Once upon a time, there was a little Ivana in Cuba trying to explain a poor restaurant holder that the pizza ragusa he is having on the menu is not some Italian name for some Italian city, but the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Stupid girl.

Ragusa is a city on the southern side of the island of Sicily It is built on a wide limestone hill between two deep valleys, Cava San Leonardo and Cava Santa Domenica. Driving there was super interesting. There is no highway to get there so I was driving my petite Tintine through the limestone fields full of oranges.

The origins of Ragusa can be traced back to the 2nd millennium BC, when there were several indo-european settlements in the area. The current district of Ragusa Ibla has been identified as Hybla Heraea.

The ancient city is located on a 300 meters hill and eventually came into contact with nearby Greek colonies. After a short period of Carthaginian rule, it fell into the hands of the ancient Romans and the Byzantines. Ragusa was occupied by the Arabs in 9th century and remained under their rule until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered it. Ragusa was selected as a county seat, and its first count was Geoffrey, son of Count Ruggero of Sicily.

Thereafter, Ragusa’s history followed the events of the Kingdom of Sicily, created in the first half of the twelfth century.

In 1693, Ragusa was devastated by a huge earthquake, which killed some 5,000 inhabitants. After the catastrophe, the city was largely rebuilt, and many Baroque buildings from that time remain in the city. Most of the population moved to a new settlement in the former district of Patro. The new municipality was called “Ragusa Superiore” (Upper Ragusa) and the ancient city “Ragusa Inferiore” (Lower Ragusa). Both cities remained separated until 1926, when they were merged.

I have to say, to arrive up the hill and find a parking place that is not narrow and leaning was a challenge. I got hungry from all the manouvres. My first stop was a good breakfast.

My heart stumbled upon this mini quotation by Charles Baudelaire – a legacy trace from the Bourbon (French) times. It says: who drinks only water, has a hidden secret. My grandfather used to say: You can’t trust to people that do not drink in your company.

The city has two distinct areas, the lower and older town of Ragusa Ibla, and the higher Ragusa Superiore (Upper Town). The two halves are separated by the Valle dei Ponti, a deep ravine crossed by four bridges, the most noteworthy of which is the eighteenth-century Ponte dei Cappuccini. So I started my trip. Up and down the hills.

After the mentioned terrible earthquake in 1693, the city’s inhabitants grouped themselves into two fractions: sangiovannari and sangiorgiari – after Saint John and Saint George. The first ones focused on building the city completely new and with wide streets. The second ones re-constructed the city as it was: a medieval, thick network of alleys and bridges.

Duomo San Giorgio is the main landmark of the first hill:

Located at Corso XXV April (the celebration day of the liberation of Italy from Nazifascism) is the church of Saint Joseph. It was peaceful and away from the crowd. So I decided to enter and visit this baroque beauty. 🙂

Continuing up the hill, passing the first cathedral, I was stopping almost after every step. The facades were amazing example of bourgeoisie of the time, the typical sicilian baroque and mediaval corners.

Stairs after stairs. Pot after a pot of cactii (yes, that’s the correct plural, Patrick).

After a good hour and a half of the walk, I realised I am walking towards the other city – with the other cathedral on the hill. I had to climb again and this was not easier.

I passed by Donnafugata palace where they sell the famous sicilian Donnafugata wine.

Donnafugata could translate from Italian as approximately “fugitive woman” or “woman who fled”. Based on this interpretation, one legend claims that Queen Blanche of Navarre, widow of King Martin I of Aragon, was hiding from Count Bernardo Cabrera, who wanted to marry her and assume leadership over Sicily. She hid in Donnafugata Castle.

Another source claims that the name Donnafugata refers to Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand IV.

Step bu step and I was exactly in the middle: two hills facing each other but united in one city. It was Saturday afternoon, winter time, so not much people in the street. Except stupid motorcycles, loud and unnecessary.

Climbing up the second hill, this tresur box became more and more unveiling. There were allies and passages but soon it became more wide and clear. Facades were more baroque and less mediaval.

I was trying to find the Church of Saint Mary of the Stairs with its 300 steps (felt like it was 600) that houses the Death of the Virgin. It’s a 16th century terracotta relief with a mischievous little devil pulling Virgin Mary’s mantle. Unfortunately, the church was closed.

Nevertheless, the view from there to the first hill was touchy. Ragusa has its bursting charm, soft colours and Baroque curlicues, exuding a slightly romantic atmosphere. Wandering this charming stony jewel one imagines offset by 300 years to the times of Sicilian lords and noblemen, stands in awe of Baroque palazzos and churches, and admires skill and imagination of architects and stonemasons.

Ragusa Cathedral, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista) dominates the second hill. It has a large entrance and a fence and stairs. I have to say, Sicily has much more impressive cathedrals than this one. I didn’t stay for a long time. I already waited an hour and a half to be opened.

I finished my one-day visit to Ragusa by having some Sicilian chocolate cakes. Apparently, this side of the island is famous for it. Living in Belgium for almost 10 years now, I have to say, I wasn’t impressed.

PS the city is twinned with Dubrovnik 😛 formerly also named Ragusa. Stupid girl…

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