When I said I was going to Modica, they asked me why. When I said I’d found a nice hotel, they looked askance. Surely I could find a nice hotel in a city in Sicily that was worth seeing. No-one goes to Modica. It’s one of those cities you pass by on the way to somewhere else – to Catania, or to Siracusa, or even to Ragusa. But no-one goes to Modica.
Well, in February, they’re probably right. I’m sure we were the only tourists in town. It felt as if we had the place to ourselves and it was lovely. We briefly thought about venturing further afield but both agreed that there was more to the city than people had led us to believe.
About 20km from the port of Pozzallo, the city of Modica dates back to around 1300 BC and is known mainly for its baroque architecture. It’s home to about 60,000 very stylish, if slightly extreme Sicilians. They’re either very friendly or very dour – no half measures. The city is known for its one hundred churches (and while there are lots of them, 100 might be a bit of a stretch, unless you venture out into the hinterland and count the ruins). It’s also the birthplace of Salvatore Quasimodo, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959 and of the 18th century philosopher Tommaso Campailla. Seeing the typewriter that Quasimodo used and the room in which he worked was inspiring. The view from his balcony would do wonders for me, too. Mind you, I was far more impressed when I discovered that it was one of the locations for the Inspector Montalbano series – a delightful set of novels by Andrea Camilleri featuring the irrepressible Salvo Montalbano, a man who loves his food.
Three days wasn’t enough to see the insides of all the churches or indeed to sample the wares of all the chocolate shops. It would seem that Modicans are religious about their chocolate. (Apparently it’s made from an ancient Aztec recipe.) Even the pizzas come with chocolate! And the hot chocolate isn’t your usual chocolate-flavoured milk – it’s a full mug of melted chocolate. So add some Italian shoe shops into the mix and you have a city break from heaven. But things weren’t always so great in this gem of a city! Earthquakes in 1613 and 1693 left their mark, the latter killing 2400 people. The floods of 1833 and 1902 also left their mark – 5.5 metres above ground!
Next time I go, I’d like to see the Cava d’Ispica (a series of limestone grottoes containing cave dwellings) and prehistoric and early Christian tombs. I missed out on my cemetery fix this time round.
One thing for sure though, I’ll be booking back into the Palazzo Failla. Had I been born into eighteenth-century Sicily, I’d have lived here. It’s beautiful and the service is second to none. I could get used to that sort of treatment.