historical roots of the province of Ragusa are entwined with those
of Sicily. The Sicans and the Sikels (18th-8th century BC) are considered
to be the earliest inhabitants of the island; the Phoenicians and
the Greeks were the earliest colonizers in the 8th century BC; then
came the Romans (3rd century BC) who made Sicily a Province of the
Empire; the Byzantines and the Barbarians (Goths, Visigoths and
Vandals) ruled between the 4th and 8th century AD; the Arabians
(8th-10th centuries), like the Greeks, are remembered for having
fostered the economical and cultural growth of the Island; under
the Normans (11th-13th century) the Island likely achieved its highest
economic prosperity; finally there were the French Angevins (13th
century) who would be driven by a general revolt broken out in 1282,
known as the The Sicilian Vespers.
became a Province of the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, under King Peter
III, who soon fostered a policy of administrative autonomy. So came
the two Counties of Modica and Ragusa, that would join into one
after Isabella Mosca’s (heir to the county of Modica) marriage
to Manfredi Chiaramonte (heir to Ragusa’s).
Chiaramontes, descendants of Charlemagne, ruled for over a century
of economic and political prosperity, gaining, through marriages
of convenience and political intrigues, an outstanding position
in the Sicilian society. The County remarkably expanded its dominions,
that soon included Cefalù, the territory of the Marca Anconitana
and the estates of Caccamo and Gulfi. The count and his close relatives
were granted important titles and privileges, like that of Captain
Executioner of Palermo, General Vicar, Grand Seneschal (Manfred
I), Lord of Nicosia (Giacomo), Vicar (Manfred III) – who was
entrusted to rule one of the four administrative areas (Vicariates)
of Sicily at the time of King Frederick. In 1392, Giacomo, the last
of the Chiaramontes, was arrested and sentenced to death for leading
a coalition against the king.
ended the cycle of this dynasty who in a few decades had become
one of the wealthiest and mightiest of all Sicily, a specimen of
that local power that in the feudal age even surpassed the King
came the rise of a new dynasty, the Cabrera (or Caprera), whose
most distinguished member was Bernardo, who took possession of all
the Chiaramonte properties and brought about a period of serious
disorders within the County most fostered by Chiaramonte’s
loyal followers. Attempts at revolt were soon repressed through
killings, tortures and imprisonments, allowing Bernardo Cabrera
to rule and extend the County to an area as large as the current
province of Ragusa. He, a devoted vassal of King of Sicily Martin
I of Aragon, was proclaimed Captain of the Army. Following Martin
I’s, and his successor Martin II’s (1411) death, Bernardo’s
attempt to interfere with the role of Bianca of Navarra, Vicar of
Sicily and Martin II’s daughter-in-law, resulted in a dispute
lasted several years that led up to the designation of Ferdinand
I as King of Sicily. Hit by plague, Bernardo died that very year
(1411), and buried in the Cathedral of St. George in Ragusa (migrated
to the new one following 1693’s earthquake).
period of repeated insurrections followed, people still displeased
with Cabrera’s policy. In 1447, in Ragusa, a revolt would
result in the fire of the County’s Archive and the murder
of Giovanni Bernardo Cabrera, the newly proclaimed Count, who, in
king’s honor, had conquered Naples few years before (1442).
Because of the disorders the County’s Chancellery was transferred
from Ragusa to Modica, that thus became the main city in the County.
II (1466) and then Giannotto (1474) succeeded Giovanni Bernardo.
A tragic event took place in 1474, when an accident in the Jewish
quarter of Modica, known as Cartellone, spread out as a chase after
the jew across all Sicily; the event is still sadly reminded as
the Massacre of the Jews. In 1480, Anna Cabrera, Giannotto’s
sister, married Federico Henriquez, a descendant of the royal family
of Aragon. A new cycle was to begin for the County: that of the
Henriquez dynasty, during which the County was handed down from
father to son till 1702, when Giovan Tommaso Henriquez was executed
for rebelling against the kingdom, by having supported a coalition
led by Charles of Austria.
the whole, both under the Henriquez and the late members of the
Cabrera family the County lost much of the importance and prestige
achieved at the time of the Chiaramontes. Repeated insurrections
and rebellions would characterize the following years, attesting
to the subjects’ displeasure at the new dynasty’s policy.
Only worth-mentioning was the foundation of the city of Vittoria
around 1600, in Vittoria Colonna’s – Luigi Henriquez’s
wife – honor. A new tragic event was recorded in 1693. A terrible
earthquake hit the Eastern Sicily, razing to the ground entire towns,
among which were Catania, Lentini, Noto, Scicli, Ragusa and Chiaramonte.
Others like Modica, Spaccaforno, Niscemi, Vittoria, suffered heavy
damages. Effects were catastrophic: over 60,000 dead; tens of thousands
among houses, buildings, monuments, works of art and precious specimens
of the past ages were irreparably lost. A sumptuous reconstruction
followed, notably in the fifty years following the earthquake, meant,
on the one side, to celebrate the magnificence and the power of
local elites – Aristocracy and Clergy – who economically
supported it, and, on the other, to show the pride and superiority
of human over nature.
Tommaso’s execution put an end to the autonomy of the County,
whose title would, ever since, consisted of a mere formal meaning.
Under the successive Alvarez and Fits-Stuarts dynasties the County
was directly governed by the Kingdom, whose fate it would share
1713, Sicily passed to the Kingdom of Savoy, who ceded it few years
later to the Austrian Hapsburgs. In 1734, it was conquered by Bourbon’s
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, comprising most of the Southern Italy.
In 1861, the year of the independence from Spain, it was assimilated
into the Kingdom of Italy. Till 1926, when Ragusa was proclaimed
a province, the territory of the former-County fell within the administrative
control of Siracusa.
Castello di Donnafugata
Marina di Modica
Marina di Ragusa