Guide to Ragusa
Ragusa, the capital of the province of Ragusa since 1926, is split into Ragusa Ibla and Ragusa. The former is built on the original nucleus of the city going back to Hibla founded by the Sikels and then conquered in turns by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans, the Swabians, the French Anjous and the Spanish Aragon following the fortunes of the rest of Sicily; and Ragusa, the most modern part developed since the 18th century.
After the destruction of Ragusa in 1963 by the earthquake that affected the whole Eastern part of Sicily, the reconstruction of the city followed two different approaches, with some people rebuilding the city in the same site where Hibla used to be and others starting new settlements in a different area, in contrada Prato, thus forming the first nucleus of the new Ragusa. As a consequence of continuous fights between the elites of the two sides, Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla have been rivals for decades as the contraposition between the two cathedrals, San Giorgio, in Ibla, and San Giovanni, in Ragusa, still indicates.
The rivalries between the aristocratic families of old and new lineage, striving to display their superiority in wealth and style, led to the creation of the beautiful palaces and churches that still constitute the main architectural profile of the city. These are the treasures that make the Ragusa of today worthy of UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site. Ragusa Ibla is indeed an open museum of Baroque architecture. The magnificent Duomo di San Giorgio with its slightly asymmetric staircase, the rich Baroque facade, and a Neoclassic dome leave the visitor breathless. The square before the cathedral is enriched by many aristocratic buildings such as Palazzo Arezzi and Palazzo Donnafugata and a walk around the city takes you from Palace to Palace, from Church to Church in a labyrinth of charming narrow and intricate streets. This part of the city has now a thriving life with excellent restaurants, bars and pubs, small hotels in restored old palaces, the University of Ragusa and the many events that regularly take place there.
Among the religious festivities a special mention goes to San Giorgio's celebration in Ragusa Ibla. During the Festa the church is decorated with flowers and special lights and the statue of the Saint and a silvered Ark containing some relics are carried in a procession throughout Ibla's streets. Impressive are also Palm Sunday and the Easter festivities.
A visit to the modern part of Ragusa includes Piazza San Giovanni and its Baroque Cathedral, la Chiesa del Collegio di Maria Addolorata, Palazzo Lupis, Palazzo Zacco, and the Archaeological Museum. Via Roma and Corso Italia are ideal for shopping and a stop in via Veneto to taste the sweets of Di Pasquale is highly recommended.
The area of Ragusa is famous for large scale cultivation of vegetables and flowers in greenhouses, breeding of local cattle and the production of high quality food and wine. The most famous is the "caciocavallo ragusano" cheese, that is still produced with traditional methods along with the ricotta and other food specialties in the so called masserie, the typical farms. In the local economy oil (the first wells were drilled in 1953) and hydrocarbons are also an important source of income. Ragusa also famous for its honey, olive oil, ricotta, and traditional dishes like u Sfuogghiu, A Jaddina or I Cuosti chini, a Pasta alla Picurara, i scacci and many, many others.
The surroundings include the seaside with Marina di Ragusa e Santa Croce Camerina, the Archaeological Park of Kaukanae, Donna Fugata Castle, the natural reserve of the Irmino river and many other hidden corners in the Iblei Mountains.