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What to see in Modica

A local guide for those who want to visit Modica, best places to see and top attractions.


Modica, like the other towns in the Val di Noto, was badly damaged in the 1693 earthquake and largely rebuilt in Sicilian Baroque style. It is divided into two parts, “higher” Modica and “lower” Modica. This cosy little town on the southern slopes of the Monti Iblei is a labyrinth of alleyways, steps and little houses leaning against one another and built into the rock. Defined as the “Town of the hundred churches”, it has a wealth of monuments and palaces predominantly in late Baroque style, which has earned it a place on the list of UNESCO World heritage Sites.


If you're a fan of the famous fictional Sicilian detective Inspector Montalbano, you may recognise many of Modica's picturesque buildings, such as the Church of San Giorgio and the impressive façade of the Palazzo Polara.


Modica is custodian of a 400 year tradition of Sicilian chocolate-making. Being part of the Spanish kingdom for so many years meant that Sicily was often one of the first recipients of the new foodstuffs being brought back from South America. Cacao was one of these and today Modica still specialises in making granulous chocolate, often flavoured with chilli pepper, cinnamon or vanilla, that is based on Aztec methods and recipes. Chocolate shops abound and, for the real chocoholic, it is sometimes possible to watch the “chocolatiers” at work. 


Top attraction


Duomo di San Giorgio

The high point of a trip to Modica is the Duomo di San Giorgio, one of Sicily's most extraordinary baroque churches. Considered Rosario Gagliardi's great masterpiece, it stands in isolated splendour at the top of a majestic 250-step, 19th-century staircase, its sumptuous three-tiered facade towering above the medieval alleyways of the historic centre.


Duomo di San Pietro

In Modica, the Duomo di San Pietro plays second fiddle only to the Cattedrale di San Giorgio. The original 14th-century church was damaged in the earthquake of 1693, leading to its reconstruction in 1697. Construction continued way into the 19th century; the rippling staircase, lined with life-sized statues of the Apostles, was only completed in 1876.


Chiesa Rupestre di San Nicolò Inferiore

Carved into the rock and discovered by accident in 1987, this 12th-century church is Modica's oldest. It's worth a visit for its Byzantine frescoes, whose central figure depicts Cristo Pantocratore (Christ All Powerful), dressed in a red tunic and blue mantle, and holding open the Gospel with the words Ego Sum Lux Mundi (I am the light of the world).


Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine

Also known as Santa Maria dell'Annunziata, this 15th-century church is a rare example of Gothic architecture in Modica, most of it destroyed in the earthquake of 1693. Notable features include the pointed portal and magnificent rose window. Inside, the Cappella Celestri (Celestri Chapel) features late-15th-century carvings and traces of frescoes; you'll need a coin to light the chapel. Opening times can vary.


Museo Civico

The Museo Civico houses a modest collection of archaeological finds from Modica and Cava d'Ispica, dating back to the neolithic period. The most prized of these is the L'Eracle di Modica (Heracles of Modica), a small, Hellenistic-era bronze depicting the Greek demigod wearing the skin of the lion he famously strangled. The museum also houses a collection of 20th-century paintings and sketches once owned by Nobel Prize–winning poet Salvatore Quasimodo, born in Modica in 1901.


Museo del Cioccolato di Modica

Sharing the same building as the Museo Civico, this humble museum sheds light on the town's unique chocolate, from its history to its production method. You'll also find a bizarre collection of cocoa sculptures and a giant chocolate model of Italy, complete with famous icons, from Rome's Colosseum to Venice's Rialto Bridge.



Events


On Easter morning, "A Maronna Vasa Vasa", a procession with the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary, in search of each other in the alleys of the town: when they meet, Mary's black robe falls and a flight of doves rises in the sky, then her statue is carried running towards the Son's.

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