In the middle of Hyblean Mountains, on the top of a steep, rocky ridge overlooking Irminio Valley sits one of the most fascinating Sicilian towns – Ragusa Ibla
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
It seems impossible to bring the magic “spirit” of Ragusa(s) without revealing natural settings surrounding this “Twin-City”. Indeed it will be hard to “invent” Ragusa somewhere else, be it in the middle of meadows, woodlands, on the river banks or seashore…
The fact is that Mother Nature was generous, graciously offering Ragusa the best she has to offer - a unique place in the heartland of Hyblaean Mountains (Monti Iblei). This scenic mountain range extending from Ragusa to Syracuse with highest peaks hardly reaching 3,000 ft (Mt. Lauro - 986m high) is not only easily inhabitable and arable but it also offers fabulously picturesque scenery …
Ragusa-Ibla: view from the old Ragusa
Map of Ragusa Ibla: 6 – Church St Mary dell’ Idria; 7-La Cancelleria; 8 – Palace Cosentini, 10 – Church of Souls of Purgatory; 11 – Palace Sortino Trono; 12 – Palace La Rocca; 13 – Church of St. George (Duomo); 14-Church of St. Joseph; 15-Palace Battaglia, 16-Church of St. Francis; 17-Church Santa Maria del Gesu; 18-Church St. Mary of Miracles.
Please note the Tourist Information Office at the exit of the parking lot (unfortunately closed when you need it :-()
Imagine a vast plateau dotted with hills, some terraced and green, others revealing white layers of eroded limestone or contrasting dark volcanic rocks… Between hills lie shallow valleys, but sometimes also more dramatic sharp ravines and deep canyons....
In the middle of these amazing settings, on the top of a steep, rocky ridge overlooking Irminio Valley sits one of the most fascinating Sicilian towns – Ragusa Ibla. Its roots go back to “Hibla Heraia” (Hybla Heraea) – a stronghold founded by Sicels in pre-Greek times. Following civilizations embraced its strategic position. The nearby Irminio River provided a vital communication link with the Mediterranean Sea. Being navigable, it allowed for transport of agricultural goods out of the valley and for commercial exchanges with the “External World”.
Throughout millennia Ragusa Ibla closely followed good, bad and turbulent times the island was going through, adapting to the rules imposed by reigning empires and Crowns. The town started to take its medieval shape during the Norman period, reaching its peak under the control of the powerful family of Manfred Chiaramonte.
View on Ragusa and Ibla from the road
Ibla seen from Ragusa: on the foreground is visible bell-tower of the Church dell’Idria, on the background Duomo with its neo-classical dome and gigantic structure of former military fort. The latter “heavily” weights on Ibla’s cityscape
Close view of the city of Ragusa-Ibla captured from the old (Upper) Ragusa
But despite Ibla’s so long and colorful history, today it will be difficult to find visible traces of its pre-18th century glory. The 1693 earthquake erased most of the south-eastern Sicily from the map. In split seconds Ragusa Ibla became just the huge pile of rubbles.
If you start to question yourself about spending more time on the page dedicated to Ragusa Ibla, please take my words: Ragusa Ibla is still an amazingly beautiful town, one of those “To-see-before-you-die”. And for good reasons, together with other towns in the famous Val di Noto (Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide…) it is listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The rebuilding process started soon after the earthquake, although not without “minor” problems. Facing massive devastation and enormous pain due to loss of lives, surviving inhabitants were divided on where to rebuild the town. Wisely, they make a compromise that can still serve as a model for us. Majority, including some wealthy, aristocratic families decided to build a new town on the nearby Patro Hill ( it is called Upper Ragusa or simply Ragusa). Remaining population took the pain to rebuild the old town (now called Ragusa Ibla, or for “symmetry” - Lower Ragusa) at its original, historic location. Today, both towns are separated by a deep gorge called Valle dei Ponti (Valley of the Bridges). Indeed there are few bridges linking “sister-cities” of which the most famous is Ponte dei Cappuccini.
Ragusa-Ibla: Surrounding landscape with the view on the Valley St. Leonard
Ragusa: old city walls along the Corso Giuseppe Mazzini
Coming from Upper Ragusa you can drive downhill along the zigzagging Corso Giuseppe Mazzini, but once at the bottom you should park the car at one of the large parking lots. Ragusa Ibla is definitely not for cars. Its layout is heavily impacted by the location on the ridge - steep streets, winding passages accessible only on foot, numerous stairways and very limited parking space…
It’s hardly arable, but nature does not like a vacuum. Even if citrus trees were “planted” by Mother Nature, terraces still visible on the opposite slope of the valley are certainly sign of human endurance…
After the devastation of 1693, Ragusa Ibla was brought back to life in the style of trendy at those times Baroque. Fortunately (most likely due to natural limitations imposed by location), urban planners decided to revive the town along its old medieval, seemingly arbitrary layout of winding streets and narrow passages. This combination turned out to be the key for winning hearts of future generations. It’s exactly this charming mixture of splendidness of architectural beauty combined with “Medieval Spirit” hanging on the streets and breathtaking location overviewing surrounding valleys that makes Ragusa Ibla one of the most fascinating Sicilian towns.
Although new Ibla is the fruit of efforts of countless “souls” bringing it to life from the “proverbial” ashes, its remarkable style was overwhelmingly determined by one man – an architect Rosario Gagliardi.
He designed most of Ibla’s monumental buildings and palaces including dominating the town church of San Giorgio (St. George).
Facade of the church of San Giorgio
Church of San Giorgio: striking contrast between the baroque facade and the classic dome....
As should be expected in the church - peaceful "coexistence" of two different “worlds” (artistic styles): in this case Baroque Façade and Neo-Classic Dome
Ibla's duomo (Church of San Giorgio): close view of dome
Ibla's duomo (Church of San Giorgio): fragment of the fasade
Church of San Giorgio
This massive structure was built on the site of the destroyed church of San Nicolo. Construction works started in 1738 and were completed some eighty years later. It has the layout of Latin-cross including nave and two aisles as well as quite contrasting “external” features. The imposing façade represents the best of Sicilian Baroque; impressive columns, sculptures of saints and equally grandiose frontal flight of more than 200 steps leading the way from the heart of the old town - Piazza Duomo. As a kind of visual and architectural “counterbalance”, the back of the church is dominated by a massive neo-classical style dome that was added in 1820.
Next to the church there is a small museum (Museo del Duomo) displaying some objects from pre-earthquake churches in Ibla.
Duomo: Wrought-Iron fence
Old Town Streets and hidden treasuries
Wandering along Ibla’s streets you will notice many ornately-sculpted balconies. Carved figures supporting the balconies represent a large spectrum of human and animal forms – from mythological creatures through angels, caryatids to storytellers’ characters. Iron railings themselves are also a work of art with elegantly curved shapes and decorations.
Ragusa-Ibla: Narrow passage
Ragusa-Ibla: Old town has its "state of sorry" corners, but still even they radiate some sort of charm....
Ragusa-Ibla: At the end of every passage you will find some sort of "oasis". It greatly helps to calm "fatigue".....
Old Town: Private Garden
Certainly, you will also notice and embrace the ambiance of the old town. Cobble-stone streets, narrow passages, often with flights of stairs (no wonder given Ibla’s location), small plazas coming “out-of-nowhere”, green patios make such walking tour an unforgettable experience. You feel somehow overwhelmed by surrounding past emanating from each and every corner. The fact is – when you walk into the old Ibla, you cross an invisible line of time…. Well, pictures will tell you more than words, so enjoy the virtual trip.
Ragusa-Ibla: Stairway street
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