Ispica (33km from Ragusa; 15000 inhabitants; 170m a.s.l.; zip code 97014; area code 0932) is a lovely town located on the eastern end of the province of Ragusa, bounding Siracusa’s district. The town planning, resulting from the reconstruction following the 1693’s earthquake, is among the most modern in Sicily; nonetheless it is adorned with some splendid palazzi and churches.
Grown on the former Spaccaforno, the city of Ispica boasts ancient roots that seem attested to by the settlements and the caves of the well-known Cava d’Ispica archaeologic site. This is a narrow valley thought to have been inhabited by the Sikels, one of the earliest Sicilian peoples, who settled in its farthest tip, rich in water reserves and best protected. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabians and Normans successively settled in the area, each leaving their own indelible signs. The earliest information on Ispica go back to the Norman age, when the Count Roger granted the town to Berengario of Monte Rubro, for his services; this, dying, left all of his holdings to Queen Eleanore.
Spaccaforno was successively ruled by Francesco Prefolio and, since 1392, by the Chiaramontes and the Cabreras, the Counts of Modica. Because of financial difficulties, Bernardo Cabrera sold the city to Antonio Caruso, an aristocratic from Noto. Ever since Spaccaforno was definitively separated from the County, following its own destiny under Caruso and his descendants Vincenzo, Antonello and Isabella, who, in 1493, would marry the powerful Count Francesco Maria Statella. This was Baron of Mongiolino, Gran Siniscalco del Regno and possessor of many dominions. The Statella family would hold Spaccaforno until the 19th century, when Feudalism was definitively abolished. After the earthquake in 1693, here particularly devastating, people decided to settle in a close, flatter and more comfortable site. The Cava d’Ispica was slowly abandoned, although it was inhabited up to recent times and, still, some caves are used as warehouses or cellars.
In 1935, the new town of Ispica was founded.
Ispica’s economy is primarily agricultural boasting majour outputs of early fruit, tomato, vegetables and carob – for which Ispica is Italian’s biggest producer and exporter. Industry has developed in recent decades, particularly the agriculture-related businesses.
Ispica is endowed with many and diverse attractions.
The 18th century Chiesa Madre, dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, rises at the top of a double flight of stairs, on Piazza Regina Margherita. It has an elegant front elevation divided into two tiers, with three doorways. Over the central one, is the beautiful coat of arms of the Statella family, chosen as a symbol of the city. The Palazzo Alfieri, built in a splendid Renaissance style, stands in the central Piazza, too.
The 1910’s Palazzo Bruno di Belmonte, near Via Duca degli Abruzzi, now Town Hall, was designed by celebrated Sicilian architect Basile; this is the richest and the most beautiful Liberty-style building in the province.
The Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore contains plenty of pieces of art and was designated as a national monument. It was designed by architect Vincenzo Sinatra from Noto, with a simple façade with three portals. The central nave is decorated with frescoes and gilded stuccoes. It also houses a cycle of frescoes (1763-65) by Olivio Sozzi, one of the most important Sicilian painters of his time.
The Chiesa dell’Annunziata, along Corso Garibaldi, also contains beautiful frescoes. Before the earthquake it stood by the Castle.