Discovering Cava Ispica

MircoMannino/ 10 Gennaio, 2019/ Ispica, Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto, Modica, Modica, Province of Ragusa/ 0 comments

Hi my friends! Today I bring you to Cava d’Ispica, a deep river valley that cuts the Ibleo area for 13 km, extending with a North / South-East orientation between the territories of Modica and Ispica.
The history of this quarry is lost in the millennia.
It is thought that the first ones who inhabit the Quarry were the Sicans, who subsequently gave the area to a new dominating people of Sicily: the Sicels. The area was inhabited until the earthquake of the Val di Noto in 1693, after which the inhabitants moved to the town of Ispica, at the time called Spaccaforno. From that period the quarry went increasingly unpopular.

The archaeological richness of the area, characterized by the presence of cave dwellings, necropolis of various ages, castles and cave monasteries, gives to this Quarry an unparalleled value. There is also a dense Mediterranean vegetation that gives life to the entire Quarry, and gives to this area a magical atmosphere. Splendid carobs, olive trees, willows and poplars can be easily encountered along the excursion inside the Cava Ispica. The existence of a vastly luxuriant flora is given by the presence of two large torrents: the Pernamazzoni and the Busaitone, which were exploited by the native populations for the production of fruit trees and for breeding. It is not difficult, in fact, to walk around the Quarry and find tangerine trees, oranges, apricots or walnuts that grow alongside the streams.


If you ever will be in the Cava d’Ispica area, here is a list of what must necessarily be seen at least once!

1 : The Ginnasio

External area

Dated around the 4th century BC (Hellenistic – Roman age), the Gymnasium is an important testimony of the Greek presence in the Cava d’Ispica.

The area is characterized by the presence of two large chambers. The room on the right, partially collapsed, has perimeter seats on the walls and some ablution tanks reserved for students of the Gymnasium. The leftmost chamber, the best preserved one, leads into a deep room with perimeter seats, where on the right wall you can see the engraving “PRE”, while on the left wall the engraving “NEO”, indicating respectively the seats reserved for the elderly, the Presbyteroi, and the younger ones of the Gymnasium, the Neoteroi.

The engraving “PRE”

The engraving “NEO”

There are also some others engravings in old Greek, but I really don’t know old Greek language!

The right area of ​​the Gymnasium, partially collapsed, has perimeter seats on the walls and some baths for ablutions reserved for students of the Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium was not simply a place of teaching, but also a meeting place where the local community gathered in assemblies.

Right room, the best preserved of Gymansium

2: Larderia Catacombs

The Catacombs of the Larderia are, after those of San Giovanni in Syracuse and those of San Marco in Ispica, one of the largest sepulchral complexes in all of Sicily.

The area, dated between the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ (Roman – Byzantine period) has about 450 loculi and is characterized by the presence of three vast corridors, of which the central – dug in different periods – reaches the extent of 40 meters. Inside this corridor there are many tombs embedded in the ground or on the walls, until you reach the canopy tombs. The presence of these monumental tombs suggests that even in that period there was the concept of meritocracy within the housing community. Evidently these canopy tombs were reserved for illustrious personalities or for village chief of the community. Similarly, it can be seen that in the left-hand corridor there are two polysomic arcosolium tombs, belonging, as in the case of the canopy tombs of the central corridor, to illustrious or important figures for the community.

Canopy tombs

Canopy tomb

Central corridor

3: The fallen Caves

The fallen caves are medieval housing complexes (11th-14th century AD) connected by ladders and trapdoors. Part of the elevation has collapsed, which is the reason why they have been nicknamed “Fall Caves”.


External area


4: The Cave of the Saints

The Cave of the Saints, located in the Baravitalia district, is an important example of rock art. The area is dated around the Norman conquest (11th century AD) and was probably created as a place of worship for local communities to hide from invaders and continue to profess their faith.

The cave has a quadrangular compartment with numerous niches on the ground, probably used as containers of cereals and other foods, on which a wooden platform was then placed.

On the walls are depictions of thirty-three saints, probably painted by only one artist. The frescoes, unfortunately, are in a precarious state, as vandalized by thieves who – by popular belief – thought that behind the figures of the Saints there were hidden coins.

Saint Peter, detail

Saint Lucy, detail

5: Tomb with false pillars

Tomb dated around 1800 BC , is characterized by the presence of five false pillars on the left and four on the right wall. For some people, these pillars should represent trees, thus symbolizing the life that recurs after death. The interior room has a small niche that was supposed to be an ossuary. The singularity of this tomb suggests that the buried person was an illustrious or worthy man of interest, so much so that this tomb was also named “The Tomb of the Prince”.

6: The Sican Castle (or Ispica Castle)

Erroneously called Sican Castle, it is a rupestrian complex dating back to the Middle Ages (11th-14th century AD) distributed over five levels dug into a 30-meter-high rock wall and connected to each other through tunnels and trapdoors. The bigness of this work suggests that more than a generation of people were needed to complete it. The purpose of this structure was probably to defend and control the area in case of an eventual enemy invasion.

Ancient door

Ladder leading to the next floor

External part


Unfortunately, the state of abandonment in which Cava d’Ispica is facing is rather worrying. Lack of indications or signs within the path, little recognizable paths, areas completely inaccessible and invaded by vegetation (such as the Rupestrian Monastery) and, above all, the presence of an incompetent and disinterested staff in the area where they work (both at the Parco Forza – South entrance – which at the Archaeological Park – north entrance), disappoint in some ways the expectations, although it must be said that the experience within the Cava d’Ispica is unique and unrepeatable.

It should however be said that the area of ​​Cava d’Ispica is immense, immersed in nature, difficult to land and therefore difficult to manage. The hypothesis of an excavation campaign on the entire area, still not fully brought to light, is almost utopian. In this regard, Giovanni Modica said: “The expense of completing a company of this kind – that is, a scientific exploration of the archaeological site – is such big that it cannot be taken into consideration”.

To you


Leave a Comment

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato.