Ispica and the archaeological site of Cava d’Ispica

The town of Ispica is in the southeastern part of the province of Ragusa. The town is also known by the name “Spaccaforno,” probably deriving from the union of the Latin word “speca” (cave) with “forno” (oven), indicating the shape of some graves found near the populated area. An early Christian catacomb bearing witness that area had already inhabited in late Roman times when the city was called “Hyspicaefundus.” Ultimately, it took the definitive name of Ispica in 1934.

Today, the inhabited center rises on a hill about 7 km from the sea, but the testimonies of its origins are in the valley, in what today have become the archaeological sites of Parco della Forza (Fortilitium Park) and Cava d’Ispica (Ispica Quarry).
The territory was ruled by Sicel, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine rulers. The Arabs reigned there between the tenth and eleventh centuries until the liberation of the Normans led by Roger of Hauteville. After having passed under the Swabian and Angevin domination, the territory of Ispica had several lords until it became part of the County of Modica.

The devastating earthquake of 1693, which destroyed much of eastern Sicily, razed to the ground the entire town which, for the most part at that time, was in the current-day Cava d’Ispica (Ispica quarry). The city was then rebuilt on a flat hill near the quarry, but the original settlement was not completely abandoned. The new districts had wide, straight streets laid out in a checkered pattern and filled with magnificent baroque palaces and churches, including Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major), the Church of San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew), and the Basilica of S.S. Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation). Later, with the advent of the Art Nouveau style, Palazzo Bruno (Bruno Palace) and Palazzo Bruno di Belmonte (Bruno of Belmonte Palace) were built.

15 km from the city is the archaeological site of Cava d’Ispica, a river valley surrounded by Mediterranean scrub, bearing witness to the town’s first settlements. Inside it hosts prehistoric necropolises, Christian catacombs, rock oratories, monastic hermitages, and various types of dwellings. In the final part of this valley is the Parco Archeologico della Forza (Fortilitium Archaeological Park), close to the hill on which current day Ispica stands, containing numerous remains bearing witness to the presence of man from prehistory to the earthquake of 1693.
Thanks to its architectural beauty, Ispica aspires to become a baroque city of the Val di Noto World Heritage Site.

Monuments of interest

  • Basilica of Saint Mary Major
  • Basilica of Most Holy Annunciation
  • Mother Church of Saint Bartholomew
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
  • Our Lady of Graces Church
  • Bruno di Belmonte Palace
  • Former Municipal Palace and former Statella home on Corso Garibaldi
  • Former market pm Corso Umberto
  • Ispica quarry
  • Fortilitium Archaeological Park
  • Saint Mark’s Catacombs