ISPICA

In its town centre rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, Ispica guards many treasures: its very beautiful churches and palaces. This aspect of Ispica, almost unknown until a few years ago, is now being promoted. In the old ages Ispica was known and is still known today for a natural landscape unique in Sicily: its gully, a very ancient inhabited area populated by the Siculi. It is an interesting place full of culture and history that was loved and studied by many archaeologists and historians.
This charming town stands on a spur, 170 m above the sea level, in the coast hill which has turned to be a very fertile land.

Ispica’s gully: The Fortilitium

The long and deep natural calcareous gorge known as Cava D’Ispica is a very suggestive place. It is a sunny and wild landscape, a narrow valley that sometimes narrows into a gorge, sometimes widens into a valley. It is the most beautiful and magnificent gully in Eastern Sicily. These uncontaminated spaces, populated since the most ancient prehistoric ages have been studied and painted by Romantic historians, painters and eighteenth century travellers. Time and men’s work have changed some places, as you can see from Christian catacombs and from the Palazzeddu, popularly called the castle, where the corridors, the upright stairs and some structures sculpted on the rock have been altered; yet the gully is still a spectacular place. The gully has all the characteristics of the Hyblaean land: the tender limestone that forms it and made it easy to sculpt, the proximity to the sea that made it easy to get at, the different civilisations that followed one another and the unrepeatable landscape of the gullies.
Since the Neolithic age some villages and huts have been built on the valley, they are the typical inhabited areas of the Siculi. These populations sculpted on the rock their artificial caves which had the form of kilns to use them as burial grounds for the dead. This is the Castelluccio phase of the Bronze Age. Since the VIII century, people in the villages lived exclusively in caves. In the Byzantine age the persecuted Christians chose the gully as their favourite hiding place. Even the monks of Cappadocia and the people persecuted by barbarians and muslims saved themselves hiding in the caves excavated in the steep walls of the gully. The most fortified place, the "Fortilitium" dates back to this period; unfortunately no frescoes from this period have re
mained, they might have revealed some important information on the life led in the gully by hermits. The most known hermit who chose this gully as his hermitage was Sant’Ilarione who lived in the gully for long, after escaping from Egypt. One of the hypogean cemeteries, the Southern complex of the San Marco Catacombs is one of the most important and greatest in the Island.
The ruins of the San Pancrati church, a small Byzantine basilica with three apses, still stand in the gully; in the Middle Age a big monastic community of Benedictine fathers was annexed to this church, but the most singular and famo
us place in the cave is the Castle that was still inhabited until the first years of the twentieth century; it is made up of four floors linked by stairs. The "Parco della Forza". drawing its name from its structure, a hard limestone natural fortress, is very interesting as well. Among the most beautiful monuments here we find the " Centoscale" one of the most ancient and beautiful structures in the whole rock complex with a tunnel excavated inside the rock and the limestone. It has two hundred steps, tunnels and slits that look on to the cave. Many churches, necropolis and caves can be visited. Even if many of them have eventually become inaccessible, the gully is still a destination not to miss in a tour inside the Hyblaean territory.

The town and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Ispica was called Spaccaforno until 1935. The most famous work of art in Ispica is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which has become a national monument thanks to the paintings of Olivio Sozzi and Vito D’Anna kept inside this church. The fašade of the church shows the coat of arms of the Statella family, the descendants of the King of France Robert, Duke of Burgundy, who owned the feud of Spaccaforno from 1493 to the XIX century.
The Prince Francesco Saverio Statella asked Sozzi to paint the ceilings of the church. The 26 frescoes of the Basilica are considered among the most beautiful works of art in the XVIII century. The magnificent forty square meters central painting, showing scenes from the O
ld and the New Testament, is reproduced in an outline at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In the dome, the ribbed vault reproduces magnificent women, symbols of the four continents, while in the apse the imposing image of the Christ, ascending to heaven is inspired by Raffaello.
The Basilica has the most organic collection of frescoes and paintings of the works of Sozzi. in the whole province.