An experimental laboratory study has been carried out to investigate the propagation of an internal solitary wave of depression and its distortion by a bottom ridge in a two-layer stratified fluid system. Wave profiles, density fields and velocity fields have been measured at three reference locations, namely upstream, downstream and over the ridge. Experiments have been performed with wave amplitudes in the range 0.2– 1.9 times the depth of the upper layer, and a ratio between the lower and the upper layer in the range 3.0–8.5. The ridge slope was varied from 0.1 to 0.33 and the maximum ridge height was two-thirds of the thicker fluid layer. Over the ridge, the flow has been classified into: (i) cases when the bottom ridge has little influence on the propagation and spatial structure of the internal solitary wave, (ii) cases where the internal solitary wave is significantly distorted by the blocking effect of the ridge (though no wave breaking occurs), and (iii) cases for which the internal solitary wave is broken as it encounters and passes over the bottom ridge. A detailed description of the processes leading to wave breaking is given. Breaking has been found to take place when the fluid velocity in the lower layer exceeds 0.7 of a local nonlinear wave speed, defined at the top of the ridge. The breaking condition is also expressed in terms of the amplitude of the incident wave, the layer thickness ratio and the relative height of the ridge. The wave breaking can be determined from the input parameters of the experiment. The transmitted waves have been found to always consist of a leading pulse (solitary wave) followed by a dispersive wavetrain. The (solitary) wave amplitude is significantly reduced only when breaking takes place at the ridge. Internal waves of mode two are generated in cases with strong breaking.