Modica was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1689 on the sides of steep ravines, on either side of rivers that regularly overflowed and caused much damage. These were covered over in the early twentieth century and now form the main traffic arteries of the town, particularly Corso Umberto 1. Thus access to the various parts of the town is via steep roads or even steeper steps: an architectural and town planning feature loved by baroque architects and planners. Corso Umberto is lined with baroque palazzos in varying states of repair including Palazzo Manenti, Palazzo Tedeschi and Palazzo Cannato; the Teatro Garibaldi municipal theatre and the church of San Pietro with it’s statues of the Disciples flanking the steps leading to the main doors.
Modica’s most astonishing baroque monument is the Duomo [Cathedral] San Georgio, designed by Rosario Gagliardi and reached by hundreds of increasingly grand steps from Corso Umberto 1. It’s a theatrical confection in stone, culminating in a steeple atop the central tower, fronting the quite utilitarian main body of the building. Other churches, convents and monasteries, palazzos and more humble buildings are situated on the hillsides stretching away from the curving main artery of the Corso Umberto 1 with very few contemporary interventions to detract from the homogeneity of the baroque townscape.
A number of shops on Corso Unberto 1 sell a wide variety of Modica chocolate products. This is, apparently, made in the original Aztec way resulting in a granular, semi-sweet texture, achieved by retaining sugar crystals in the production process. Initially a bit strange — but easily addictive!
Take the charming country road to Noto: the most comprehensively planned of the Sicilian baroque towns. After the earthquake of 1693, Noto was relocated some 10 kilometres from the ruined town and planned on a rationalist grid by Giovanni Battista Landolina, Marchese di S. Alfano. Many buildings were designed by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini and Rosario Gagliardi. Only the aristocracy and clergy were allowed to build in and inhabit the ‘Centro Storico’ of the new Noto, resulting in a unique townscape of palazzos interspersed with churches, convents, public buildings and squares all designed in the Sicilian baroque style from a honey-coloured tufa stone.
Many of the churches and palazzos have been reclaimed, refurbished, repaired and in some instances reused for contemporary purposes. We visited Noto the day after the famous ‘Notte in Fiore’ carpet of flowers event that completely filled one of the streets off the main Corso Vittorio Emmanuele.
The third of the baroque towns we visited in the Val do Noto was built over the original Arab town plan by the aristocracy, while merchants and lower classes built a new town close-by, today’s commercial hub.
Ragusa Ibla, the lower, older town, is essentially residential and a tourist attraction that visitors are encouraged to visit on foot, leaving vehicles in a car park outside the old town and take a free bus ride. The town culminates in the cathedral of San Georgio, again designed by architect Rosario Gagliardi, built at a slight angle to the piazza at the bottom of the huge stone staircase that leads up to the main façade with a neo-classical drum and dome built in 1820.
The piazza, surrounded by palazzos with shops and cafes at piazza level, is at a steep angle leading away from the cathedral, an interesting townscape concept, following the contour of the site. There are numerous other baroque churches and palazzos inserted into the fabric of the town, many of which are being refurbished with funds from various European sources.
All three towns we visited had information points highlighting their use as film or TV programme locations, including the 1961 film: Divorce Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni and the 1984 film: Kaos, based on stories by Luigi Pirandello and directed by the Taviani brothers; plus the Inspector Montalbano TV series, based on the books by Andrea Camilleri. Montalbano menus are featured in some restaurants too.
Falconara Charming House and Resort
Our initial impression of the entrance of the main building was of a corporate headquarters, rather than a 'Charming House' but this impression is soon dispelled by the view through the reception area to the landscaped gardens and view of the Castello — not open to guests or the public but a dramatic presence day and night — and the friendly welcome of the reception staff. Our luggage quickly arrived at the door to our room, a lofty first floor sea view room with balcony in the Club House, four poster bed, flat screen TV, mini-bar and generous bathroom. The more expensive rooms are in the 'Fattoria' overlooking the beach have exposed patios, great in good weather, less so in the thunderstorm we experienced for the last night of our stay in mid-May. The Club House main building and pool are located quite near the main road, consequently suffering from some background traffic noise. The beach area comprises two levels of fine sand with numerous loungers and parasols, plenty for everyone when we were there, plus a lifeguard in attendance all day.