The earthquake of 1693 destroyed the town of Ragusa and, much like its neighbours Noto and Modica, it was decided to rebuild it in a grid plan on the higher slope, featuring Baroque architecture which was popular at the time. However, the inhabitants of Ragusa had other idea and proceeded to rebuild the old town on the rocky hill below. This led to a rivalry between the new Ragusa Superiore and the old Ragusa Ibla which lasted until 1926 when the two towns were eventually reunited.
I arrive in a flurry of snow and base myself in a small parking area between the two halves of town. It is bitterly cold, due to an unusual weather system which is even depositing snow on the Greek Islands further south, but I don my gloves and hat then set out to explore Ragusa Ibla. Passing the church of Purgatory, I walk along narrow alleys and streets where the houses are neglected and abandoned. Another small church is on the verge of collapse and sealed off behind metal fencing and orange plastic netting. I’m beginning to wonder if anyone lives here anymore.
Luckily I emerge onto the main drag which is lined with shops, cafes and more churches. I follow it down to the edge of town where I find the public gardens lined with palms and planted with blood red cyclamens. There are even more churches in the grounds. One is being used for an exhibition about the Italian suffragette movement, another has a lovely painted wooden ceiling and is playing Christmas carols, and the third, attached to a convent now converted into a 5 star hotel, features a beautiful wooden altar.
On the way back through town, I pop into a shop selling local products and resist the temptation to buy lots of cheese. I then arrive at the Duomo just as a service is finishing and the final hymn is being sung. It’s a magical moment. The Cathedral of Ragusa Ibla is dedicated to St George and his image can be found in every corner. All that remains of the original church of St George, near to the public gardens, is an impressive, though worn, portal.
After warming up with some hot soup back in the motorhome, I climb the endless steps up to Ragusa Superiore. Even when the steps end, the road continues to plough upwards to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Luckily it’s open and worth the climb.
The new town of Ragusa straddles a deep gorge and I cross two of the three bridges in order to see it. Then I head back down to the car park, via the Church of Santa Maria delle Scale. ‘Scale’ means stairs and there are 340 steps to descend. At least it keeps me warm.