Modica is divided into two parts, “higher” Modica and “lower” Modica, which are connected by numerous flights of steps.

Palazzi and houses rise from the bottom of the gorge seemingly stacked one on top of the other. Magnificent churches, with their inspiring domes, bell towers and intricate facades, punctuate the red-tiled roofs and one is struck by the uniform beauty of the whole.

The County of Modica was created in 1296, with the title of count awarded to Manfredi Chiaramonte. From Middle Ages to today, Modica has experienced profound changes to its social, economic and urban set-up, and has taken on diverse identities and functions depending on the various historical contexts.

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Scicli sits in a gorge just a few miles from the long sandy beaches of Sampieri and Donnalucata and is overlooked by the towering rocky mass of the Church of San Matteo.

Conquered by the Arabs in 864, it became a royal city under the Normans. Totally rebuilt in pure Sicilian Baroque style after the 1693 earthquake, it presents today an impressive quantity of 17th century palaces that have made Scicli a masterpiece of the human creative genius of the late baroque period. Since 2002, the city is on the list of the Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The city is also notable for its religious parades that include “Presepe” (nativity scenes) enacted in the caves surrounding the city at Christmas time. These caves, known as the Chiarafura caves, were dug out in the tuff cliffs, and some were inhabited by the local poor as recently as 1958!

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Ibla (Ragusa)
Driving along the old road that skirts the Hyblean Hills, you round a wide bend and are greeted with a splendid view of the city perched on a hilltop.

A maze of glowing limestone streets of Baroque palazzi and churches clings to the hillside. Ibla has 14 Unesco World Heritage buildings in an area of less than one square kilometre.

At the centre of this compact city is the delightful, sloping, palm-adorned Piazza Duomo, dominated by the Cathedral of St George. Its curved, columned, luminous facade is one of the most attractive in the region. For a great view, climb the steps towards Upper Ragusa to the terrace of the Church of Santa Lucia and look back at the tiled rooftops, campanile, domes and facades of Ibla lit by the evening sun.

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Ortigia (Siracusa)
The heart of ancient Syracuse, recently restored and revived, Ortigia is a bridge-linked little island off the tip of the modern city.

Wander the narrow, often black-paved streets that offer up gems at every turn. In contrast to the relative architectural homogeneity of the Ragusa area, here you’ll find everything from the great Greek Temple of Apollo to Byzantine, Norman, Medieval, Baroque and Neoclassical palazzi, courtyards and churches. To one side is the large protected harbour that made Syracuse one of the greatest trading centres in the world. Today Ortigia has an understated liveliness, with intimate wine bars and fresh fish restaurants.

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After the terrible earthquake of 1693, Noto was entirely rebuilt 10 km away from its original setting.

Three architects, Labisi, Sinatra and Gagliardi, set to work, intent on creating a new town based firmly on Baroque ideals. The idea was to create a linear, perfectly proportioned urban centre. The town was divided into three parts by three roads running from east to west, thus ensuring the constant attentions of the sun. At the top lived the nobility, in the middle the clergy, and at the bottom, merchants and craftsmen.

The main building material used was local compacted limestone, a substance that seemingly absorbs the sun’s aureate rays and transforms them into a soft golden-honeyed glow. The effect at sunset is absolutely fascinating.

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