Modica is an Italian town of 54.169 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Ragusa in Sicily.
Its position is already fascinating: it rises on the top of a canyon and to reach it from Ragusa you pass on very high and panoramic viaducts that overlook the gorges. Modica boasts a rich repertoire of gastronomic specialties, the result of the contamination of the different cultures that dominated it, but it is known above all for the production of the typical Aztec chocolate.
Baroque city of the Val di Noto, this extraordinary town offers a mild climate all year round and is located in the south east of Sicily Until the nineteenth century, it was the capital of a county which exercised a vast political, economic and cultural influence, so much so that it was counted among the most powerful fiefdoms of the south.
Its historic center, rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1693, there is one of the most significant examples of late Baroque architecture.
Modica has been part of the UNESCO world heritage cities since 2002.
Let’s begin our tour in this breath-taking city!
Castle of Modica
The Castle of Modica has long represented the seat of political and administrative power of the historic county of Modica. Until the earthquake of 1693, it was a mighty fortified citadel, protected to the north by barrier walls. An underground path with branches, which went directly to the end of the valley, was also part of the same defence system.
From a monumental point of view, the Castle was modified in various periods, between the eighth and nineteenth centuries. Built as a rock fortification, which overlapped a funeral emergency of the Pantalica type, it stands on a rocky promontory that is difficult to attack. Two out of three sides consist of overhanging walls.
In the inner courtyard, it is possible to visit the medieval, civil and “criminal” prisons, a series of square rooms carved out of the rock, each reserved for a specific category of prisoners: women, common convicts, gentlemen, people awaiting trial.
In the same courtyard, there is also the most recent church of the Madonna del Medagliere (built in 1930 on the ruins of the church of San Leonardo, to comfort the prisoners until 1865), what is left of the church of San Cataldo is also visible.
Near the walls below the Castle of the Counts there is the Clock Tower, built at the beginning of the eighteenth century, on the remains of a watchtower (destroyed in the earthquake of the late seventeenth century). The clock is still working: it uses a counterweight mechanism.
Cathedral of San Giorgio
The art historian Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco has declared that this Church “perhaps should be inserted among the seven wonders of the Baroque world“, and perhaps he is not entirely wrong.
Placed on top of a picturesque staircase of 260 steps, the Cathedral of San Giorgio, in addition to being the symbol of the city of Modica, is also considered by many to be the symbol of the Baroque in Sicily.
This monumental church is located in the area of the city that connects the lower part with the upper part and is a sight for the eyes, both outside and inside.
Its origins date back to 1150, when with a papal bull the church was placed under the protection of the Monastery of Miletus in Calabria. But very little remains of that first building.
The numerous earthquakes of 1542, 1613 and 1693 in fact heavily damaged it, to the point that it was preferred to demolish it and rebuild a new church on top of the existing one.
Inside, the church is divided into 5 aisles and houses precious works of art such as paintings, stuccos and the “treasure” of the church, or unique pieces made of precious materials such as silver.
This wonderful masterpiece is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The House of Salvatore Quasimodo
Located in a panoramic point of Modica under the clock tower, it is the house where Salvatore Quasimodo, Nobel Prize winner for Literature 1959, was born on 20 August 1901. The great poet lived the first 14 months of his life here.
In the two main rooms (the Milanese study and the bedroom), there are furniture and objects belonging to the great writer and visitors have the opportunity to admire autographed photographs; special editions of Salvatore Quasimodo’s works; memorabilia that belonged to the poet; testimony to the greatness of his works.
The Poetry room is a museum that offers an immersion in Quasimodian poetry thanks to a path that involves reading some of the most beautiful poems of the Poet through his voice.
In fact, from an old tape, visitors are made to listen to the voice of the Poet who recites some of his poems, and always from his own voice, the speech entitled “The Politician and the Poet” by Quasimodo read in Stockholm on the occasion of the Nobel Prize . An evocative way to discover and deepen Quasimodian poetry through the topics addressed: war, affections and Sicily
From 10 December 2016, two new rooms have been opened to the public: the reading room is located next to the bedroom. It is furnished with comfortable armchairs and in it and visitors have the opportunity to consult and read the works of Quasimodo.
The multimedia room is near the entrance. It is dedicated to the Nobel Prize and it is possible to see some videos, including the one concerning the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm.
Chiesa del Carmine
Chiesa del Carmine represents one of the very few examples of Gothic architecture that existed before the 1693 earthquake in the lower city. The Carmelites arrived in Modica in 1390 in the last phase of the county linked to the Chiaramonte and both the church and the convent date back to the fifteenth century.
The church is characterized by a Gothic-style arched portal with numerous lateral columns and capitals with floral motifs. Above the portal, stands a magnificent rose window with 12 beams, 7 of which originate. Inside the narthex, the lateral portal presents columns with capitals decorated with geometric motifs, realistic subjects, stone ropes and phytomorphic elements. There is a constant reference to the imagination of medieval bestiaries together with demons, dragons and anthropomorphized animals.
Inside the church we have three works dating back to the pre-earthquake phase: the altarpiece of Sant’Alberto, the oldest Renaissance painting on wood found in Modica, perhaps part of a polyptych dating back to 1520/30. It is still difficult to attribute today: some art historians attribute the work to Antonello da Panormo, others to Cesare da Sesto; the fine sculptural group of the Annunciation, in Carrara marble, datable around 1500/1520 and attributed to Antonello Gagini and the canvas of the Risen Christ with the Madonna and St. Francis of Assisi, signed in 1600 by Daniele Montillon.
“Tommaso Campailla” Medical Museum
Until the first decades of the twentieth century, Modica represented, a center of primary importance, unique in its kind, for the care of the lue, better known as syphilis.
The value held by the “Tommaso Campailla” Museum in Modica is therefore invaluable.
The museum is located inside an ancient building of the seventeenth century, built to house the first hospital in the city, the “Santa Maria della Pietà”, which later became Sifilicomio Campailla and, finally, Campailla Hospital. Center of primary importance for the treatment of syphilis until the 1940s, people flocked from everywhere to benefit from the precious therapies. Following the discovery of penicillin and its use for the treatment of the disease, it consequently underwent a progressive decline until the definitive closure in the seventies of the past century.
The itinerary inside the structure winds along four exhibition rooms: the “Barrels” room, the Medical Office, the Anatomical Theater and the Museum of Medicine.
The “Barrels” room is the oldest and most precious part of the whole route, where anguish left room for hope. Here the syphilitics were subjected to the benefits of the cure.
Crossing a corridor, visitors reach the Medical Office. Furnished in the nineteenth-century style, it is a real heirloom which, thanks to the precious furnishings and tools kept inside, offers a glimpse of what the environment and medical customs of the time must have been.
On the lower floor, crossing the internal courtyard where the bust of Campailla is placed, there is the Anatomical Theater, one of the few examples in Italy.
The Church of Santa Maria di Betlemme
The church of Santa Maria di Betlemme is one of the three ancient collegiate churches (from 1645) of Modica, dating back to the 14th century.
The church was built at the foot of the Castle of the Counts of Modica, probably in place of four small pre-existing churches in the area and was able to enjoy special privileges since it had a gift of a Madonna’s hair set in a fortress .
The facade is Renaissance in its first order of the late sixteenth century, while it was rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, to be completed between 1816 and 1821 in its second order, in a neoclassical style.
Inside, there is the beautiful Palatine Chapel, also called Cabrera Chapel (1474-1520, National Monument), in late Gothic style, whose entrance arch features Arab, Norman and Catalan decorative elements, which make it the most beautiful monuments that the architecture produced in Sicily at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, even giving name to an artistic style, the Chiaramonte gothic.
It is still interesting to see, inside the church, a silver reliquary urn which retains a silver foil, dating back to the mid-1600s, in which a Nativity is depicted.
The church of Santa Maria di Betlemme is the church that preserves the papier-mâché simulacrum of the Madonna Vasa Vasa, protagonist of the Easter of Modica.
The Church of San Domenico
The Church of San Domenico (or S. Maria del Rosario) and the adjoining convent were founded in 1461, to house the Dominicans who recently settled in the city.
The primitive church was destroyed by the earthquake of 1613 and rebuilt in 1678, while resisting the terrible earthquake of 1693. The original prospect preserves the austere style of the seventeenth century.
The Convent later became the seat of the Inquisition Court while, from 1869 to today, it is the seat of the Municipal Palace.
In the atrium you can visit a crypt, where you can see frescoes dating back to the seventeenth century and containing bone remains perhaps of the Friars themselves. The crypt was discovered by Giovanni Modica Scala in the mid-1900s.
The sacred place is full of interesting paintings and tables of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: inside, between the paintings, one on the table and one on the canvas, respectively represent a large sixteenth-century wooden altarpiece depicting the Madonna of the Rosary surrounded by putti and angels that gives the crowns to Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Agate and Lucia; and a canvas of 1630/40 by Matteo Reati which depicts the apparition of San Domenico to a friar from Soriano.
Noteworthy are, in the central altar, the statuary group of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary with two carved marble angels on the sides and the various panels with some episodes from the life of San Domenico.
The walls are further enriched by other paintings depicting “The souls of Purgatory” and “San Giuseppe” attributed to the canon Spadaro, in addition to the “Marriage of Santa Caterina” and the representation of “San Giovanni Bosco”.