Comiso (30,000 inhabitants; 209m a.s.l.; zip code 97013; area code 0932) stands on a plain at the foot of the Iblean Mountains. The road leading up to Ragusa, notably the final stretch, provides impressing views of the Ippari Valley and the coast. The country-side is densely populated, most due to presence of factories and hothouse plantations. Richest in water reserves, Comiso is among the most fertile and top agricultural producers of Sicily.
Traces of human settlements dating from the Neolithic Age were discovered in the neighboring hills. The neighboring area known as Cozzo di Apollo is said to have been the site of Kasmenai, the mysterious Greek town. According to historical sources, present-day’s Comiso was founded in the area between Kamarina and Akrai, where ruins of Greek and Roman buildings have been found. Worth-mentioning is a Roman floor mosaic brought to light nearby the Fonte Diana (Fountain of Diana). An hamlet known as Comicio and then Jhomiso was growing nearby to become a city under the Aragon rule. In that time, Federico Speciario, the Lord of the town, ordered the construction of a group of fortified posts and a castle. The city was ruled by Berengaro da Lubera and Giovanni Chiaramonte, and then assimilated into the County of Modica. Afterwards, it passed to the noble Riggio family and to Bernardo Cabrera, Count of Modica, who sold it to the Nasellis to solve his financial difficulties.
The Nasellis, a local aristocratic family, possessed it till the 18th century, contributing to its extraordinary economical and social growth, especially during the 16th century, when, for the important services offered to the Kingdom of Sicily, it even became a County. Gaspare II Naselli was the first Count. The 17th century saw a political decline, due, on the one side, to the growth of the close hamlet of Vittoria, that would draw many Comiso’s peasants and families, and, on the other, to natural disasters, like a terrible plague in 1624 and the earthquake in 1693. The town soon regained its former splendor thanks to new sumptuous buildings in the typical Sicilian Baroque style. The Nasellis also fostered the industrial development: a paper factory was established in 1729, and a soap factory in 1742, managed by Filippo Sallemi and Biagio Guarino, two local craft-masters trained at the celebrated school of Messina. In that period the Nasellis encountered financial difficulties, hence forced to sell their properties. Their estates were acquired by local peasants and landlords.
The feudal system about to end, Comiso and all Sicily were entering a time of deepest social renewal, politically characterized by the Bourbon’s rise to throne, and later, by the Italian Kingdom’s annexation of Sicily. During Fascism, a military airport was established in Comiso, converted into an American missile-base in the eighties and later disarmed.
Agriculture is still Comiso’s main industry. Its fertile grounds are mainly cultivated with early-fruit, fruit and vegetables that are exported to all Italy. The close market of Vittoria has played a critical role in the marketing of its products. Nevertheless, industry, here established earlier than in the rest of Sicily, has well developed. The building industry is especially important, thanks to the famous Stone of Comiso, exported worldwide. A great number of factories, including soap and paper factories – that provide evidence for the earliest industrialization of this area – are scattered across its territory.
Comiso has a baroque look almost entirely resulting from the post-quake reconstruction.
The Naselli castle, an icon of the city, is of Gothic origin, which is shown by two portals and the orthogonal tower decorated with 14th century paintings. A precious floor mosaic adorned the entire building and is now preserved in the municipal Library. The Fontana di Diana, rising in the central Piazza del Municipio, collects the water, once flowing into the public baths whose ruins lie under today’s Town Hall. The fountain was completed in 1937 by sculptor Diano from Spoleto.
The Piazza accommodates numerous private and public buildings, among which are the Palazzo Comunale (the town hall), with a big entrance and a splendid flight of stairs, the Palazzo Iacono-Ciarcià and the Palazzo Occhipinti, one of the most beautiful buildings in town, with its elegant baroque façade attributed to Gagliardi (author of the San Giorgio’s in Ragusa). Remains of floor mosaics and thermal baths were brought to light along the road connecting Piazza Fonte Diana and Piazza delle Erbe. The latter accommodates the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Stelle, whose front elevation rises on three tiers of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pilasters. There also is a roofed market, dating from 1871, that houses the Museo Civico Kasmeneo (Kasmeneo Municipal Museum) – displaying collections of cetaceous animals and sea turtles – and the Biblioteca di Bufalino (Gesualdo Bufalino Library), founded by the famous writer, native of Comiso, recently died. The Chiesa di San Francesco dating back to the 12th century was later enriched with the Naselli chapel, an impressive specimen of the Sicilian architecture, combining numerous and diverse styles. The Mother Church, with a splendid façade rising on two tiers of parastas, and the 18th century three-naves’ Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata complete the tour. The latter, built on the former Chiesa di San Nicola, has undergone many restorations and refurbishments. After the 1693 earthquake the works were entrusted to the celebrated architect Vaccarini, a major author of the post-quake reconstruction of Catania.