Ragusa is a town in south-east Sicily, and one of the 'Val di Noto' towns substantially damaged by the 1693 earthquake that were rebuilt in baroque style - these are now listed together as a world heritage site.
The older part of the town is called Ragusa Ibla and the newer part is Ragusa Superiore, the two parts being separated by the Ponti Ravine.
As with many Sicilian towns, the churches are the most important monuments in Ragusa and will be the focus of your visit to the historical centre.
Your tour of Ragusa can begin with the Basilica of San Giorgio, a typical example of Sicilian Baroque. The devotion to Saint George was originally brought here by the Normans, and an ancient church was built in the 12th-13th century, which was almost destroyed in 1693 except the portal of St. George which survived the earthquake.
The current church was begun in 1738 and completed in 1775; it was designed by Rosario Gagliardi (1698-1762), and was built on the ruins of an earlier temple.
Saint George is one of the patron saints of Ragusa Ibla, and the other is St. John.
The basilica has a façade divided into three parts by columns and other decorative elements. The central part is characterized by a dome, built in 1820, more than 40 meters high and supported by 16 double columns.
The portal consists of a pointed arch stone of pink limestone, of Gothic-Catalan style, decorated with carvings depicting "St. George on horseback slaying the dragon." Above the arch the Aragonese eagle is also visible.
The interior has a nave and Latin cross form. In the nave you can see the 13 stained glass windows representing the martyrdom of St. George and also some paintings such as the “S. Giorgio” by Dario Querci (1831-1918), “S. Gaudenzia” by Francesco S. Manno (1754-1831), “St. George” by G. Tresca (1710-1795), and others by Vito D’Anna (1718-1769).
Another church of great artistic value is “Santa Maria della Scala”, built in Norman times and rebuilt after the earthquake. The Church has three naves and holds the "Death of the Virgin," a polychrome terracotta high-relief by the Gagini’s School (16th century).
In Piazza Pola is the Church of St. Joseph, attributed to Gagliardi, with a single nave, rich in stucco and Baroque works. Close to the entrance is the "lbleo Garden", which reflects both Italian and English styles.
Also worth visiting is the Cathedral of San Giovanni, in Ragusa Superiore and built between 1706 and 1760. It has a Baroque façade lavishly decorated with a bell tower with spire. Inside note in particular the stucco decorations of the 19th century chapels and some paintings by the local painter Salvatore Cascone (20th century).
Moving from Ragusa to Santa Croce Camerina you reach the Castle of Donnafugata.
The castle exterior is of white stone, with a large façade in the style of Venetian Gothic architecture. There are eight arched balconies and a large terrace below.
Among the most important of the more than 100 rooms are the salon with its walls adorned with the coats of arms of the most important families of Sicily; the hall of mirrors with its elaborate draperies alternating with mirrors lining the walls; the art gallery; the music room, and the library.
The castle is surrounded by a large park built by baron Corrado Arezzo (1824-1895). Inside the park, several buildings have been built such as a temple and a maze.
The castle owes its name to a word of Arabic origin that means 'source of health', from the Arabic "As-Ayn Iafaiat".
The Baroque style of Ragusa can also be seen in the ancient palaces and villas that date from the 18th-19th centuries.
The Palazzo Cosentini deserves special attention: built in the 18th century, it is characterized by balconies carved with allegorical figures. The Bertini palace is famous for the three masks present in the vaults of the windows, the three heads portraying typical figures of the Baroque era (a beggar, a merchant and a nobleman).
These palaces are accompanied by other important buildings such as the Zacco, Schininà, Sortino-Trono, Nicastro and Battaglia Palaces.
Troglodyte caves: the province of Ragusa was a land of ancient settlement, with the city at the heart of the archaeological Iblea area. This is typified by the troglodyte settlements - dwellings carved into the rock and characterized by winding paths, ramps and steps between them.
The troglodyte areas to be visited at Ragusa are those of Fontana Nuova (Marina di Ragusa), Kamarina, which was an important sub-colony of Syracuse, Monte Arcibessi of Kaukana, Hybla Heraea in Ragusa Ibla, the Caves of Trebacche and Castiglione Ragusa.
Nature: For nature lovers there are some highlights of particular interest, such as the mouth of the river Irminio, a place with a wide diversity of plants and animals.
Seaside resorts: for lovers of the sea there is Marina di Ragusa, one of the best equipped and most famous seaside resorts of south-eastern Sicily,
Local Ragusa cuisine: in addition to the sand and sunbathing, tourists can also enjoy local cuisine where fish and seafood constitutes the principal feature of an ancient culinary tradition, such as the fish fillet (grouper or red snapper), shrimp, prawns, cockles, mussels, clams, chopped capers and anchovies in oil.
See also Ragusa history and etymology.