As the oldest part of Syracuse, the charming island of Ortigia in Sicily is steeped in Baroque beauty and Medieval history. The best way to see everything in Ortigia is on foot.
Warned by a local that this area of Syracuse is now similar to “Disneyland”, decided to head to the island to see for ourselves if this view is in fact correct. Apparently, most Ortigians have now moved out of this small island and to a small area on mainland Syracuse.
Island of Ortigia
Three short bridges separate Syracuse and Ortigia (also known as Ortygia), making this an easy comfortable walk between the two ancient cities.
Crossing the main bridge, Ponte Umbertino, leads the way into the main entrance to Ortigia and onto Corso Umberto 1. This is the start of the tour stands and tourist restaurants that grace both sides of the Corso.
Walk a little way and you hit the swarming but colourful and vibrant market stalls. Here, you can buy everything from live fish, souvenirs, fruit, vegetables, and Sicilian delicacies at fairly high prices. Although quite touristy, locals still shop at this market.
On this scorching hot day, with the blue depths of the Ionian Sea splashed against the white-stoned architecture, and bronzing bodies on rocky beaches, this is not unexpected from a typical Italian vista.
Although the ‘touristy’ description of Ortigia is pretty accurate, you cannot go past the splendid Medieval architecture that adorns this tiny island – just gorgeous.
The fact that there are still hoards of tourists on the island, cements that the island offers a multitude of sights to keep a visitor busy, but also signifies the island’s cultural importance in Sicily.
As the oldest part of Syracuse, soaking up cobbled alleyways enclosed by history at every turn in Ortigia’s Old Town, is a memorable experience through time.
Tempio di Apollo
As the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily, dating to the beginning of the sixth century BC, this is the first archaeological site you will stumble upon, just a few blocks from Ponte Umbertino. The original building contained forty-two monolithic columns.
Dedicated to Apollo, the temple’s eastern face’s top step sports an unusual inscription by its builders, which celebrates the temple’s construction.
Totally fenced, you can see this site from the roadside and with some height, looking down onto the grounds.
Foro Vittorio Emanuele II and Porta Marina
Not far after crossing the Umberto Ponte from Syracuse and heading south-west on a ten-minute stroll, the charming thickly tree-lined passage of Foro Vittorio Emanuele II, presents itself as your respite from the heat. This pretty Foro was built to celebrate Italy’s unification.
Syracuse’s only example of medieval fortifications: Porta Marina is built in bright white stone and allowed access to the city.
Take a break on one of the many benches provided along this promenade, to survey the many impressive and opulent marine craft.
Fountain of Diana
Located in Piazza Archimede is the intricate Fountain of Diana built in reinforced concrete over ten months, between 1906-1907, so, not too old.
Diana was protector of Ortigia during the Greek era, and also the goddess of hunting, which is depicted in the fountain with her bow and hunting dog.
Lungomare di Levante
Making your way down the south-eastern part of the island onto Lungomare di Levante and before reaching the marina, sees you passing stonewashed ancient buildings high on fortified walls, aged by the sea’s limitless time.
The road of Lungomare di Levante is quite long and hugs the coastline like a glove.
It’s pleasurable just strolling past and absorbing the pace, just as many Italian sunbathers are doing, before the onslaught of cooler winter months.
Spiaga di Cala Rossa sul Lungomare di Levante
Continuing your leisurely stroll south along the Lungomare di Levante, you come across the Spiaga di Cala Rossa (Cala Rossa Beach), which is a free beach for everyone. Frequented by many beachgoers and sun worshippers, this is quite a popular spot.
Fountain of Arethusa
A natural fresh water spring that according to Greek mythology, the nymph Arethusa (ancient Syracuse’s patron figure), escaped from her Arcadia undersea home and returned to the earth’s surface.
The fountain is also where many writers and poets visited for inspiration in a bygone era.
To say this expansive piazza and Duomo (Temple of Athena) will impress, is an understatement. Both are stunning and a popular meeting point, especially as the piazza’s perimeter boasts many restaurants and Bars.
The current cathedral was built in the seventh century BC by Saint Bishop Zosimo, the original Temple of Athena was built in the 5th century BC, although this was built on even older foundations.
Following the destructive 1693 earthquake in Sicily, the cathedral’s facade was rebuilt in a Baroque style to also include Corinthian columns.
One of my all time favourites whilst travelling is to just wander with my camera wherever I am and capture whatever presents itself. So, I’ve included a few random photos for you, just to offer some extra mood and connection to Ortigia, which is away from all things touristy.
Choose from an amazing plethora of great restaurants, cafes, Bars, street stalls, and anything else selling food at varying exorbitant prices here in Ortigia.
I’m all for picking a restaurant without an advertised TripAdvisor sign on a window. Typically, the food is more expensive and not as good as other local restaurants. I’ve also found that the type of dishes served at a TripAdvisor-friendly establishment, is usually made for tourists and not in keeping with traditional local food – just my experience.
Movimentocentrale (Bike Cafe)
A very cool and funky little Cafe on Via Dei Mergulensi 33, which also sells bicycle tours around Ortigia and Syracuse.
Away from the tourist traps in a lovely ancient building, stop here for a refreshing homemade fruit tea of the day (€2.50) and a little Stuzzichini (Snacks), starting at €3+ and just immerse yourself in this Sicilian moment. Or, sit outside in the cool breeze that blows between the buildings and indulge in a scrumptious and natural Bruschetta. Topped with fresh mint, smooth goat’s cheese, roasted delicious peppers, juicy tomato, with a drizzling of locally grown olive oil. The food here tastes wonderfully wholesome, with so much provincially produced goodness.
You will want to rest here for a couple of hours absorbing your surrounds, whilst dining on great food and receiving friendly service.
Returning to Syracuse for a rest
Why not visit ancient Ortigia more than once during your stay in Syracuse?
It is such an easy and pleasant walk between the island and ‘mainland’. And, with so much to see and experience on this small island, you can’t really see it all in one long day’s adventure.