Modica is an attractive historic town in south-eastern Sicily, one of the area’s UNESCO-listed Baroque towns. Modica is particularly famous for its chocolate, and it is an appealing destination for food-lovers, making a good holiday base or day-trip destination.
Modica has neolithic origins and it represents the historical capital of the area which today almost corresponds to the Province of Ragusa. Until the 19th century it was the capital of a County that exercised such a wide political, economical and cultural influence to be counted among the most powerful feuds of the Mezzogiorno.
Rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1693, its architecture has been recognised as providing outstanding testimony to the exuberant genius and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe and, along with other towns in the Val di Noto, is part of UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy.
Modica consists of two urban centres, “Modica Alta” (Upper Modica) and “Modica Bassa” (Lower Modica). The older upper part is perched on the rocky top of the southern Ibeli hill, the lower part is built on the lower slopes and valley below. The walk down from Modica Alta to Modica Bassa reveals vistas of the lower town and involves many steps; not many attempt the reverse journey on foot.
During the last century the city has extended and developed new suburbs which include Sacro Cuore (or “Sorda”), Monserrato, Idria, these are often referred to as Modern Modica; both old and modern quarters of the city are today joined by one of Europe’s highest bridge, the Guerrieri bridge, 300 metres (980 ft) long.
Despite being ravaged by earthquakes in 1613 and 1693, and floods in 1833 and 1902, Modica has retained some of the most beautiful architecture in Sicily. Much of the city was rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake with imposing and conspicuous urban monuments in the Sicilian Baroque style.
The large Baroque Cathedral “San Giorgio” is dedicated to St George. While the cathedral was rebuilt following the earthquake of 1693, like many other parts of the city its roots are in the Middle Ages. From the front of the Cathedral a staircase of 300 steps leads down towards Modica Bassa.
Another notable church is “San Pietro”, dedicated to St Peter, in Modica Bassa, featuring a principal façade crowned by a typical Sicilian Baroque belltower, 49 metres (161 ft) high.
Other sights include:
- Castello dei Conti (Castle)
- Chiesa del Carmine
- Church of St. Mary of Betlehem
- Garibaldi Theater
- Mercedari Palace -contains a museum and library
The economy of the area once principally agricultural producing olives, carobs, legumes, cereals, and cattle; an extraordinary and unique product is the famous chocolate of Modica, produced with an ancient and original Aztec recipe. The city has now been joined by factories producing textiles, furniture and cars. Tourism is also an important industry to the area, since Modica became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
The eighteenth century saw Modica in the role of art and culture town, counting philosophers (Tommaso Campailla), poets (Girolama Grimaldi Lorefice), a school of medicine (Campailla, Gaspare Cannata, Michele Gallo, the Polara family) and literary academies among its inhabitants. In the nineteenth century, feudalism was abolished and Modica became a “bourgeois” town peopled by notables such as the writer and anthropologist Serafino Amabile Guastella, the agronomist Clemente Grimaldi, the musician Pietro Floridia and many painters, historians and other intellectuals.
Modica is built around a junction of steep valleys, with the oldest part of town, Modica Alta (‘Upper Modica’) on a ridge in between. Modica Bassa (‘Lower Modica’) is the more recent (though still historic) district along the valley bottoms. Rivers once ran down Modica’s valleys, lined with buildings, but after a terrible flood in 1902, when they burst their banks, they were covered over. The town’s main street, Corso Umberto I, follows the course of one of these rivers, in the valley to the west of Modica Alta. Nowadays the busiest part of the town centre is at the junction of two valleys where Corso Umberto opens into Piazza Municipio, overlooked by an eighteenth-century hilltop clocktower.
Modica is a large and busy, authentically Sicilian town. It boasts some very fine Baroque architecture, picturesque views and historic lanes. It’s an interesting place to visit, though I found it slightly less charming than neighbouring Scicli and Ragusa. As well as Modica Alta and Modica Bassa, there is also a third part of town, Modica Sorda, a modern suburb detached from the historic part of Modica.