Giarratana (34km from Ragusa; 3500 inhabitants; 520m a.s.l.; zip code 97019; area code 0932) is the smallest and the least populated city in the province of Ragusa and stretches between the Iblean mountains and flat lands. It is bathed by the Irminio River flowing from the Lauro Mount. An artificial dam built along the course of the river, about 10km from Giarratana, has played a major role in both the city’s agriculture and tourism, since it has given life to a magnificent lake and landscape.
Giarratana has ancient roots. Before the 1693’s earthquake it stood on a different site called Terravecchia. Prehistoric settlements were discovered in its surroundings, such as Scalona (2000 BC) and the more recent Donna Scala, thought to have been populated by Sikel tribes. Another ancient settlement, named Monte Casale, on the Lauro mount, is believed to have been the site of Kasmenai, a mysterious town and the military outpost that the Greek-Syracusans founded in the Southern reaches of their Sicilian dominions. The earliest record about Giarratana dates from the Norman occupation, when it was ruled by Goffredo “The Norman”, the Count of Ragusa. Other sources hold that during the Swabian rule, in 1195, Henry VI, King of Sicily, granted the town to Rinaldo Acquaviva, and that during Aragon’s reign, a certain Gualtiero from Caltagirone was proclaimed Lord of the city.
Giarratana was then assimilated into County of Modica, and later sold, first to Guglielmo and Nicolò Casasegia, then to Simonetto Settimo, in 1454, whose family ruled the city for a longtime. On 11 January 1693 Giarratana was razed to the ground by an earthquake. The municipality board decided to rebuilt the city on a close, sunnier site, a hill referred to as the Poju di li ‘ddisi, where it eventually grew. From that time, Giarratana shared its destiny with the entire province.
Giarratana’s economy is mostly agricultural; legumes, olive oil, cereals, almond are the major outputs. The onion, here bigger and whiter than everywhere, deserves a special mention. This is, in fact, celebrated with a well-known and busy festival, held annually on August 14, where people can enjoy onion-related specialties.
The tour mainly concerns with the religious buildings of Giarratana. The 13th century Chiesa di San Bartolomeo is a fine Baroque building with nave and aisles ornamented with beautiful stuccoes and frescoes. Scenes of the Old Testament, dated 1836, adorn the nave. The Chiesa di San Antonio Abate, rebuilt in 1748, with semi-columns and pilaster strips, contains impressive stuccoes and statues, like the Madonna della Neve, the patron saint of the town. The Mother Church has a late-Renaissance façade and thickest perimetrical walls. It hosts important pieces of art, like the Pala dell’Annunziata, dated 1790, the Anime Purganti, the statue of San Giuseppe and a wooden Saint Barthelemew, unearthed in the ancient city. Ruins of the old Castle are situated in the upper side of the town.
Between Giarratana and Palazzolo Acreide, along the road climbing up the Lauro mount, stands the ancient Greek-Syracusan Colony of Casmene, (644 b.C.) successively declined and abandoned. The hamlet of San Giacomo, in proximity to the city, is notably known for the so-called Masseria Torre di San Giacomo, working as both a farm and restaurant, where people can enjoy delicious home-made food and wine.