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Ragusa (Sicilian: Rausa; Latin: Ragusia)
is a city and comune in
It is the capital of the province
on the island of Sicily,
with around 75,000 inhabitants. It is built on a wide limestone hill
between two deep valleys,
Cava San Leonardo and Cava Santa Domenica. Together with seven other
cities in the Val
it is listed among the UNESCO
World Heritage Sites.
origins of Ragusa can be traced back to the 2nd
millennium BC, when in its area there were several settlements of the
The current Ragusa Ibla lies probably on one of them, identified as Hybla
ancient city, located on a 300 m high hill, entered in contact with
the nearby Greek colonies, and developed thanks to the nearby port of Camerina.
After a short Carthaginian rule,
it was administrated by the Romans and the Byzantines: the latter
fortified the city and built a large castle. Ragusa was occupied by the Arabs in
remaining under their rule until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered
it. Selected as County seat, its first Count was Geoffrey, son of Count
Roger I of Sicily.
thereafter followed the events of the Kingdom of Sicily, created in the
first half of the twelfth century. A Chiaramonte family
fief, it remained the county capital after the unification with that of
Modica in 1296, a status it lost in the 15th century after a popular
1693 the city was devastated by a huge earthquake,
which killed some 5,000 inhabitants. Following this catastrophe the city
was largely rebuilt, many baroque buildings
date from this period. Most of the population moved to a new settlement in
the former district of Patro, calling the new municipality "Ragusa
Superiore" (Upper Ragusa) and the ancient city "Ragusa
Inferiore" (Lower Ragusa). The two cities remained separated until
1926, when they were fused together to become the provincial capital in
1927 at the expense of Modica, the former capital and the most populous
and important city in the region since 1296.
1838 an asphalt deposit
was discovered, which is still being worked.
city has two distinct areas, the lower and older town of Ragusa
Ibla, and the higher Ragusa
Town). The two halves are separated by the Valle dei Ponti, a deep ravine
crossed by four bridges. The most noteworthy of them is the
Cathedral of San
Giovanni Battista is
the main monument of Ragusa Superiore. The church was located originally
in the west part of the ancient Ragusa, under the walls of the Mediaeval
castle, where the small church of St. Agnese is today. A first, smaller
edifice was quickly built after the 1693 earthquake, but it soon proved
inadequate. The current edifice was built between 1718 and 1778, with a façade
in typical southern Sicilian Baroque style, with three portals and
carvings and sculptures representing
the Madonna, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The upper
order of columns has two watches showing time in Italian and French
fashions respectively. The high bell
tower, on the left side, is also in Baroque style (of another one, on
the right side, only the cornerstone was laid off in 1820).
ornate Baroque interior has a Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles
separated by three colonnades embellished with gold. Over every column are
charts showing Bible verses referring to St. John the Baptist. The vaults
of the naves and the presbytery were decorated with Rococo gilted
stuccoes by Giuseppe and Gioacchino Gianforma, also authors of the two
statues in the niches of the transept. The dome was built in 1783, and
covered with copper sheets in the 20th century. The side chapels,
characterized by altars decorated with polychrome marbles, are from the
is the Hyblean Archaeological Museum, with six sections devoted to
Prehistoric to Late Roman findings.
Ibla hosts a wide array of Baroque architecture, including several
stunning palaces and churches.
The Cathedral of
San Giorgio was built
starting in 1738 by architect Rosario
Gagliardi, in substitution of the temple destroyed by the 1693
earthquake, and of which only a Catalan-Gothyic style portal can still be
seen. The façade is characterized by a flight of 250 steps and by massive
ornate columns, as well as by 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.
a narrow winding street that connects Ragusa Ibla (the new name of R.
Inferiore, taken by a legendary Greek town maybe risen here) with Ragusa
Superiore is the church of Santa
Maria delle Scale ("Saint
Mary of the Steps", built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth
centuries). This church is particularly interesting: 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 (including the
three Catalan-style portals in the right aisle). The last chapel of the
latter has a Renaissance portal. The chapels have canvases from some
Sicilian painters of the 18th century.
Church of the Souls of the Purgatory has a Baroque portal. The church of Santa
Maria dell'Itria, built by the Knights
of Malta in the
seventeenth century, has a campanile with ceramics from Caltagirone and a
canvas attributed to Mattia
church of San Giorgio,
designed by Rosario Gagliardi and built in 1739–1775, has a façade with
tiers of juxtaposed columns. The Treasury contains silver items of value.
Similar though smaller is the nearby church of St. Joseph, with an
elliptic interior housing a seventeenth-century statue of the dedicatee.
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.
Giorgio Vecchio has a
re-entrant façade with a notable Gothic-Catalan portal, with a high
relief on the lunetta portraying St.
George Killing the Dragon, and Aragonese eagles.
Hyblean Garden offers a panorama on the three churches of the Cappuccini
Vecchi, St. James (fourteenth century) and San
Palace is a
Baroque building, its Corinthian
balconies of wrought iron work, caryatids and grotesques.