The town of Modica is in south-east of Sicily, not far south-east of Ragusa. It is roughly situated in and up the sides of a steep gorge, where the mix of traditional small Sicilian houses and grand Baroque monuments together creates a very impressive town.
As with many towns in this part of Sicily it is the baroque churches built after the 1693 earthquake that are among the most interesting local buildings, and because of this Modica falls within the area designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Modica is a typical Baroque town, in which almost nothing remains of the town before the earthquake of 1693 that devastated this region of Sicily. The main exceptions are the Gothic portal of the 'Chiesa del Carmine' and the 15th century Church of Santa Maria del Gesù.
Because of the importance of the churches, we first mention the highlights of these Baroque monuments then turn to the other highlights of your visit to Modica...note that if your visit is too short to explore all the sites mentioned below (or if you are exploring with young children with limited patience to explore endless churches!) the Church of San Giorgio is the principal highlight in the town, followed by the Cathedral.
Baroque churches of Modica
Your visit to Modica can start from the Church of San Giorgio, which is a monumental example of the Sicilian Baroque style. Its origins are said to date to very early Medieval times, before the original church was destroyed by the Arabs in 845. King Roger the "Norman" (1031-1101) ordered its reconstruction in the 12th century.
Two subsequent reconstructions followed after the earthquakes that occurred in 1613 and 1693. The principal reconstruction was by Rosario Gagliardi (1698-1762).
The church, in front of which there is a monumental staircase, has five naves and is rich in artistic ornaments, stuccoes and paintings such as those of the “Events of the Gospel and the life of St. George”, by 16th century artist Girolamo Aliprandi and a 17th century painting by Filippo Paladini. Also noteworthy are the so-called "treasure" and the "Holy Ark", a work covered in silver which contains the relics of the Saint.
The Church of Saint Peter's was built in the mid-14th century, then damaged by the earthquake of 1613 and finally destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. The façade of the rebuilt church is in the late Baroque style and the staircase is marked by statues of the apostles, and enriched with other statues and a balcony above the entrance.
The interior of the church has three naves. On an altar in the chapel on the right there is a statue of the “Madonna of Trapani”, a copy of the work by Francesco Laurana (1430-1502). In a niche in the right aisle there is a wooden group of "Saint Peter and the paralytic," by Benedetto Civiletti (1845-1899).
The 17th century Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso has a convex façade, according to the Baroque style known as the Jesuitical style. The church has a single nave, and inside there is a marble statue of “Nostra Signora del Soccorso”, attributed to Giorgio da Milano (15th century).
The Church of Saint Mary of Bethlehem was built in the 15th century. The interior has three naves, with a wooden coffered ceiling. Among the curios note in particular the crib by Benedetto Papale (1836-1913), author of the terracotta figurines dressed in local costumes of the period. The right aisle has a rare example of the earlier building that survived the earthquake of 1693, the “Cappella del Sacramento”, dating from the 16th century and with a late-Gothic portal with Arab, Norman and Catalan elements.
On the left side of the church is the so-called "Lunetta del Berlon", thought to date from the 16th century and with a bas-relief by unknown local artists depicting the “Nativity.”
You can complete your visit to the important religious buildings of Modica with the “Chiesa del Carmine”, built in the Gothic-Sicilian style around the middle of the 13th century. This church was only partly destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. Of the original building the lower part of the façade remains, with the portal and the rose window, while the upper part is a Baroque reconstruction.
In the interior, which has a single nave, there is a marble “Annunciation” attributed to Antonello Gagini (1478-1536). Next to the sacristy, a Gothic chapel still has traces of some frescoes.
Other highlights in Modica
Other highlights in Modica include the Convent of Saint Mary of Jesus, which is one of the few surviving monuments of architecture of the late 15th century and in traditional Sicilian style. It was built outside the town walls and over the centuries it was also used as a prison. We should also mention the nearby rock church of “Santa Venera”, thought to date from the 14th century - inside, in the apse, some frescoes remain.
Another rock church in the Modica region is found in the so-called 'Cava Ddieri', discovered by Paolo Orsi during excavations of Bronze Age settlements. The site of the church was originally a natural cave then a late-Roman necropolis, before being transformed into a church.
Among the civic buildings in Modica there are several interesting palazzos. These include the Grimaldi Palace, a neo-Renaissance building that now contains the Municipal Art Gallery which holds works by a considerable number of contemporary painters. Others worthy of mention are the 18th century Manenti Palace, theTedeschi Palace and the Tommasi Rosso Palace, in an intense Baroque style.
Meanwhile, a classic example of military architecture can be seen in the ancient Castle of the Counts of Modica, in which you can see the prisons and the watchtower.
Modica Archaeological Museum
To conclude your tour of Modica we suggest a visit to the Modica Archaeological Museum, near the church of Saint Peter. The “Museo Civico di Modica” is divided into several sections, with artefatcs including fossil fishes and shark teeth dating back to the Tertiary period and found in “Buxello”, a village near Modica.
Other exhibits in the museum include stone statues representing female figures from the Neolithic period, highly stylized and schematic; and various other objects including a fragmentary flask and a glass, found in “Pirrone” and dating back to the Neolithic age, in the so-called "Diana Style".
Rest and relaxation
Modica, located between the sea and the countryside, also offers tourists an enjoyable landscape and renowned regional food. One speciality to sample in Modica is the chocolate, which was introduced by the Spaniards and that is produced here in accordance with artisan techniques and according to ancient recipes. Another notable regional product to try is the flat breads, called “scacce”.
See also Modica history and etymology.
Selected places to visit near Modica, Italy
See the Sicily guide for more travel ideas...