The fairy-tale atmosphere of Ragusa Ibla, pearl of Sicilian Baroque
Written by Monica Landro
“You have to be intelligent to come to Ibla […] You need a certain quality of soul, a taste for the silent and burning tuffs, the blind alleys, the useless turns, the shutters sealed on a black spying gaze”. Gesualdo Bufalino in La luce e il lutto describes Ragusa with a mild pen, recommending ‘getting lost wandering around’ the old town.
Ragusa is not simply a city in Sicily but is also the southernmost city on our peninsula. The oldest district, as well as the first one built, is Ibla (or Ragusa Inferiore) while Ragusa Superiore is the most recent part of the city built after the earthquake of 1693. It is not located by the sea, but its territory also includes Marina di Ragusa, a seaside resort and fishing village.
It is undoubtedly Ibla, an evocative site carved into the rock of the Hyblean Mountains, that makes the city a true triumph of Baroque architecture, a timeless place where you must go once in a lifetime.
Why is Ragusa called Ibla? Ragusa Ibla is so called because it is the lowest neighbourhood in Ragusa. The locals just call it ‘Ibla’ or ‘iusu’ in dialect.
With its fairy-tale atmosphere, Ragusa Ibla is a fascinating district full of history.
As soon as you arrive near this historic centre, coming down from Ragusa alta, you can enjoy an extremely suggestive view and the magnificence of the place. You must stop to contemplate the marvellous landscape: Ibla is there, manifest, visible, with its clear, reassuring colours, under the spotlight of the bright Sicilian sun.
Before getting lost in its labyrinth of staircases, it is enough to look out from one of the many vantage points in the area to catch a glimpse of the beating heart of this marvellous place where time seems to have stopped in the century of Ruggero d’Altavilla. You then start descending towards the centre with eyes full of wonder for a welcoming, gentle and delicate city.
Strolling among noble palaces in Baroque and Renaissance style, but most of all, exploring the artistic beauties that line the narrow streets,
you can admire enchanting little churches gazing into the blue sky, timeless alleys warmed by the sun
and the gracious kindness of its citizens, that pleasant vitality of the little shops in the streets of the centre with their softly coloured souvenirs and ceramic vases, that delicate air and those flavours that come out of the bars, pastry shops and shops of juicy, colourful fruit: it is a feeling that can be felt throughout Sicily, an island of prosperity and fertility.
The Baroque style echoes supreme in every corner, but the highest manifestation is the Cathedral of St George.
It is solemn but delicate architecture at the same time. It is there, at the highest part of Piazza Duomo, admirably sloping down to dominate the immense area in front of it, proud of its indescribable beauty, made coquettish by the tall palm trees, the fountain and the neoclassical and baroque buildings that surround it. The slope that elevates it from the square makes it even more imposing and noble, thanks also to the staircase that seems to glide like a long wedding dress, making the façade of the church a harmonious masterpiece that leaves one breathless. A wide wrought iron gate is grafted onto the staircase, making it even more imposing and authoritative.
The simple sight of this square would be enough to convince us that Ibla must be seen at least once, but if that is not enough, then
In Ibla, you have to stroll aimlessly, losing yourself in the little alleys that rise and fall and widen and narrow and then twist, passing under flowered balconies and stone arches.
At every corner, at every turn, inside every little alley, there is the possibility of a breathtaking view or a long, steep staircase leading to other hidden corners of rare delicacy.
Ragusa Ibla in its elegance and gentility resembles a lady of the court, wearing her attractive late Baroque gown with delicate and amiable style and bearing. Never boastful, on the contrary always welcoming.