This week has been much cooler especially at night, there has been a cold breeze but we’ve had full sunshine with a clear blue sky every day. Perfect weather to go for a day out to explore the nearby town of Modica. Famous for its baroque architecture and unique chocolate, it is situated within a valley between the Hyblaean Mountains approximately 30 minute drive away.
Until 1812, Modica was the main town and administrative centre of the region and other towns came under the jurisdiction of the Conte di Modica including Ragusa. This special status was eventually revoked and now the town is part of the Province of Ragusa.
Like other towns in the region, the earthquake of 1693 had a devastating effect. The medieval old town of Modica was originally carved into the rock but has subsequently been replaced by stunning baroque facades, elaborate churches with domes and bell towers and palaces. Previously it was known as Murikà which means stone/rock.
Two rivers flowed through the valley, Ianni Mauro and Pozzo dei Prun, which frequently flooded leading to early settlers taking shelter in hill top caves. This area became known as Modica Alta, or Upper Modica. As the town grew, the problematic rivers were covered in tunnels beneath Corso Umberto, which became the main road through the town and Modica Bassa (Lower Modica) was developed on the lower slopes and into the valley.
There is a maze of medieval narrow streets, winding alleyways, arches and staircases linking the old and the new.
We parked the car in the lower town and set off up the steps to explore and as we wandered around it seemed that almost every corner we turned there was something else to discover. This scene struck us as being typically Italian with the old Vespa, Fiat and buildings with their overhanging balconies.
This palace has a particularly impressive baroque balcony.
Modica is known as the ‘city of a hundred bells and a hundred churches’ and it didn’t disappoint, here’s just a few.
In Modica Bassa stands the very grand Duomo di San Pietro with a vast staircase lined with life-sized statues of the 12 Apostles. This competed with the Duomo di San Giorgio in Modica Alta to be the senior church of the town. In classically Italian style it was decided that they should share the honour, with St Peter’s becoming the mother church for the lower town.
As the mother church for upper Modica, Duomo di San Giorgio is considered to be one of Sicily’s most impressive baroque churches. Having admired his work last week in Ragusa, this is said to be Rosario Gagliardi’s great masterpiece.
We headed to the top of the town as it is suggested that the views are breathtaking of the valley, old town and the surrounding countryside. They certainly were, although by the time we had climbed the 100’s of steps up, we didn’t have much breath left to take!
St John’s Church, Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, is another beautiful baroque church which is situated at the very top of Modica Alta, the highest point in the city at 450 metres above sea level.
We then headed back down to find the Chocolate Museum. Modica is famous for its unique chocolate and is custodian of a 400 year tradition of Sicilian chocolate-making. Being part of the Spanish kingdom for many years meant that Sicily was often one of the first to receive new foodstuffs being brought back from South America. Cacao was one of those and today Modica still specialises in making chocolate in the same traditional way that is apparently based on Aztec methods and receipe.
The sugar is worked at low temperatures which do not allow the crystals to break down giving a grainy chocolate that crumbles more so than melts in your mouth making it quite different from the smooth, milky chocolate most of us are used to.
We eventually arrived at the Museo del Cioccolato di Modica where they have chocolate sculptures and demonstrate the traditional methods. The doors were open but there wasn’t anybody at the desk, we had seen a sign that said it was free entry so we walked in. Unfortunately we missed the sign that said ‘closed’ and were soon chased out! Luckily there were plenty of Cioccolato shops so we were able to stock up before we headed back to ZigZag for a night in with a film and lots of chocolate.
There were many flavours to choose from, we did also buy a vanilla one but we ate that before I took the picture……so yummy!