Ragusa-Ibla Walking Tour
Jewel of Sicilian Baroque

The best way to explore the Sicilian Jewel of Baroque - Ragusa Ibla is either the walking tour or the “mini” tourist train Trenino Turistico.....

The good news is that Ibla is a small town, so with a good map in one hand you can’t miss much (despite the fact that there is a lot to see). So let’s start our walking tour!

Note: Before starting the walking tour of this magical Twin-City, please read its history at: --> Ragusa Ibla

Chiesa dell’Idria

Chiesa dell’Idria (Church of St. Mary of Itria) was built by the Order of Knights of Malta in 1626 on the ruins of an old Byzantine church.  In 1693 it shared the destiny of Ibla ravaged by the earthquake. It’s current enlarged structure dates to 1739. Located on the lower end of the Patro Hill it faces typical in Ragusa Ibla narrow stairway leading to the church's main entrance. This lack of space seriously impacts the view on its frontal façade preventing visitors to fully savor magnificence of its Baroque style. On the left side of the church’s structure stands a beautiful bell tower topped with the octagonal dome. On the upper part of the tower there are eight, eye-catching glazed terracotta panels displaying large vases of flowers.

Church of St. Mary del Idria: Bell tower

Church of St. Mary dell Idria: Portal

View on the church of St. Mary of Itria

      Inside you will find Baroque altar with seventeenth-century paintings depicting St. Julian and St John the Baptist. Two rows of Corinthian columns divide the church into nave and two isles.

Initially the original church was consecrated to the Holy Bishop Julian who during his times attached a “hospital” to the church for pilgrims and in general sick population. Gradually the church’s name was changed to St. Mary of Itria (Idria) thanks to the highly venerated icon of Our Lady dell’Itria/Idria.  Even today, there is no common agreement as of the meaning of Itria/Idria. Either it comes from the Greek word “Odygitria” meaning “Showing the Way” (Leading) or in a wider sense “The Patron of Travelers” or from the word “Hydria” (Water), possibly related to the nearby spring. 

To the right, there is another remarkable building - Palazzo Cosentini (an internal passage is connecting the Palace with the family’s chapel inside of the church).  That reminds me one of common perceptions from the past that “Rich” (Aristocratic) families had “shorter” trips to the Paradise and although it is difficult to prove it, at least we can say that undeniably they had shorter path to the church…..

As expected in church - peaceful "coexistence" of two different “worlds” (artistic styles) : Baroque Façade and Neo-Classic Dome

Palazzo Cosentini

Palazzo Consentini: St Francis

Palazzo Cosentini

Balcony

Statue of San Francesco di Paola

            Palazzo Cosentini located on the corner of Ascent Commander (stairway) and Corso Mazzini was built by Sicilian Baron – Raffaele Cosentini and his son Joseph in a period of 1760’s -1770’s. It attracts attention due to its beautifully decorated baroque façade and strikingly profuse balconies. The latter are some of the best examples of Sicilian decorative art of those times. Each of balconies is a piece of art on its own and a story to be told to and impress passersby. It’s seems to be the way that aristocracy was reaching-out to the outside world, showing symbols of lavish abundance and wealth. Based on animated figures serving as corbels and carved scenes, some balconies “gained” names. For example the “Balcony of the Storyteller” took its name thanks to figures of “wanderers” and musicians, in other words “storytellers” that at those times were moving from place to place to “spread-the-news” and entertain public. The “Balcony of Gentleman” gained its name due to carved figures of “everyday life”(“normal”), shown without typical twists of “mockery” and correspondingly the “Balcony of Slander” thanks to “ugliness” of carved creatures.

On the corner of the building there is a life-size statue of San Francesco di Paola. St. Francis, as the patron of travelers, fits the “mission” of the nearby church St. Mary of Itria. In the past on the opposite corner of the palace was holding the statue of St. Christopher.

Since 1989s the palace belongs to the city, recently renovated it is used for occasional expositions. The whole area including the Piazza della Republica is known as Archi District”. It reflects the reference to the aqueduct (or actually arches supporting arches) that once was bringing water to the city from the nearby mountains.

Chiesa Delle Anime del Purgatorio

Church of Souls of Purgatory: Facade

Church of Souls of Purgatory: view from Ragusa

Chiesa Delle Anime del Purgatorio: Facade

           Chiesa Delle Anime del Purgatorio (Church of Souls of Purgatory) – dominates the small Piazza della Republica at the foothill of Ragusa Ibla. The church was built in Baroque style in the late 17th century. It is one of the few structures in Ragusa Ibla that survived the earthquake almost unharmed.  Worth to mention – inside you will find the oldest orgue in Ibla attributed to Ditta Serassi from Bergamo.

The massive rectangular structure on the top of the hill is the former military fort. Although it will be difficult to question its strategic location in the past, today the “box-like” building it is rather “spoiling” the view on Ibla. It simply does not match the architectural character of the old baroque city and due to its enormous dimensions heavily impacts the cityscape… Today it is home to the Faculty of Tropical Science (University of Ragusa).

Chiesa di San Giuseppe

Church of St. Joseph: Upper segment of the Portal

Statue at the entrance to the church of St. Joseph

Chiesa di San Giuseppe (Church of St. Joseph) stands on Piazza Pola at the place of the earlier church of St. Thomas destroyed by the earthquake. It was built in the late 18th century by Benedictines from the nearby monastery. Like many other Ibla’s churches and palaces, the church of St. Joseph was designed by the famous architect Rosario Gagliardi. The façade with its columns, numerous sculptures and rich ornamentation represents the style of Sicilian Baroque. The belfry on the top of the façade holds three bells. The statues on both sides of the entrance door portray St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine while others represent Saints worshipped by the Order of Benedictines (St. Benedict, St. Mauro, St. Gertrude….). The large window above the entrance is covered by a decorative wrought iron grate (work of Philip Scattarelli).

Chiesa di San Francesco all’Immacolata

Church of St. Francis Immaculate: Tower

An old Portal

Chiesa di San Francesco all’Immacolata (Church of St. Francis Immaculate) was built in the 13th century in typical for those times - Gothic style. At the turn of the 16th century the church was largely reconstructed and expanded to better serve the needs of the growing population of Ibla and Franciscans’ mission to care for poor…  The earthquake damaged the church and leveled the adjacent Franciscan convent. Although it is not clear how much of the old Gothic church’s features were lost due to the earthquake and how much due to 16th century reconstruction, the fact is that only the Gothic portal and base of the tower survived the times.

The church’s reconstruction started in 1711, surprisingly keeping its pre-earthquake late-Mannerist style instead of “dressing” in the style of trendy Baroque. Similarly, on the rubble of the old convent the new one was built.  Surprisingly, even today it continues to serve the purpose of Franciscans’ mission taking care of poor and unprivileged – this time as the center for African immigrants.  Apart from its rich history, the monastery (convent) enjoys very scenic location overlooking the Valley of St. Leonard.

Palazzo Donnafugata

Palazzo Donnafugata: fragment of the facade

Relief on the facade

      Facing Via XXV Aprile (on the side of Piazza Duomo) is a modestly looking Palazzo Donnafuga. It was built in second-half of the 19th century by Baron Corrado Aresso de Spuches and today still belongs to the heirs of one of the richest local families with roots dating to antiquity  (Just for the records – the family also owned the Donnafuga Castle located about ten miles away from Ibla).

 Palace’s simplistic façade sharply contrasts with lavishness of Iblean Baroque omnipresent on every corner of the old city. Out of nine balconies facing the street one clearly stands out thanks to the elegance of the “built-in” wooden-loggia. Designed for members of the family to “see-without-being-seen”, it beautifully blends with the simplicity of palace’s “neo-classical” style.

Hidden behind the façade is a massive complex with richly decorated interior including sumptuous halls, imposing marble staircase, lavish chandeliers, precious furniture and paintings and objects of art.  The garden, large terrace and small theater for family and guests belongs to the property.

Today, thanks to the heirs of Baron Arezzo Donnafugata, it is home to the smallest Italian theater - Piccola Accademia di Ragusa. It is the place where local artists perform different projects from evenings of poetry to true theatrical events.

The palace is also home to private Art Gallery founded by Baron Arezzo Donnafugata back in the 19th century. It has a collection of many extraordinary objects of art including paintings by Italian painters Antonello da Messina and Caravaggio, Spanish painters – Jose de Ribera  and Murillo, Flemish painter Hans Memling….

Spirit of the Old Town

Palazzo Consentini: balcony 

Ragusa Ibla: Old Town

Nature claims its place on the old wall

       It’s impossible to write here about each of 13 Iblas’ UNESCO monuments, but at least let’s mention some for the record. Shining Baroque-style Zacco Palace with its Corinthian columns and beautiful balconies, Palazzo della Cancelleria, mentioned earlier Palazzo Cosentini , Palazzo La Rocca, Palazzo Battaglia and Pallazo Sortino Trono. Among churches, described above Churches of St. Joseph, St. Francis Immaculate, St. Mary dell’Idria, Souls of Purgatory,  but also churches St. Philippe, St. Mary of Miracles and St. Mary del Gesu.

Not to miss in Ibla, especially after a long walk along narrow cobblestone streets and “demanding” stairways are the Iblea Gardens. Just their existence in the area where each square foot is precious is already a remarkable event. But the gardens together with their three old churches do not disappoint and should certainly be on your list of “things-to-see” when in Ibla (See Ragusa Ibla Gardens).

Ragusa Ibla: Baroque Town

Baroque balcony in the Old Town of Ragusa Ibla

Ragusa Ibla: Old Town street

Ragusa Ibla: Old Town passage

        But once you decide to sit down and “digest” what you have seen during your walking tour of Ibla, you may take a drink at the Plazza Duomo…. And let me tell you what I learned on my Odysseys around the Globe:

You have seen more than you remember, but also you will remember more than you have seen….

Sightseeing tourist train

See how to make it happen?

The best way to explore Ragusa Ibla is to get good shoes and start your own walking tour. The good news is that Ibla is a small town, so with a good map in one hand you can’t miss much (despite the fact that there is a lot to see). Another option is to take the Mini Tourist Train (Trenino Turistico), it starts from the Piazza Duomo.

If you are tired, then visit the nearby oasis of peace and serenity"

--> Ibla Gardens

Hungry to see more? --> Top Sicilian Destinations

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