Archaeological itineraries: Cava d'Ispica (Ispica)
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Archaeological itineraries: Cava d'Ispica (Ispica)

The territory of the iblei is rich in valleys carved by the water, they are called quarries. One of the most famous is undoubtedly the Cava d'Ispica, crossed by the small stream Pernazzoni, extends for 13 km within the territories of Modica and Ispica. The northern sector, in the initial part of the quarry, in the districts Serrapero e Baravitalla it is located in the territory of Modica and housed the ancient medieval town of Isbarha[1], going down the quarry narrows forming a bottleneck characterized by two rocky spurs that protrude from the plateaus above: the Clash (to the East) and the Poggio Saltpetre (West). Going down south, the quarry widens and two short lateral quarries converge in it: the "Mortella quarry" and the "Valley of the Barrier". Following a narrow and long rocky column called the "Force”Near Ispica and which formed the central part of the ancient late medieval town of Breaker abandoned after the earthquake of 1693. Walking through the quarry you will find traces of housing that cover various periods: the Early Bronze Age (XX-XV century BC), protohistoric period (X century BC), late Sicilian period (VII-VI century. BC), Greek (VI-III century BC), and gradually affecting the late Roman and Byzantine periods, ending almost to our days.

[1] The rocky settlement in south-eastern Sicily: the example of Ispica. Di Stefano page 510

For those wishing to deepen the study of the Cava d'Ispica we recommend reading the beautiful work by Melchiorre Trigilia: La Cava d'Ispica Archeology History and Guide

Given the vast size of the quarry, it is advisable to divide the route into three itineraries:

XNUMXst Itinerary: Contrada di Baravitalla and Cava d'Ispica Nord

  1. Church of San Pancrati
  2. Prehistoric village of Baravitalla (Tomb with fake pillars)
  3. Cave of Saints
  4. Grotto of the Lady
  5. S. Nicola (or Grotto of the Madonna)
  6. Catacomb of the Larderia
  7. Grotto of S. Maria
  8. Hypogea of ​​the Camposanto
  9. Fallen Caves
  10. Cave of the Spezieria

II ° Itinerary: Rock settlements of Cava d'Ispica center

  1. Rock settlement of the Castle
  2. Rocky settlement of the Convent 
  3. Rock settlement of the Craperia


III ° Itinerary: Cava d'Ispica Sud

1 Park of the Force 

  • Marchionale Palace
  • One hundred scales
  • Church of SS. Annunziata
  • antiquarium

2 Santa Maria della Cava

3 Tannery cave

4 Caves of Lintana 

5 Cave of S. Ilarione 

6 Catacombs of S. Marco

 XNUMXst Itinerary: Contrada di Baravitalla and Cava d'Ispica Nord



Church of San Pancrati


 The church of San Pancrati is located on a plateau located north-west of the Cava d'Ispica, to reach the site you can take as a reference the Superintendency office located at the beginning of the fenced area that contains the monuments of Cava d ' Ispica - North (which includes the Grotta della Larderia whose coordinates are: Lat., Long. Follow the provincial road for about 700 meters, turn right and continue for about 400 meters where on the right of the road a few meters away you can see the remains of the perimeter skeletal system (the coordinates of the church are: Lat. Long. .XNUMX). The church has a longitudinal plan with a clover-shaped presbytery, unfortunately today only a pile of ruins are visible. From a chronological point of view, the period of its construction is referable to the V-VI century. A.D[1]  

[1] Giovanni Di Stefano: Cava D'Ispica: Short archaeological guide

Prehistoric village of Baravitalla



The Contrada Baravitalla is located in the northern part of the Cava d'Ispica, to the east of the Cava rises a rocky plateau, seat of the small necropolis of the Castellucian village of Baravitalla. On the latter site a real fortified village was found and a necropolis with about fifty tombs with artificial caves, one of these tombs, near a farm, is the "Tomb with fake pillars" characterized by 10 fake small plates obtained on the sides of the entrance: 5 to the left and 5 to the right of the entrance. The elevation about 3,80 meters wide is 1,15 meters high. The tomb consists of two rooms, divided by a second door: an oval antechamber and a burial chamber of the "oven" type with a height of mt. 1 and with diameter equal to mt. 2 and 1,5. (The aforementioned Masseria has the following coordinates: Lat. 36.51.34 Long. 14.49.49). During the early Bronze Age, the iblei area is strongly characterized by the so-called Castelluccio culture. Examples of the use of the façade of the tomb with false pillars obtained from the rock are a Lazzaro quarry o Cava grande (between Modica and Rosolini), a Cava D'Ispica - Calicantone and, precisely to Cava D'Ispica - Baravitalla. In south-eastern and southern Sicily there are hundreds of settlements belonging to the Castellucian period, sometimes only a few kilometers away from each other, some of these sites are: Branco Grande and Paolina, Castiglione, district on the road between Comiso and Ragusa, Monte Tabuto and Monte Racello near Cannicarao, Paraspola and Aranci , near Chiaramonte Gulfi, Monte Sallia, Cava dei Servi, between Frigintini and S. Giacomo, Ragusa Ibla, S. Croce Camerina. 

Cave of Saints

a21grottadeisanti a26grottadeisanti  The Grotta dei Santi is located as the crow flies about 300m southeast of the fake pillar tomb of Baravitalla. The cave is a rock church frequented by Christian-Byzantine communities, its name derives from the fact that along the walls there are Byzantine pictorial cycles (about 31 figures of saints and bishops) which also provide a clear chronological indication of the frequency of the cave (period initial of the Norman conquest). The small church is preceded by an open-air vestibule and is made up of two rectangular rooms: the largest (approximately 9,40 x 5,50 meters) used for worship and the smaller (3,50 x 2,70 meters) perhaps used as a sacristy. Of the figures, only the faces surrounded by the yellow halo cut out on the blue background remain partially. 13 figures are found on the left wall, 7 on the front wall and 11 on the right wall.


Grotto of the Lady

grotto lady 1 

 After visiting the Grotta dei Santi, continuing for about 400 meters to the southeast you will find the Grotta della Signora (15 x 7 meters), whose ceiling has several small domes carved into the rock. It is believed that the cave was an ancient source of sacred water. Inside, Christian epigraphs were found engraved on limestone tombstones.

grotto lady 4

S. Nicola (or Grotto of the Madonna)


 Taking as a reference point the Superintendency office located at the beginning of the fenced area that encloses the monuments of Cava d'Ispica - Nord (coordinates Lat. Long., to reach the rock church of San Nicola (XIII-XIV century) you have to cross the adjacent provincial road that leads to Modica, take the dirt road and continue for about 120 meters, on the right you will find a small cave marked by a tourist sign. The church consists of a rectangular hall (4 x 4,5 meters) which is accessed from a side entrance. Immediately to the right of the entrance there is a niche that most likely constituted the apse, followed immediately after by another smaller niche. The walls of the church have the remains of 5 devotional frescoes among which a fresco representing a "Madonna with Child" stands out on the left wall, followed by St. Nicholas for some writings visible on the sides of the face attributable to the saint. On the wall in front of the entrance, a hardly recognizable fresco that would represent the Annunciation. The dating period of the figures is probably the Swabian one[1] (XII-XIII century)

[1] Giovanni Di Stefano: Cava D'Ispica page 40 (166.40)

Catacomb of the Larderia


It's one of the largest  catacombs of South-Eastern Sicily, with that of S. Marco di Ispica and the cave of the Trabacche in the Ragusa area. The entrance, called "vestibule”, Which has the shape of a rectangle of m. 7,40 x 5,50, it is damaged due to collapses, the existence of an ancient sheep track and the construction of a bridge in 1885. In its north-west wall there are 4 stacks of niches with 4 burials each and in the floor 26 pits carpet. It gives access to three corridors. central decumanus, oriented from east to west, it is mt. 35,60, wide 3 at the beginning and 1,5 at the end, and high m. 2,50. All the decking is occupied by 55 was terragne arranged in 4 parallel rows. It is divided into three parts: the first has only pile niches, nine and seven in number on both sides; the middle part has 4 arcosoli polysomes to the right and 3 to the left, with a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 7 pits each, the latter of which are higher. The final part includes the most important arcosoli, 7 on the right and 10 on the left; three polysomes and the others, monumental, with a single pit. They are higher and arranged perpendicular to the corridor, with an evident scenographic function, as in the catacomb of S. Marco di Ispica and with the side walls broken down and communicating, except for the side of the canopy leaning against the wall. The ceiling is flat and the connection in the front and sides is formed with round arches. On the left side in the center of the decumanus the cd opens. "Canopy cubicle", with arcosoli polysomes in the walls, the most monumental of which has 11 pits. In the NE corner there is a single sepulcher a tegurium or canopy and in the center a bisome with 4 corner pillars, three of which are reduced to stumps. The southern corridor it is posterior to the decumanus and has a length of 22m and a width that narrows from approx. 3m to 1,5m .; the floor is filled with three-tiered pits. In the front there are multiple stacked niches, while in the right wall of the final part there are two arcosoles polysomes with 5 and 9 sepulchres, one of which has a canopy. The third corridor it is the shortest (10 ​​but the most intensely used. It is accessed from a second vestibule, which has 5 stacks of multiple niches. The gallery is wider than the other two, has 20 tombs in the north and 12 in the south. In one of the pillars of the corridor on the right a is engraved, in an unclear way cross. According to Agnello (1959,99) it is a Constantinian monogram chi-rho. Sammito ora (Archivesum Historicum motycense 2001, p.57 and 124) instead reads it as a cross upright on a triangle (symbol of the Trinity), with the two initials I. X (Jesus Christ), monogram dating back to III century. The dates 1657 and 1684 engraved in the central gallery do not argue against the authenticity of the cross because it was certainly made by a visitor of the time of Carrafa. There therefore the dating of the Larderia can be anticipated to the third century. instead of the IV-V century. , as so far stated on the basis of the Christian epigraphs coming from the Cava, some of which from the Larderia, and also from a fragment of oil lamp in decorated coral-red clay with cupids harvesting among vine shoots, which branch off from a vase, datable between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries AD (Di Stefano). They are recognized as early Christian symbols. (Source: Melchiorre Trigilia: La Cava d'Ispica Archeology History and Guide)

 Grotto of S. Maria


 The Grotta di S. Maria is what remains of an ancient rural church, it lacks the façade, which collapsed and is part of a group of excavations, which probably used early Christian environments; they have a forehead of approx. 20 m., Are articulated on two floors and divided. in two sectors. The one to the west consists of a ground floor closed by a wall and an upper floor with two rooms. The one to the east is occupied by the church. The downstairs lobby is small connected with what used to be the upper floor 

Hypogea of ​​the Camposanto

cemetery 4

There are 2 hypogea datable to the IV-V century AD, on a site of the Bronze Age, with a common wall but at different heights. The hypogeum “A"Is a vast chamber of mt. 12,40 x 6,80, in the floor there are 13 pits. On the right side there are three stacks of superimposed niches for adults and children and a monosome arcosolium; on the left side there are 18 sarcophagi, articulated in three parallel rows oriented from north to south; the NW bottom is closed by three suggestive arcosoli. A rocky wall separates the hypogeum from a small cubicle with 11 sarcophagi and a trisome arcosolium. The hypogeum "B" it is rectangular like the previous one (11,60 × 5,60). The walls of the vestibule are occupied by stacked niches, while on the right side there are 6 sarcophagi arranged two per row, parallel to the corridor; at the bottom a deep niche trisome arcosolium. On the left other sarcophagi and pits, some of which are transversal to the corridor. At the end a monosome arcosolium with a round arch with on the left side, still legible, a large Constantinian monogram decussate enclosed in a clypeus. There are 93 terrestrial pits. (Source: Melchiorre Trigilia: La Cava d'Ispica Archeology History and Guide)

Fallen Caves


 Rocky settlement (XNUMXth - XNUMXth century AD) Site inside the Archaeological Area Cava d'Ispica Nord

Cave of the Spezieria

In the western part of Cava Ispica there is the "Spezieria", partially collapsed at the entrance to the cave. The "Spezieria" of an environment consisting of a large quadrangular room. The walls have dozens of recesses that make you think of shelves and closets where you can place and neatly arrange jars and containers of ointments, creams, herbal potions of various kinds. Along one of the sides there are three irregular apses. It also occupies a large part of the wall, all around, a large circular seat carved into the rock. A hole dug in the limestone rock of the floor made us think of a kind of mortar, so much so as to induce some scholars to hypothesize that the site was used as a kind of pharmacy, hence the name "spezieria" as it is called in the local dialect. It seems that it may be a place intended as a sepulcher, modified later for a different destination, if we take into account the particular size of the cave, its circular shape and the low quay that surrounds most of the walls, as well as the cell.

II ° Itinerary: Rock settlements of Cava d'Ispica center

Rock settlement of the Castle


This monument, which has the characteristics of a fortified place and aroused great interest in European travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is located at the top of the rock face on the right, approx. 30 m., In an impregnable and isolated position. It is arranged on five superimposed floors, communicating by means of an internal tunnel with a circular section with handholds and pegs. The original entrance consists of a narrow, curved gallery with a barrel vault (length 8 m, height 1,70). It is an effective defense device from possible enemies. It gives access to a courtyard illuminated from the outside that develops along an elongated axis, around which the rooms, of rectangular or square shape, develop. The room near the entrance was probably used as a kitchen, because there is a place for the fire and the oven. The other rooms do not seem to have a precise destination: the doors and windows have recesses for wooden closures and along the walls there are small niches, notches for toggles, shelves, shelves, beds, shelves and partitions. At the end of the gallery, two small rooms with windows probably served as lookout towers. The upper floors, which have partially collapsed, had similar arrangements.

(Source: Melchiorre Trigilia: La Cava d'Ispica Archeology History and Guide)

Rocky settlement of the Convent


A short distance from the Castle, following the lower course of the Busaitone. The name is perhaps due to the existence of some very evident traces of church architecture. Housed in an absolutely almost inaccessible site, the convent looks like a complex open in the heart of a cliff plunging into the bed of the Cava Ispica. On the upper floor a corridor is visible on which there are very small rooms, rectangular or square, resembling real cells. The supposition that it may be a "monasterion" is supported by the small rock oratory, dedicated to Santa Alessandra, built a short distance from the Convent

Rock settlement of the Craperia

The settlement is carved into the wall, on five floors, of which only the lower floors can be visited

 III ° Itinerary: Cava d'Ispica Sud

Force Park: Marchionale Palace, Hundredscales, Church of SS. Annunziata and antiquarium

 Marchionale Palace


The palace, located on the southern side of the fortress, has an L-shaped plan; the space in front is occupied by a courtyard paved with pebbles. On the right side, the service areas can be identified, with granaries embedded in the floor level. It is difficult to give indications on the other rooms including a corridor with asphaltic stone tiles and a room with a paved floor in Pompeian red; the base of a column in the north-east corner suggests a monumental structure that has disappeared. The discovery of Byzantine ceramic fragments suggests a structure referable to that period, while in the articulation of the current remains it is to be identified the palace of the Caruso family first (1693th century) and of the Statellas later. The palace, demolished by the earthquake of XNUMX, was not rebuilt.

One hundred scales

one hundred scales

The underground monument called Centoscale is a tunnel that winds for over 50 m with about 180 steps under the stream bed. The intended use of the compartment is uncertain, a series of side corridors suitable for channeling the waste, however, allows us to hypothesize that it could serve as a cistern or well.

Church of SS. Annunziata


Of the church of the Annunziata, located in the southern corner of the fortress, the foundation cuts in the rock, the floor of the nave occupied by numerous sepulchral pits and the floor of the apse remain: the church, originally dedicated to St. Peter, was organized , in all likelihood, according to a Latin cross plan, oriented in the NS direction, in the Statella period (1693th-XNUMXth centuries). Christ with the Cross was venerated here, whose cult is still alive in the church of the Annunziata rebuilt after the earthquake of XNUMX in the new Ispica. (Source website of the Municipality of Ispica)


Inside the Forza archaeological park, a cave has been used as an Antiquarium. The finds found at the site are arranged there: fragments of pithoi, amphorae, lithic tools dating from the early Bronze Age (XNUMXth century BC) to the first Greek colonization (VIIIth century BC). Other ceramic finds refer to the Renaissance period. (Source website of the Municipality of Ispica)


Santa Maria della Cava

church of santamariadellacava

The cave, originally with a cruciform and single-nave plan, opens onto an open space with a façade built and inscribed in a round arch in square ashlars. After the earthquake of 1693 much of the original spatiality was lost, leaving only the apse carved into the rock. On the wall in front of the entrance there is a fresco with the Madonna and Child, while traces of frescoes depicting Saint Ilarione appear along the left wall.


Tannery cave


The cave is located exactly in front of the church of Santa Maria la Cava. Inside it there are about twenty rectangular pits flanked by a seat while, adjacent to them are round wells for the tanning phases. A channel dug into the rock then allowed the water to be conveyed to the appropriate tanks for the work phases.

Caves of Lintana


This complex occupies a rocky crevice at least 80 meters high and consists of a "ddieri" with an enormous number of beehive cells, arranged individually and connected by ladders carved into the rock. On the lower floor the cells are extremely narrow and arranged around a slightly larger room, recognizable as an oratory thanks to the presence of a pictorial panel.

Cave of S. Ilarione


About one kilometer north of the Church of S. Maria della Cava, at the top of the left ridge, is the cave where S. Ilarione lived from 363 to 365 AD, who, as S. Girolamo says, "landed at Capo Pachino, he withdrew to more internal places 20 miles from the sea ". The tradition is confirmed by Vito Amico Statella (1757) who says: "They point towards these parts a decorated cave, as an ancient testimony of the home of S. Ilarione, in which you go up by steps" (the so-called "scalauruni", dug into the rock and still existing). Next to it there are two other caves where his disciples, Gazano and Hesychius, lived. (On the initiative of the writer, a commemorative plaque was placed above the entrance).

Catacombs of S. Marco 

catacombs of san marco

The catacomb of Sa Marco is located in the district of the same name, in the final part of the Cava, where the hill meets the plain. The catacomb is actually a set of catacombs, six to be exact and they constitute the largest paleochristian cemetery complex in south-eastern Sicily, after those of S. Giovanni and S. Lucia of Syracuse.

The largest is m. 44,20 and 17,10 wide. Its direction goes from South to Northeast. After a vestibule of m. 8 × 2 approx. the decumano largo m. 5. Immediately to the left is a small thistle with eight polysomal arcosoles, containing 25 niches. At 19 m. the corridor narrows to m. 1,50 and gives access to a vast rectangular room 22 m long. ca. and 6 wide, illuminated by three skylights. At the beginning and at the end there are two bisome canopied sepulchres; in the center a group of 6 sarcophagus tombs with crude balusters. A hundred niches have been dug into the floor, now buried or destroyed.

The catacomb, linked to a rural community, is to be located between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries AD. To reach the catacomb of San Marco, go along the Ispica-Bufali-Marza road. About two kilometers away from the Ispica-Pozzallo-Noto crossroads, in the open countryside, on the right, trazzera (dirt road) which must be traveled for about 800 meters.

For those wishing to deepen the study of Cava d'Ispica we recommend reading the beautiful work by Melchiorre Trigilia: La Cava d'Ispica Archeology History and Guide

Card insertion: Ignazio Caloggero

Information contributions: Web, Region of Sicily

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