The destination of today is a magic place: a long and deep river valley, which winds through Modica and Ispica, and which houses, among its sheer cliffs on of the most important archeological park in Sicily.
Margherita Montoneri (PJ)
A valley that was excavated for almost 14 Km, between Spaccafonnu (present-day Ispica) and Modica, a break of the Iblean upland, turned in a Mediterranean lush and fragrant garden by its abundance of water. The day when, exactly after 30 years, I came back in its Northern part (the one next to Modica), it struck me as odd finding it discretely cared for, complete with entry fee to pay. However, it's better this way, or else many of its treasures would have been lost, covered by flourishing vegetation or eroded by rainwater and by the winds.
Anyway, I remember the valley wild and free, without guided trails and explanatory panels, but only with the thoughtful and passionate guide of Don Peppino.
Don Peppino was THE necropolis, he seemed to be a part of it, and the necropolis was a part of him. Don Peppino got you to walk and jump from tomb to tomb to discover every nook and cranny, sometimes with a bit of non-trivial climb, whilst he seemed to move eyes closed, lightly like a cat, balancing on the thin edges between the niches. Don Peppino resented the "Superdeficiency" (that's what he called the Superintendence for Cultural Assets) because it doesn't really exploit that site. As Don Peppino wasn't able to save the frescoes of the rupestrian little church, he built a Plexiglas and wooden case, to protect at least a little the image of Our Lady, and he showed it to you with a torch, proud and moved as if it was his treasure. Don Peppino, who received letters from all over the world, and at the end of the visit got you home and proudly showed you the letters, the poems, the sketches (among them also my little letter).
I used to be a little envious of Don Peppino. Me too, I would have liked to enjoy my childhood having tombs and houses cave dwellings as a playground, resting lying in the grass or in the cool shade of a hypogeum, dreaming of those ancient peoples who moved in that valley from the sea.
1) The "Grotte cadute" [Ruined Caves]
3) Don Peppino
Margherita Montoneri (PJ) & Mario Montoneri
Col senno di poi, non so se la sua infanzia sia stata davvero così idiliaca e bucolica come la immaginavo, e
In hindsight, I don't know whether his childhood was really as idyllic and bucolic as I imagined, and, again in hindsight, I also was lucky to get boundless wheat fields and vineyards, sandy beaches and smooth seas as a playground, even if only for a few months a year.
But back to our valley, thanks to its location in proximity to the sea, its U-shape, to the kind of rock, that is well suited to be carved, over the centuries it came to be a witness of a succession of cave dwellings, fortifications, Gymnasiums, tombs, necropolis, churches, and oratories. We are talking about one of the main rupestrian settlements in Sicily, second perhaps only to Pantalica, but so rich in tombs and rocky habitats in which various historical stratifications mix and merge together, that some archeologists regard it as a puzzle too hard to reassemble. We traveled only 700 meters of this 13 Km long valley, in the Northern part. 700 meters so rich in history and nature that we could have traveled for days. We start with the "Larderia", one of the largest sepulchral cave in Sicily: almost 460 tombs, arranged along three aisles, the longest of which is nearly 40 meters long, and representing at least three different excavation eras: the graves succeed each other along a real network of small hallways, supported by slender columns, arcosoliums, and cells. Its name ["Larderia", n.d.t.] may come from “Ardeia”, that means “rich in waters” and its vision is really stunning.
Middle-Ages: it was a real condominium in the rock. One could move from floor to floor via through holes dug between the floor and ceiling and using some small recesses in the wall to climb up and down the floors. Besides, in the event of danger, wooden staircases, poles, and ropes on the outside could also be hastily pulled up on and hidden.
2) Madonna with Chid, in the rupestrian church of St.Nicola
Margherita Montoneri (PJ)
Continuing, the trail gets more intricate, as a kind of treasure hunt down the information panels. The rupestrian church of Santa Maria is almost utterly destroyed; you have to try to imagine it by the remained small spiral staircase and by some fragments of the Crucifixion fresco. Then there is the cemetery, another necropolis, probably Christian, as it is deduced from the crux, that you can glimpse inscribed in a circle on the wall.,Then there is the Hellenistic-Roman Gymnasium, with the ablution tank and the seats and the still visible greek incisions, indicating the seats for young people and the ones for the elderly.
And it ends, for now, with the little rupestrian church of St. Nicola, where still resist time some frescos from the Byzantine era. Here, in fact, you can recognize a St. Nicola, with inscriptions, and a beautiful Madonna with Child, the one that Don Peppino covered with plexiglass, now removed. This is the part of the Quarry that I love the most, those images emerging from the rock exerted over me a special fascination, and then there was Don Peppino that let us jump from a tomb to another inside the Larderia (that now those who are not insiders must strictly watch from the outside), where I used to play inside the caves, pretending to live as medieval Sicilian or, alternatively, a warrior of a fantasy world. I'll admit I couldn't resist and I did it once again, squeezing in everywhere and getting out with hair and clothes full of dust and webs.
This is only a very small part, hopefully, the rest will come with another episode. But meanwhile, I think back to Don Peppino, that now sleeps somewhere, and I imagine him sitting in the shade of holm oak, chatting with those ancient peoples of which he guarded the secrets for years.
Cava d'Ispica is a deep river valley, characterized by striking sheer cliffs.
It's about 14 Km long, and winds through the towns of Modica and Ispica.
Its northern part house one of the most interesting Sicilian archeological parks both for vastness and richness.
The park can be visited, with an admission fee. It is advisable to check the access times.