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Modica is a prosperous city whose
past affluence and influence are still
clearly visible.
Known for its gastronomy
and confectionery, Modica will tempt you with
its many specialties.

Modica – with its population of around 50.000, Modica today is a prosperous city that belongs to the province of Ragusa. During the 16th and 17th centuries, however, it was the capital of a County that enjoyed great wealth and cultural fervor, both before and after the terrible earthquake of 1693. This past affluence (and influence) is clearly visible in the dramatic baroque architecture, whose sweeping urban scale is as impressive as the detailing on facades and balconies (the masks fronting the corbels are a feast for the eyes). And it is also expressed in the quiet pride and courtesy of its inhabitants. They know that they are living in a glorious island within the island. And this is something you too can appreciate by simply walking up the little side streets to gain fresh vistas of buildings and landscape. So leave the car in the free parking in Viale Medaglie d’Oro, and don’t be afraid to venture up the narrow, winding side streets, even at night (and that applies to women as well). People are very friendly and obliging, will always help with directions, and nothing’s as far as it looks.

Not to be missed In addition to the magnificent baroque churches, in Modica make a point of visiting: the Ethnographic Museum in Palazzo dei Mercedari (9:00 – 13:00), where beautifully detailed reconstructions of rural homes and artisans’ workshops will give you a fascinating overview of daily life in Modica not so very long ago; the early Byzantine cave church of S. Nicolò Inferiore; the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (at the end of a little street just off Corso Umberto I), where chocolate is still prepared according to the original Aztec tradition that reached Sicily via the Spanish domination of the 15th and 16th centuries. Outside Modica, devote a whole day to the astounding mosaics at the Roman Villa del Casale just outside Piazza Armerina (90 mins away); to the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento (just under 2 hours away); to Siracusa (just over an hour away), for the Greek Theater, the enchanting old downtown area of Ortygia, and the fabulous Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi (visit this first, because it’s mostly closed in the afternoon); half a day may be enough for Caltagirone, renowned for its ceramics; the same goes for the neighboring baroque towns of Ragusa Ibla (imposing and beautifully restored), Noto and Scicli (smaller and slightly quaint). Since the impressive network of catacombs at Cava d’Ispica is all of 13 Km long, is it well work booking a guide through the Modica-based Co-op Etnos (tel. 0932 752747 – English-speakers available on request).

Food – The Modica area is known for its chocolate (also used in savory dishes, such as the “mpanatigghi”, little pastries stuffed with minced meat and chocolate, “liccumie”, a variant stuffed with eggplant and chocolate, and a variety of temptations made with locally-grown almonds ground into a paste with sugar and then spiced with grated lemon rind and vanilla. For all of these, the Dolceria Bonajuto is unparalled. Other local products include the Ragusano cheese that comes in brick-shaped forms, honey, carob cookies and some magnificent red wines made with the local Nero’d’Avola grape variety (Planeta, Gulfi, Morgante and Avide, Cos, Benante are just some of the wineries to look out for); “Cottoia” fava beans; the local citrus fruits also make beautiful jams and candied peels; olive oils made from the local Verdese, Moresca and Tonda Iblea varieties (try the oils pressed by Frantoio Francesco Flamingo and Frantoio Cutrera, as well as Furgentini by Azienda Avola Giorgio).

Eating out – Here in Modica, the Fattoria delle Torri (Vico Napolitano 7, tel. 0932 751286, closed Sunday evening and Mondays) for beautiful thought up, prepared and presented dishes and one of the best wine list in Sicily; for fish, up in the Sorda new district, Pesce Azzurro (via Nazionale 71, tel. 0932 904331; closed Sundays – the proprietor, a wizard with seafood, is hoping to move down in the old part of town, so check this out first); at Frigintini, just outside Modica, Le Magnolie (via Gianforma 179, tel. 0932 908136), where a sparklingly new restaurant has been made out of an old olive mill: the food, both interesting and good, reflects this reinterpretation of tradition; at Ragusa Ibla, Il Duomo, up near the cathedral: this is the realm of chef Ciccio Sultano, whose guests are served local cuisine revisited with distinctive verve in the smallish rooms of what was once a patrician residence.

Utilities – Water: while the tap water is drinkable, it’s not particularly good, so bottled mineral water is advisable. Gas: the stove used bottled propane gas, and it’s a good idea to turn the valve-knob on the propane bottle to the closed position after each use.

Kate Singleton
International Herald Tribune