Like Noto, Modica was greatly affected by the earthquake of 1693 and had to be reconstructed, though it doesn’t quite have the same architectural impact as Noto. The main street is choked with traffic and lined with shops, but among the more mundane buildings, there are a few lovely Baroque churches, such as San Pietro with its wide flight of steps guarded by life-sized statues of the twelve apostles.
Armed with a map and lots of useful information provided by the local tourist office, I set out to discover some of the more hidden corners of the town, starting with the tiny 12th century cave church of San Nicolo Inferiore. Easy to miss, down a side alley beside the church of San Pietro, it was discovered by accident in 1987 by two young boys playing football. Inside are some lovely byzantine frescos, though how much longer they will survive in the damp conditions is anyone’s guess.
Down another alley, I locate Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, where chocolate has been produced since 1880. The interior feels like it hasn’t been changed since that time, with dark wood, glass-fronted cabinets lining the walls and a wide counter covered with tasting bowls of the various chocolate on offer. Orange, lemon, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee are used to flavour the chocolate bars along with more unusual additions of salt, chilli and jasmine. There are so many options that it’s hard to choose and by the time I’m done tasting I’m experiencing a sugar rush.
Luckily the extra energy helps me to scale the 250 steps up to the cathedral of San Giorgio. Inside I find another marble calendar inset into the floor and although I arrive at midday, there’s no sun to shine through the hole in the roof and mark today’s date. There is also a rather magnificent organ and a lovely nativity scene with buildings resembling those in Modica.