Modica was one of the major cities of Sicily, and virtually a country in its own right about 700 years ago. The County of Modica was large and had its own court system and taxes which gave rise to the ‘kingdom within a kingdom’ appellation. Nowadays Modica is a large provincial town with an extensive ‘parish’.
The town was nominated one of the UNESCO Val di Noto towns in 2002, and since then has flourished thanks to tourism as well as its famous chocolate. Unlike many other Sicilian cities, the new town has been built in the Sorda area, about 3km from the centro storico, meaning that the historical centre has been largely untouched by development, although there are a few 1970s blocks of flats that mar the views. Fortunately Modica is not wholly dependent on tourism and has flourishing businesses, which means it is a thriving and independent spot – you know you are living a real Sicilian town and not in an open air museum.
What is unusual about Modica is that it is built in a valley – most Sicilian towns are built on hill tops – and as it grew, it scrambled up and down the sides of the vallies and along the banks of the rivers which run through it. Until the end of the 19th century, Modica was known as the ‘Venice of the south’ as the main streets of the town were rivers. Unfortunately, a disastrous flood in 1902 meant that the rivers were paved over. Even so, Modica retains its original plan – modified after the earthquake of 1693, an event which led to a vast rebuilding programme in the Sicilian baroque style which accounts for the vast majority of the monuments you can see today.
Given its unusual morphology Modica allows the visitor spectacular views, combined with alot of steps. Most of the more characteristic streets are not reachable by car, and for a view of the cathedrals (Modica has two) and the castle, the best properties are in the Cartellone area of Modica Bassa.
Modica Alta, is the area above San Giorgio and is largely residential, but with a unique atmosphere. Not quite as popular as Modica Bassa, it has its own feel and could be a separate town.
Marina di Modica
Marina di Modica is the seaside spot for the town. Largely built in the 60’s and 70’s it’s not a pretty little fishing village, but it does have enviable blue riband beaches. It is also not a seaside resort, but is mainly residential – you do not have all night parties in the height of summer, for example. Maganuco – further along the coast towards Pozzallo is entirely residential.
The Modican Countryside
The county of Modica is marked by moors and dales, criss crossed with dry stone walls and interspersed with farms. It is one of the rare areas in Sicily where people still live in the countryside and commute into town. However, there aren’t villages as such. The possible exception is Frigintini – a small town around 8km from Modica and which is agriculturally based. It is not a pretty chocolate box village, but has all the necessary shops and services which makes it a valid alternative to living in town.