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November 1st, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The ancient town of Modica in southern Sicily was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002 because of its baroque art and architecture dating to the late 1700’s. 

St. Giorgio Cathedral dominates Modica's skyline

Modica also happens to be the chocolate capital of Sicily.  So it stands to reason that when they have a fall festival, it celebrates those two important aspects of the town’s history—hence the name “Chocobarocco” for the annual festival that takes place in late October each year and concludes on November 1st which is “All Saints Day”—an Italian national holiday.

We left Marina di Ragusa with several cruising friends on a sunny Saturday to see Modica and enjoy the festival.  This required a bus trip to Ragusa and then another to Modica, which took us through some of the southern Sicily countryside.

We were quite surprised to find that the southernmost coast of Sicily is quite flat, and predominantly rolling agricultural land.  There are thousands of acres under cultivation, and many of those covered by green houses. 

The town of Modica sits  inland at an elevation of 1,000 ft. above sea level   where the topography is hilly.  It has an upper section with steep stairs and narrow streets that crawl up the hillside and buildings that all seem to be at angles.  The lower section of the town follows the winding path of an old river bed–now a paved street called Corso Umberto I.  In 1693 there was an earthquake that destroyed much of the town and resulted in its being rebuilt both in the valley as well as on the hillside in the baroque style of that time.  The places of interest include numerous palazzos, museums and the Teatro Garibaldi where some of the festival events take place.

Baroque architecture with gargoyles. . .

tall windows and balconies. . .

and ornate arches are seen throughout Modica.

There are 29 churches in the town according the the turistica map, many of them elaborately decorated with ornate statuary.

One of many statues of saints adorning Chiesa di San Pietro

Chocoarocco takes place well after most tourists have abandoned the region and is a seasonal festival enjoyed primarily by Italians.  The timing in late fall probably takes into consideration the necessity of cooler temperatures so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

School children get history lessons along with chocolate. . .

and colorful balloons.

One of the most important baroque structures in Modica is the Cathedral of St. George (St. Giorgio in Italian) which has a tower and dome that are visible throughout the town.  Over 250 steps lead from the main street of the lower town, Corso Umberto I, to the Cathedral which looms overhead as you trudge upward.

St. Giorgio Cathedral

On this sunny Saturday, not everyone was attending the Chocolate Festival, Some were attending a wedding at the cathedral.  There is something about weddings that draws a crowd, whether you know the happy couple or not.  Perhaps its a universal fascination with the pagentry or shared joy at the prospect of a “happy ever after” ending.

The interior of St. Giorgio. . . .

awaits the bridal party. . .

while musicians tune up in the organ loft.

Finally the bride arrives. . .

and is greeted by her guests on the cathedral steps.

As we toured the church before the ceremony I saw a printed program for the wedding, and made a silent wish that “Davide and Danielle” would have their happy ending. 

First we enjoyed the architecture, and then it was time to savor the chocolate.

The most famous of all the chocolate shops in Modica is Antica Dolceris Bonajuto which first opened its doors in 1880 off a small alley on Corso Umberto.   Walking through the doors of this shop is like stepping back in time to the late 1800’s.  The shop has beautiful glass doored cases that display chocolate like it is expensive jewelry.  The wood is rich mahogany, and the lighting soft like a museum.  People seem to speak in soft voices as they make their selections from the confectionary treats displayed.

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is just off Corso Umberto

The kitchen is visible through an open door and window, where the white coated chocolatiers do their magic using the same methods and ingredients that Aztec Indians perfected in Mexico thousands of years ago. 

The heady aroma of chocolate wafts from the kitchen.

The result is chocolate that is very rich in flavor with a slightly grainy texture from the sugar in the cocoa not being totally dissolved.  The higher the cocoa content, the more grainy the texture.  This chocolate melts on the tongue with a burst of flavor that makes milk chocolate seem bland by comparison.  The chocolate is flavored with vanilla, orange and interestingly pepper.  The chocolate with pepper has a particularly interesting sweet tanginess.

Even more amazing than the taste, and we did a lot of tasting as we worked our way down the street, stopping at tent after tent, were the amazing shapes and designs that the chocolate masters presented. 

Chocolate as far as you can see. . .

and lots of samples.

White chocolate cheese shapes were so realistic it caused a double take to confirm that we hadn’t stumbled into a cheese purveyor among the chocolate tents. 

Chocolate salami, anyone?

Chocolate salami, anyone?

There were flowers, and tools, and even designer shoes—all edible.  Making chocolate tasty is one thing, but making it into intricate shapes is an art.

Chocolate flowers seem common. . .

and truffles conventional. . .

when compared to chocolate designer shoes--at 15 euros each!

Chocobarocco, celebrates the art of chocolate and Modica’s baroque heritage.  There are concerts, tastings and chocolate sculptures for the public.  There are lectures (in Italian of course) and  trade booths for chocolatiers.  Modica exudes a festival atmosphere and chocolate scents the air.

Is there such as thing as too much chocolate?  After Chocobarocco, the answer was a resounding “yes!”  Fortunately, feeling of being overwhelmed by the taste and smell of chocolate passes quickly–I’m nibbling some dark chocolate laced with almonds right now. 

It's always time for chocolate in Modica!

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