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.
Italy This Way comment: Ragusa is one of the prettiest towns in Sicily, above all because of the ravine in the middle of the town: because of this there are great views of the different parts of the town from several different vantage points, and it really is a town where the views will take your breath away!
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.
You will find most of the historic sites in Ragusa Ibla, although the cathedral is in Ragusa Superiore, and there is a lovely view acoss Ibla from the small square next to the Church of Santa Maria delle Scale - so this is a good place to start a visit.
The church of Santa Maria della Scala was 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).
From here you can walk down a series of stairs to the bottom of the ravine, and then walk out of the other side. This valley has several interesting monuments including the Church of Anime del Purgatorio, the Church of Santa Maria dell'Itria and several palazzos: as I said there is a lot to see in Ragusa!
Ragusa Ibla is a maze of narrow alleys and pretty piazzas with a good scattering of palaces and churches: there are various places with impressive views until you reach the duomo of Saint George and the Piazza Duomo, the centre of this part of the town. The view across the steep slope of Ragusa Superiore with its hundreds of houses covering the slope is very impressive.
The Piazza Duomo is a very impressive square: as well as the duomo that overlooks the square there are many other attractive buildings and it is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a coffee or a glass of Sicilian wine. The heart of Ragusa Ibla continues in the streets east of the piazza, and south along the Corso XXV Aprile to Piazza Pola (eventually continuing to the bus station).
Basilica of San Giorgio
The Basilica of San Giorgio is a typical example of Sicilian Baroque and is a highlight of Ragusa. The devotion to Saint George was originally brought here by the Normans.
The current church was begun in 1738 and completed in 1775; it was designed by Rosario Gagliardi (1698-1762). The basilica has a façade in the baroque style divided into three parts by columns and other decorative elements.
Inside, the central part is characterized by a dome, built in 1820, more than 40 meters high and supported by 16 double columns.
See Duomo of Ragusa for details.
Other Ragusa churches
You will see numerous churches as you explore Ragusa, too many to mention here, but two that are of particular interest are:
The Church of St. Joseph in Piazza Pola, 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).
The Baroque style of Ragusa can also be seen in the 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 Palazzo 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).
As well as these you might also see the Zacco, Schininà, Sortino-Trono, Nicastro and Battaglia Palazzos, among others.
If you continue to the eastern limit of Ragusa Ibla you reach the Giardini Iblei. This garden is well maintained and quite pretty, with lots of palm trees and pine trees as well as fountains and other features.
Close to the garden there is a gateway called the Portale di San Giorgio. The gate is all that remains of a church (the original Duomo Saint George) and was built in the gothic style in the 13th century. Above the door you can see a carving of Saint George killing the dragon.
Places to visit nearby
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,
Castle of Donnafuguta
About 20km south-west of Ragusa is Santa Croce Camerina and 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.
See also Ragusa history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.
Map of Ragusa and places to visit
Places to visit near Ragusa