A local guide for those who want to visit Ragusa, best places to see and top attractions.
One of the most fascinating towns in Sicily, Ragusa has caused many a visitor’s jaw to drop as they first set eyes on the lower part of the town. Essentially Baroque, the Ragusa you will see today dates almost entirely from 1693. Indeed, it was in this year that Ragusa, along with its neighbours, Noto, Modica, Scicli and Catania, was razed to the ground by a terrible earthquake that hit most of the eastern side of Sicily.
Public opinion on where to rebuild the town was divided, and so a compromise was made. The wealthier, more aristocratic citizens built a new town in a different site, now Ragusa “Superiore”, while the other half of the population decided to rebuild on the original site, on a ridge at the bottom of a gorge, now Ragusa Ibla. The two towns remained separated until 1926 when they were merged to become the chief town of the province, taking the place of Modica.
While the upper part has its fair share of architectural delights, it is the smaller Ragusa Ibla down below that really draws visitors.
Ragusa Ibla is a joy to wander, its labyrinthine lanes weaving through rock-grey palazzi to open onto beautiful, sun-drenched piazzas. It's easy to get lost but you can never go too far wrong, and sooner or later you'll end up at Piazza Duomo, Ragusa's sublime central square.
Duomo di San Giorgio
At the top end of the sloping Piazza Duomo is the town's pride and joy, the mid-18th-century cathedral with a magnificent neoclassical dome and stained-glass windows. One of Rosario Gagliardi's finest accomplishments, its extravagant convex facade rises like a three-tiered wedding cake, supported by gradually narrowing Corinthian columns and punctuated by jutting cornices.
Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista
The centrepiece of Ragusa Superiore, and a symbol of its urban renewal, is the enormous Duomo di San Giovanni Battista, built between 1718 and 1778. An elegant, terraced square fronts the ornate façade made asymmetrical by Mario Spada's pretty campanile. The latter's 129 steps can be climbed for a fetching view of the town.
Chiesa delle Santissime Anime del Purgatorio
Consecrated in 1658, the Chiesa del Purgatorio miraculously survived the earthquake of 1693 before being tweaked and expanded the following century. These 18th-century additions include the bell tower and facade, the latter's two false doors a constant reminder that there is only one way to heaven. Go through the right door and you'll be rewarded with Francesco Manno's Anime in Purgatorio (Souls in Purgatory; 1800), located at the main altar.
At the eastern end of the old town is the Giardino Ibleo, a pleasant public garden laid out in the 19th century that is perfect for a picnic lunch.
Castello di Donnafugata
Located 18km southwest of Ragusa, this sumptuous neo-Gothic palace houses the Collezione Gabriele Arezzo di Trifiletti, an extraordinary fashion and costume collection. The easiest way to reach the castello is by car. From Monday to Saturday, trains run from Ragusa to Donnafugata (three to four daily, 20 to 25 minutes, €2.50), from where it's a 600m walk to the castle. Alternatively, Autotrasporti Tumino runs a very limited bus service from Ragusa (return €4.80); see the company website for times.