between the towns of Ispica and Modica, this great fissure some
13km Iong, is stacked with abandoned troglodyte dwellings, small
sanctuaries and necropolises. The earliest signs of human occupation
in the area date from Neolithic times. The hollows studding the
walls of the gorge are a natural phenomen in karst rock, they came
subsequently to be modified and adapted by humans
according to their requirements.
A tour of the gorge comprises two
parts. The northern section between Ispica and Modica is open to
the public via the Ufficio di Sovrintendenza (follow signs for Cava
d’Ispica); this first highly-accessible part is fenced off.
The second half of this site lies further north and encloses a more
disseminated series of “monuments” which are difficult
to find and less-accessible. The best way of orientating a visit,
therefore, is to follow a guided tour.
second separate area, known as the Parco della Forza, is located
outside Ispica; this automatically caters for organised tours.
d’Ispica – The actual Cava d’Ispica harbours
the Larderia (from the word ardeia – with abundant water)
which consists of a paleo-Christian catacornb (4C-5C) lined with
an impressive number of burial chambers (464). The original entrance
was at one time located at the opposite end of the corridor that
is now used, off which branches the “main nave” that
extends 35.6m. The two lateral passageways were added later.
Larderia – The tour follows the contours of a rock
wall. Beyond the Church of Santa Maria (high
up in the cliff on the left) and the Camposanto or Holy ground,
is located the Grotte Cadute which comprises a residential cornplex
on several levels. Holes in the ceiling and steps cut in the walls
below enabled the residents to move from one level to another with
the aid of poles and ropes that could be pulled up in times of danger.
the entrance to the fenced area, on the far side of the main road,
another road leads to the rock-hewn Church of San Nicola and the
Spezieria, a little church perched on a sharp rocky outcrop. The
name, corrupted from the local dialect, is linked to the mythical
existence of a monk-cum-apothecary who prepared herbal remedies.
The church interior is sub-divided into two parts: a nave and a
mis-aligned chancel with three apses.
to the car and drive up the main road to the first turning on the
– On the plateau, now scattered with dry-stone walls, stand
the ruins of the Byzantine Church of San Pancrati (on the left,
fenced off). It was beside here that vestiges of a small settlement
were recovered. A little further on, a path leads left to an area
with other points of interest (difficult to find without a guide):
the Tomb with decorative pilasters has a double front entrance,
and the Grotta del Santi which consists of a rectangular chamber
containing fragments of fresco
along the walls (the haloes of the figures depicted can just be
Back on the main road, continue
towards Cava d’Ispica, before looking and finding (if accompanied
by a guide) the Grotta della Signora which shelters a spring considered
sacred since ancient times. The walls bear traces of graffiti dating
from prehistoric or paleo-Christian era (swastikas and crosses).
in the opposite direction further towards Ispica, the central part
of the gorge conceals the so-called Castello, an enchanting residential
complex several storeys high (see above).
della Forza – Located at Ispica. This, one of the
earliest areas of settlement, has been occupied since Neolithic
times, abandoned in the 1950s (very difficult to reach: for directions,
ask a local guide). During the Middle Ages the plateau above the
gorge was fortified with a citadel. This was raised around the so-called
Palazzo Marchionale, the basic layout of which may still be made
out. Some rooms preserve fragments of the original floor covered
with painted fired lime tiles.The small fortress also contained
several churches including the Annunziata which has 26 graves inlaid
into its floor.
cave known as the Scuderia, so called because it accommodated stables
in medieval times, bears traces of graffiti horses. An idea of just
how considerable this settlement was may be gleaned from the known
number of people residing there: before the earthquake in 1693,
approximately 2000 people lived within precincts of the actual citadel,
while an additional 5500 people inhabited the nearby gorges.
Perhaps the most striking feature
is the Centoscale, an extremely long stairway (consisting of 240
steps cut into the rock) which descends 60m at an angle of 45°
into the side of the hill to emerge on a level with the valley floor,
below the riverbed. It is not known when exactly the passage was
made, its function was to ensure a water supply even in times of
drought. One hundred slaves (hence its name) were positioned along
the length of the stairway to collect the water as filtered down
from the riverbed (at its deepest point, the passageway was 20m
below water level); having been collected it was passed up in buckets
to the surface. Outside the actual park stands Santa Maria della
Cava, a little rock-hewn church containing the fragments of fresco
in successive layers (for access, permission must be sought from