Among the feuds in Eastern Sicily, the County of Modica was one of the largest: the local Jewish community, which according to a census taken in 1492 was about a twentieth part of the whole Jewish population of the Island, was giving a big contribution to the wealth of the city.
Jews used to live in a specific neighborhood in Modica, which has been known until today as “Il Cartellone” (which means “the big posted sign”). Probably, at that time, a big sign used to indicate to the Christians where the Jewish quarter began: “Where the Jewish laws, attached to the street walls by the Jews, were noted.”.
In that area of the city there was also a synagogue, of which, unfortunately, there is nothing left today, because of a terrible massacre that took place on August 15th 1474. Some locals met in the Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem’s square and headed for Il Cartellone: there, they attacked the community, killed about 360 Jews and ransacked the area. Many years later, in 1492, everywhere in Sicily, all this rage led to the expulsion of the Jews from the Island.
What remains of the ghetto today are narrow lanes and buildings arranged in a flounce pattern along the hill: Il Corso (“The Avenue”), which has been called “U Cursu” since that time, is integral part of the quarter and part of St. Peter’s Church, where you can still see an old Hebrew inscription on the vault of an arch overlooking a small alley. Walking up the streets of the quarter, you can get to the Itria hill and enjoy an amazing panoramic view on the city. The Church of St. Mary of Itria, or Odigitria, stands there: it was built in 1600, according to historical records.
Il Cartellone is the most peculiar quarter in Modica. It’s beautiful when you get lost in its streets and then you find yourself in an area such full of artisan workshops, woodworkers, metalsmiths and tailors who pass on the local Sicilian art and their skills.
It’s easy to dive into history when you are in Modica : you just need to enjoy a panoramic view, turn a corner or simply look up to discover what made this town one of the most fascinating places in Sicily.