Ortygia or Ortigia is a beautiful tiny island nestled in which once was the historical center of Syracuse, Sicily. The island is also known as Città Vecchia or “Old City.” Ortygia comes from “Ortyx” which means “Quail” in the ancient Greek language, and that is the origin of the name. However, the locals call this island “lo scoglio” or “the rock.” The island is situated on the eastern side of Syracuse and on Sicily’s southeastern coast. Two bridges link Ortygia to Sicily. Because of this islands proximity to the coast, in ancient times it was deemed a fortress, and with the large harbour, this made transportation to the island easy.
Ortygia is accessible by the Ortygia Island Bridge or by water taxi. Many streets on the island are narrow and not allowed in all areas, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drive here. Besides, the island is quite small, and most of it can be seen on foot, which is a splendid way to see the cultural landmarks and historical architecture.
When you first arrive in the town, you will come upon the Piazza Pancali. Behind the Piazza is the Tempio di Apollo. Unfortunately, only a few walls and columns remain of this historic site, but nevertheless it is worth a visit. Also nearby is a market selling local fresh fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and other tasty goodies. Upon strolling up the narrow cobblestone streets, you will come upon the glorious Piazza Archimede and its masterpiece, the Fontana di Diana. This fountain was intricately designed in 1907 by Giulio Moschetti and his son Mario. The stone detailing depicts Diana, the goddess of hunting, with a bow and dog as tranquil water flows around her. Indeed a sight to behold.
Just down the street from the fountain is the Piazza del Duomo. This stunning piazza is one of Italy’s finest and was built on the site of an Ancient Greek temple. This Baroque space was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1693. And of course, you can’t miss the Duomo which is devoted to the Nativity of Mary and was also restored after the earthquake. Take in the architecture of this piazza as you sip some authentic Italian coffee at a café. Also in this area is the Palazzo Senatorio or the Palazzo Vermexio.
If you love museums, Museum Bellomo is one of the leading museums of art in the region. Wander through the halls and gaze at the spectacular sculptures and paintings including Santa Lucia by Caravaggio. The museum is open seven days a week and costs a mere four Euros. And if you can’t leave the island without seeing a castle, be sure to visit the Castello Maniace on the very southern tip of the island. The stunning views of the sea alone are worth the trip here.
Ortygia is overflowing with old world charm and unique ancient architecture that you can enjoy in a relaxed and tranquil atmosphere of one of Italy’s most beloved islands.