth.
Address: Chiesa delle Santissime Anime del Purgatorio, Piazza della Repubblica, Ragusa, Italy.
Church of San Giuseppe
Church of San Giuseppe.
This church dedicated to St. Joseph, like many other churches in the city, was designed by Rosario Gagliardi. Perhaps that’s why its dynamic curved facade is very similar to that of the church of San Giorgio. The semicircular portal is crowned by statues of four saints; more sculptures depicting saints stand in the arched window above. The pediment above them is decorated with carved scrolls.
The elliptical interior of the church is richly decorated with frescoes and paintings, and the five stone altars are decorated with stained glass, making them look like marble. Two niches in the front contain statues, one of papier-mâché, the other a 16th-century silver statue of St. Joseph.
Address: Church of Saint Joseph, Via Valverde, Ragusa, Italy.
Church of Santa Maria delle Scale
Church of Santa Maria delle Scale.
At the end of Corso Italia stands the Church of Santa Maria delle Scale, named after the staircase that leads to the Old Town below. The church was built in the eighteenth century, and parts of an earlier 15th-century late Gothic church, including the bell tower and portal, have been preserved.
The square in front of the church offers a beautiful view of the old town, Ragusa Iblù, extending to the stunning dome of San Giorgio.
Address: Santa Maria delle scale, Discesa Santa Maria, Ragusa, Italy.
Ibleo Archaeology Museum
Ibleo Archaeology Museum.
The Museum of Archaeology, which occupies the building of the Palazzo Mediteraneo, displays in topographic and chronological order exhibits of prehistoric, Greek and Roman times found in Ragusa itself and its surroundings.
Particularly noteworthy is the collection of ceramics from the 6th century B.C. from Attica and ceramics from the town of Skornavacce, once an important center of trade. In addition, there are bronzes from the Greek settlement of Camarina, a Doric caryatid from the 4th century B.C., a floor mosaic from Santa Croce Camerina and finds from the Trabace Cave from the Late Roman period.
Address: Museo Archeologico Ibleo di Ragusa, Via Natalelli, Ragusa, Italy.
Next to the church of San Giorgio is the small Cathedral Museum, open only on weekends. The museum contains stone statues and reliefs that survived the 1693 earthquake, paintings collected from destroyed churches, and architectural drawings of the latter. Don’t miss the small 15th century stone carving showing a honeycomb with a honeycomb and a jug.
Address: Museum of the Cathedral of St. George, Salita Duomo, Ragusa, Italy.
City of Modica
City of Modica.
Like Ragusa, Modica was badly damaged during an earthquake in 1693 and was later rebuilt but mostly in the Sicilian Baroque style. Like Ragusa, it is characterized by a “split personality” – there is also an upper and lower town.
The highlight of Modica is the church of San Giorgio, built in the XVIII century, which dominates the Upper Town and to which a staircase of 250 steps leads. Its façade with five doorways is topped by a tall central tower, which further emphasizes the height of the building.
In constructing this church, the architect Rosario Gagliardi used material left over from an earlier building on the site that was destroyed by an earthquake. The interior of the church is decorated by the Renaissance altarpiece painted by Bernardino Niger in 1573, preserved from the old church.
The main attractions in the Lower Town are the 15th-century Church of the Carmina with its Gothic rose window, the splendid baroque San Pietro and the 1400s Palazzo de Leova with its Norman doorway.
Address: Modica, Ragusa, Italy.
Donnafugata Castle, which offers a beautiful view, is well known to fans of the detective series “Commissario Montalbano” as the home of former Mafia boss Don Balduccio Sinagra, because Donnafugata was used as a filming location.
Although Donnafugata certainly looks like a castle on the outside, its interior is more like a palace. Its rooms are elaborately decorated and furnished, and the walls are covered with frescoes and damask cloth.
Not only the rooms of the castle are of interest, but also its territory, on which grows 1500 species of plants and stands a stone labyrinth, the walls of which are high enough to hide the adjacent paths. This trapezoidal-shaped labyrinth appears to have been modeled after the famous labyrinth at Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of London.
The name of the castle, Donnafugata, means “fugitive woman”, which has given rise to several legends.
Address: Castello di Donnafugata, Contrada Donnafugata, Ragusa, Ragusa, Italy.
Catacombs of Cava Trabace (Grotta delle Trabace in Ragusa)
Catacombs of Cava Trabace (Grotta delle Trabace in Ragusa).
The Trabace Cave serves as evidence of late Roman and Byzantine settlements in the area called Bottino and Centopozzi. In this area, in addition to ancient burials, the remains of a Byzantine farmhouse and village church were also found. The catacombs of Cava Trabace appeared in one of Captain Montalbano’s investigations, in a series called “The Mystery of the Terracotta Dog”.
Address: Grotta Delle Trabacche, Ragusa, Ragusa, Italy.
Cava Celone Catacombs
Catacombs of Cava Celone.
The Cava Celone burial complex, which dates back to late Roman times, includes three large hypogea and several more modestly sized ones. These are underground corridors with burial niches along the walls (there are also monumental burials in the form of isolated sarcophagi). The necropolis is dated IV-V centuries AD.
Ten major attractions of Ragusa
“An island on an island”, as the Sicilian Ragusa is called, is a place that attracts tourists from all over the world. They rush to admire the scenic beauty of the valleys, gorges and hills, as well as to experience the depth of the multifaceted local culture. Historical monuments, shrines and museums are found at every turn in Ragusa. We have compiled a list of the 10 most important monuments and museums to visit first:
St. George’s Cathedral (Duomo di San Giorgio)
St. George’s Cathedral, designed by renowned architect Rosario Gagliardi, looks impressive: a monumental late-Baroque building crowned by a soaring double dome supported by two rows of columns. The altarpieces of the chapels are decorated with works by famous 18th century artists. There is also a statue of St. George by Girolamo Bagnasco.
Address: Salita Duomo, 15.
St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista)
St. John the Baptist, built in Baroque style, is considered one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in Sicily. The decoration of the central part of the cathedral are the statues of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. There you can also see the stone statue of John the Baptist from the 15th century by sculptor Angelo Recto and the Silver Ark with his relics.
Address: Piazza S. Giovanni.
Museum Archeologico Ibleo
In the Archaeological Museum you can learn about the ancient history of the province of Ragusa. The exhibits here are arranged chronologically and by topographic regions. All the objects in the collection have been restored and originally arranged to recreate as naturally as possible the ancient life of the province. In the museum you can see mosaic floors, ancient ovens, reconstructed necropolis and much more.
Address: Palazzo Mediterraneo (entrance from via Natalelli).
Opening hours: 9.00-13.30, 15.30-19.30.
Ticket price: 4 euro.
Church of San Giuseppe
The Baroque church of St. Giuseppe is part of the Benedictine convent. It is built on the ruins of the church of San Tamazzo, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963. The façade of the church consists of several tiers and the columns divide it into three vertical sections. Inside the building, you can see preserved works by local artist Matteo Battaglia. On the high altar are the Holy Gifts, next to which any parishioner can recite a silent prayer.
Address: Piazza Pola.
Giovanni Di Pasquale
Every year the prestigious Gambero Rosso guidebook lists the Giovanni Di Pasquale pastry shop as one of the “Best Italian Pastry Cafés”. Such a high title is due to the delicious fresh pastries and desserts, fragrant natural coffee made according to old recipes, friendly staff and a prevailing around a cozy and relaxed atmosphere.
Address: Corso Vittorio Veneto 104.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 7:00 am to 23:00 pm, Saturday 7:00 am to 00 pm, Sunday 7:00 am to 23:00 pm.
Average bill: 6-10 euros.
The palazzo was the seat of Ragusa Marquis Mario Schinina in the 18th century, and is now the seat of the city’s bishop. The palazzo stands out against the surrounding buildings due to its grand staircase, the steps of which lead to the first floor. Previously, the palazzo was surrounded by a magnificent garden with more than 50 species of rare shrubs and plants. Today only a few pieces are left of the once rich garden.
Address: via Roma, 109.
Palazzo La Rocca
Don Saverio La Rocca built La Rocca Palace in the 18th century on the site of ancient structures. Having gone through many reconstructions, the building has preserved its almost unchanged appearance. Of particular note are the palace’s eight unique balconies resting on carved consoles. The balconies are decorated with grotesque masks and humanoid figures; each one has its own name: the balcony of the flutist, the maid, the cherubim, and others.
Address: via Capitano Bocchieri, 31-39.
Church of Santa Maria della Scala
The Church of Santa Maria della Scala is reached by 340 steps and is one of the cultic buildings of Ragusa. Built in the 12th century in Gothic style, the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1693. It was reconstructed, and now in the decoration of the building is dominated by features of Baroque style, but from the original structure, the Gothic portal and the pulpit remain. The chapels of the church are originally decorated with paintings by Sicilian painters of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Address: Corso Mazzini.
The magnificent gardens appeared in the city thanks to the money of local aristocrats and the work of the ordinary inhabitants of Ragusa. The inauguration of Ibla Park took place in 1858, after which it was off-limits to citizens for more than 50 years. Nowadays anyone can stroll through the beautiful alleys of the park, relax in the shade of the sprawling exotic trees, sit on the marble benches and enjoy the stunning views of the Irminio Valley. In the park you can also see the church of Chiesa San Giacomo Apostolo built in the 13th century.
Address: Ragusa Ibla.
Late Baroque palazzo Bertini was built by the Floridian family at the end of the 18th century. The palace portal is framed by two semi-pillars and the balconies with wrought iron lattices are richly carved. The facade of the palace is decorated with the famous sinister masks in Baroque style: a beggar, a nobleman and a merchant.