Wednesday, June 21, 2017

6/20 -- Explore Ragusa Ibla and Modica

We got a later start today and met Eleanora outside our hotel for a walk down to the lower part of the city. Where we went used to be the entire city, but when it was destroyed by a 7.8 earthquake in 1693, most people who could afford to rebuilt higher up the hill. Some of the wealthy folks rebuilt below and a lot of contention ignited up between them. In fact, until 1929, they were two separate cities: Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla. They were reunited because they had a more fascist tilt during the Mussolini regime and he combined them so they would be the provincial center instead of Modica, which had more people than Ragusa Superiore, but  not more than the combination. This resulted in a certain level of competition between the two.

A set of stairs which winds down 325 steps and a road with a lot of switchbacks connect the two cities.We walked down and took a bus back, but there was still plenty uphill walking because we went to San Giorgio Cathedral, the highest spot in the old town. On the way down, Eleanora stopped us on some steps in the shade and told us about an unusual aspect of Ragusa's history. It used to be run by a baron, who wanted to avoid paying taxes (and didn't) and ran afoul of the king. There was a lot of steeply hilly land in the area, which seemed pretty worthless. He convinced  his fellow nobles to give it to the peasants,  making them landowners for a change and they invested a bunch of time and energy to make it productive. Eventually,the peasant landowners got wealthy enough to buy titles for themselves and build fancy houses too, which greatly expanded the middle class and the overall wealth of the area, at a time when the rest of Sicily was pretty much still feudal.
Walking in Ragusa
A downhill street in Ragusa
View from the top of the steps
Ragusa Ibla. The large building in the distance is the Cathedral
of San Giorgio (St. George), which we walked to.
Close up of how some buildings seem to grow
right from the base rock.
Starting down the steps.
This is the route our bus took when we rode back up.
Walkway under the road where we sat in the shade while
Eleanora explained more about Ragusa Ibla.
After the earthquake, both halves of the town were built in  late Baroque style, and the balconies especially got creative railings and underpinnings.
Window decoration
Fancy balconies with intricate supports. Most show caricatures
of detested folks from the upper city and the three together are
about Wine, Women, and Song. This is Wine.
This is Women. What is notable is the upper right image of a
woman flaunting her bare top. At the time, it was typical for
wives to remain covered above the waist, so even married men
didn't have a topless view. As workers strolled down the street
to their jobs, this bare lady would be their first view and
theoretically distract them from the business at hand.
This one represents Song.
More creative balcony supports
The dome of a church
The front of San Giorgio
Inside San Giorgio. The red is heavy fabric
which is very effective at cutting down the
echo you hear in most big churches of the time.

Decorative trim
Plaque documenting San Giorgio
One of two elaborate side chapels.
All the windows here are painted glass, not stained glass.
A tourist train rolls through the square in front of the cathedral.
Isabella poses in front of a graffti of her name.
Looking back up the hill. Walking up did not seem like a
good plan.
Before lunch, Isabella took us to the home of a wealthy composer/pianist who had accumulated and tremendous collection for art that came down from his family and that he had collected in  his own right. In his younger days, he would warm up Maria Callas for her  performances. He played four piano pieces for us. I could have listened all day, and it reminded me of when my dad will play the piano when I was  a kid. After the recital, we got  a tour of his home and treasures, then went off to lunch.

S. Appiano with Isabella and Jim
One of many dinky rooms loaded with fine art.
Jeweled objects
Isabella in the main piano room as we awaited the concert.

Signore Appiano played professionally.
One of his collection was a full-size puppet
like the ones we saw in Palermo.
A public garden -- greenery is in short supply here.
These are death notices. We saw the same kind of thing in Turkey.
After lunch, we found a few goodies to bring home and caught the bus to the hotel in time for my scheduled massage. My masseuse thought I should be having two massages a week instead of two a month, but quadrupling the amount I spend on massage is not in the cards.

At 5pm, we headed for the bus, which took us to Modica and the biggest hoot of the trip -- a ride around the midieval streets of Modica in a Fiat 500! There was a fleet of 6 of them from a Fiat club waiting for us. After a bit, Jim complained that the streets weren't that narrow, but that changed. Those of you who compare Jim to Mario Andretti or Mr. Toad of the Wild Ride should know that our driver was way more aggressive than Jim ever dreamed of being. It was the most fun I have had outside of ziplining! We even got a taste of a granita at one stop too. I didn't manage to get a photo of the seriously dinky streets we barreled down: I was too busy hanging on to whatever I could find with both hands to avoid crushing Isabella next to me.

Some of the Fiats -- the paint jobs were in
wonderful shape and reputedly original
Jim and our driver, president of the club, with his Fiat.  He
is a collector and has another 11 cars stored in three garages
around town,
A view of Modica from above -- sort of like an inverted Ragusa.
We parked for a bit in front of a
Above and below: an elaborate religious tale told in diorama
visible from two sides. You have to put in coins for it to
light up.

Many old churches were built before pipe organs appeared and
have been retrofitted. Many put them between columns like this,
but raising this to allow seating below was something new to us.
An especially nice niche.
Next it was time to learn about and sample the original version of chocolate. Because the Spanish brought chocolate from the new world, Sicily was among the first to make it commercially, but they used the Aztec method, so there is no milk, and the sugar is added to the chocolate without heating it. It makes a simpler product, but the graininess of the sugar remains and the chocolate is not shiny. I wasn't that impressed with the flavor, but we got some mostly to give away. By the way, those of you who think adding peppers to chocolate is a hot new idea? You are wrong. It was the original way Modica and Aztec chocolate was made.

Then it was time for dinner and our ride back to the hotel.

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