If you’ve ever felt a tad guilty about dragging a history-loving companion through yet another garden, Sicily is a great place to reset the balance. Of the 1031 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 51 of them are in Italy. More than any other country in the world. And even those numbers can be somewhat misleading. Florence, which has more treasures than it can handle, counts as just one site. Same with Rome. And one of the designated sites in Sicily, which I was surprised to learn, has the same number as Tuscany (seven), consists of eight towns. The first of those towns I visited was Noto, as famous for its Infiorata as for its Baroque architecture. (Flowery, but not Florid, Street Art; July 12, 2015) On the way to the Valley of the Temples, another World Heritage Site, were two more of the ‘Val di Noto‘ towns. Modica is about 40 k west of Noto. (A word of warning – it will take you a good hour to cover those 40 k.)
The second town, Ragusa (rah-goo-zuh), about 14 k north of Modica, looked somewhat more manageable.
There are two Ragusa’s. If you get lost, as I did, you can always stop for gas and ask. Be careful though. The first person I approached, an elderly gentleman in his Sunday best, pointed uphill to the left. But that didn’t fit the sense of the place I’d gotten as I drove up to it. Another fellow, who must have been awfully hot under his motorcyclist’s black leather, pointed downhill to the right.
Even though it was much smaller than Modica, and even though I knew I was in the ‘right’ Ragusa, I was still worried about finding my way back to the car, so after I parked I looked around for a landmark. I found two I thought would work. One was a blue-domed cupola right on the border of the two Ragusa’s.
My other landmark, close to the parking lot, was a building painted in a deep red.
It was Sunday, but thinking that maybe, given that it was such an important tourist site, just maybe the tourist office would be open. It wasn’t. I stopped at a bar near the blue dome and asked how to get to the centro storico. I got the ‘guard dog’ look. It was ‘là su‘. Up there. I couldn’t miss it.
The thing about towns that ancient settlers wisely built on top of hills, there is no ‘as the crow flies’ way to get to the centre. And since you’re climbing upwards, you often can’t see where you’re going.
Even though I ‘couldn’t miss it’, I was quite pleased when I finally came to an arch I remembered from my previous visit. At the end of the narrow alley underneath it I could see Ragusa’s wide pedestrian avenue, Corso XXV Aprile, which, like so many streets throughout Italy, was renamed in honour of the official end of World War II in Italy.
I had a quick look inside the Duomo. There was still all the ruby red fabric – unusual for a church I thought – and San Giorgio, Ragusa’s patron saint, still held a place – actually a couple of places – of honour.
I meandered along the alleys behind the church and then headed for the public garden at the far end of the corso.
Before entering the garden, I stopped to have a look at the one bit of ancient Ragusa that survived the devastating earthquake of 1693.
The garden winds around the Chiesa di San Giuseppe, which, like all the churches in Ragusa, was built after the earthquake. In this case, the new church was built on the site of the original Chiesa di San Tommaso, which leaves one wondering why St. Thomas was usurped by St. Joseph?
I’m always fascinated by the rules posted at the entrances to Italy’s public gardens. In this one there was no playing soccer; no riding a bike after your 10th birthday; dogs had to be on a leash no longer than 1.5 metres and the accompagnatore of said dogs must be equipped with a bag for the collection of any eventual excrement. Man’s best friend must have been wearing out his welcome in the past, because there was a second rule regarding dogs – they were tassativamente prohibited from going into the children’s play area and on the grass. I had to look up tassativamente. It was pretty strong language for a walk in the park. ‘Che non ammette eccezioni o discussioni.’ That which does not allow exceptions or discussions.
Apart from the rules – and the fines of up to 500 euros for any infractions – it was lovely.
By now it was time for lunch. Il pranzo della domenica (Sunday lunch) is still the biggest – and by that I mean most important socially, and most abundant food-wise – meal of the week. Earlier, I had stopped by a simple trattoria just to the left of the arch. I’d had a nice, simple lunch there on my previous visit and was looking forward to having another one. There wasn’t a customer in sight, but to be on the safe side – it had got quite busy even on my last week-day visit – I asked one of the waitresses if I needed a reservation if I wanted to eat around 1 pm. I did. When I came back, a few minutes before le 13, they were turning people away.
I felt badly taking up a whole table, so I told the waitress it was OK with me if the two women waiting on the other side of the courtyard joined me at ‘my’ table. They were British. I had overheard them earlier asking about a table and they seemed very pleasant. The waitress thanked me, but not to worry. ‘Siccome avevo visto che è una persona molto tranquilla’ (Since I saw you are a very ‘tranquilla‘ person), she had told the two women they could have the table at 2 pm.
Unlike the Italians, who were out for a leisurely Sunday lunch, I still had a long drive ahead of me to the B&B in Agrigento, which was the subject of a alarmingly high number of comments regarding the difficulty of finding it, so I ordered a lovely, but simple antipasto misto. As my waitress had known, an hour gave me plenty of time to enjoy my meal. But I’m still not exactly sure what she meant by tranquilla.
Next – In The Valley of the Temples