You have only to visit Ragusa before realizing just how old the city is and how much change it has gone through. It’s ancient…literally dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C. It was settled by an ancient tribe, known as Sicels, until the 8th Century BC when the Greeks landed in the nearby port of Kamerina and wanted to establish a colony on the hill outside the port city. Five centuries later, the Romans took over when they established Sicily as a Province of the Roman Empire. By the 4th Century AD, the Byzantines and Barbarians fortified the city and built a castle. Changing hands once again, the Arabs took over in the 8th Century AD until the 11th century, when the Normans brought great prosperity to the island and Ragusa was named county seat.
Ragusa’s history would not be complete without a few revolts, the first of which took place in the 13th Century by the French Angecins known as The Sicilian Vespers. At this point, there was a century of calm and prosperity, where the Chiaramontes, who were descendants of Charlemagne, had a long-standing place in Sicilian society and expanded control over the surrounding territory. This lasted until 1392, when the last of the dynasty was sentenced to death for attempting a coup against the king. And so, a new dynasty was born with the Bernardo Cabrera, who, despite some attempts by loyalists to the Chiaramontes to revolt against him, ruled the county. Unfortunately, in 1411, Bernardo died of the plague and was buried in the Cathedral of St. George in Ragusa.
Unrest followed throughout the 15th Century including a revolt which caused a fire of the County’s Archive in 1447 and the murder of Giovanni Bernardo Cabrera, who had become the newly proclaimed Count for having conquered Naples in 1442. The Cabrera family’s prestige was greatly diminished at this point and there were ongoing rebellions by the people for centuries.
As the dramatic history of Ragusa unfolded, it would include a devastating natural disaster. In 1693, a great earthquake hit Eastern Sicily, completely destroying the town as well as many around it, including Catania, Lentini, Scicli and Chiaramonte. Other nearby towns that suffered heavy damages included Modica, Spaccaforno, Niscemi, and Vittoria. Over 60,000 people lost their lives and everything, from buildings, monuments and valuable ancient art where lost forever.
But with the devastation of destruction came a rebirth. As Ragusa was recreated, it may have lost many of its ancient treasures, but the city was rebuilt in the Baroque style of architecture that you see today, which gave the city its place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a part of the district of Val di Noto.