Ragusa: The Castle of Donnafugata

Photo © Mauro Manmano
Photo © Mauro Manmano

Immersed among the carob trees and surrounded by an immense park, bought in 1982 by the Provincial Administration of Ragusa, the castle represents one of the most interesting and spectacular destinations among the tourist itineraries of the province.

For its rooms, furniture, external structures and the park with its games: a rare example in the Ragusa area of a construction which has a 19th century, late-Romantic feel, thanks to Corrado Arezzo, the baron of Donnafugata.

Having remained closed for a few years for some essential restoration work, it reopened in the spring of 2002, in its new guise, ready to be the constant destination of visitors, like in years gone by.

The name. which is Arabic in origin, is misleading. It does not, in fact, refer, as first appearances might suggest, to a woman fleeing some tyrannical husband or father, nor to one of the legends lingering in some popular memory, but is a free interpretation and transcription of Ayn as Jafat (meaning Fountain of Health) which in Sicilian dialect became Ronnafuata and so was corrupted to its modem form.

The origins of the building, furthermore, are more recent than the name. The oldest part (which includes the square tower) dates back to the mid-17C when the Donnafugata fiefdom was acquired by Vincenzo Arezzo La Rocca.

The building was continuously altered until the early 20C, when Corrado Arezzo transformed the facade into what can be seen today.

Photo © Mauro Manmano
Photo © Mauro Manmano

What is striking about the exterior of the castle is the elegant Venetian Gothic loggia which dominates the central section of the main facade. The trefoil arches become a recurrent motif repeated in the two-light windows throughout the building.

GARDENS

The large garden, shaded first by large Ficus magnolioides trees then by other Mediterranean and exotic species (succulents and cluster pines) conceals various follies intended to charm and bemuse its visitors. Like the round temple and a Coffee House (where refreshments could be taken), the stone maze and several artificial caves encrusted with fake stalactites (below the temple).

VILLA

The first floor is open to the public. At the top of the black stone (pietra pece in Italian) staircase, ornamented with Neo-Classical statues, is the Salone degli Stemmi named after the armorial crests of great Sicilian noble families painted on the walls. Among the suites of rooms are some with delicately painted trompe l’oeil ceilings. These include the stucco-decorated Salone degli Specchi (namely the Hall of Mirrors), the Billiard Room and Music Room, each with painted landscapes projecting out beyond the walls, and the bedroom of the Princess of Navarre, paved in black pietra pece (a bitumous limestone mined locally from which pitch is made) and white limestone, where, it is said, Princess Bianca was kept segregated from Count Cabrera (an anachronistic legend, given that the princess lived in the 14C).

Photo © Mauro Manmano
Photo © Mauro Manmano

The Stanza del Signore and the Fumoir are beautifully furnished; the decoration of the latter, a smoking room, being perfectly appropriate to its function. It is papered with pipe motifs while the ceiling is painted with medallions filled with cards and beautiful peacocks at the corners.

The castle has been featured in the making of many famous films including the La Giara scene in the film Chaos by the Taviani brothers.

How to get there:

Situated in Ragusa about 20km from the city, in the direction of Santa Croce Camerina, the Castello di Donnafugata can be reached by following the provincial road and then turning left at the intersection indicating the direction of the castle.

Where to stay in Ragusa

There are hotels, B&Bs, villas and apartments available, check them out and make a reservation here.