Ortygia, a small island laden with history, lies south, just off the mainland, and represents the pulsating heart of the city. Everywhere in it, in every way as in the many monuments, you can seize evidence of its past. Ortygia, as very few other historical centres in the world, shows, seamless, all ages, which has passed through, from the foundation to the present day. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Aragonese, the Catalans, the Viceroy, the Savoy has imprinted on island unmistakable footprints, wrote the indelible pages of this vast art history books waiting to be read carefully as the stories...
The Cathedral (Duomo)
“Take a Greek temple, incorporate it totally into a Christian building to which you will later add a Norman façade that is knocked down by the great earthquake of 1693. Without losing heart, you start work again, and changing direction completely, you substitute the old façade with a delicious Baroque composition of the 17th century. And the whole thing, dilapidated as it is, continues to live and to smile, spreading its image around the world as if it had been planned by a Leonardo or a Michelangelo.”
It is in Piazza Duomo, surrounded by elegant Baroque palaces (the latter are a particular feature of Ortygia, and are disseminated all over the island), and occupies an ancient sacred area. Diggings here and in the immediate vicinity have made it possible to reconstruct the development of the building right from the Siculo settlement. There was a Ionic temple, the only one of its kind known in the Greek west; its sparse ruins can be seen in the basement of the Town Hall.
The cathedral is the outcome of successive transformations made to the grandiose temple of Athena, probably built by the Diomenides, the family founded by Gelon, the first tyrant of Syracuse. It was a six column per row peripteral building, with 36 columns almost 9 metres high with a diameter of 2 m. Its magnificence was celebrated by Cicero. To get an idea, one need only think its doors were made of gold and ivory. On its top shone the golden shield of Athena, guiding navigators. In about the seventh century the inter-
The façade, which dates from the eighteenth century, is imposing and lively, decorated with statues and Corinthian columns.
The interior, of the basilica type, has three naves: the middle one occupies what was the cell of the ancient temple, whose columns protrude from the walls. There are numerous works of art, among which we will mention the painting on wood with a golden background showing St. Cosimo, attributed to Antonello da Messina, in the Crocifisso chapel; the Gagini statue of the Madonna della Neve, on the altar in the left apse, the only one from the Byzantine church; the gaudy Baroque high altar, the flat part of which is a monolithic block from the beams in the Temple of Athena.
The Temple of Apollo and Artemis
The Temple of Apollo (Tempio di Apollo) in Ortygia is a Greek temple dating from the 6th century BC. This is the oldest known Doric temple in Western Europe. An inscription says that the temple honours Apollo, but after Cicero came to Syracuse, he wrote that the temple was dedicated to Artemis. Over the centuries it was converted into a Byzantine church, a mosque and then a Christian basilica, and of all these successive constructions traces were found in the course of digging campaigns in 1938-
The Fountain of Arethusa
In a square looking out over the sea, this little fountain, inhabited by white ducks and surrounded by slender papyri, is the symbol of the relations between Syracuse and the mother-
Piazza Archimede & Museo Arkimedeion
Piazza Archimede is surrounded by palaces that tell the city’s history, from the middles ages up to the present day. The fountain of Diana by Giulio Moschetti can be admired in the centre of the square, a fountain that tells the legend of the nymph Aretusa. The nymph is depicted in the act of escaping from Alpheus which, with his arms outstretched, trying to grab her. Diana, solemnly to the centre of the group, stands behind the girl, , while all around Tritons and Nereids prance about on seahorses.
Arkimedeion, is a scientific and technological museum dedicated to the great Syracuse mathematician and physicist Archimedes (287-
Location: Palazzo Pupillo -
Info: 0931 61121; 392 9928351
Opening hours: Daily from 9:30 to 19:30 (ticket office closes 30min before)
Ticket: Full price -
Now incorporated in a barracks, it rises imposingly on the waterfront at Ortygia. It was built at the behest of Frederick II in about 1239. The castle, which blends military architecture with the elegance of a court, still preserves the external 13th century structure with a square layout, with massive corner towers. The entrance is decorated with a magnificent marble portal in the Gothic style. The great fortress, whose name derives from “Eurvelos”, i.e. “nail with a broad base”, was protected to the west by three big moats, the third of which was connected to the whole defensive system, made up of an intricate maze of tunnels and passages with an overall length of 480 metres, and of five towers a full 15 metres high. Today, thanks to restoration and consolidation work on the entire belt of fortifications, it is possible to visit exhibitions and enjoy cultural events in the evocative scenario of the Piazzale d'Armi.
Location: Via Castello Maniace 51
Info: 0931 464420
Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday -
Ticket: Full price -
Palazzo Bellomo Museum
The museum is in a building dating from the Swabian period which was transformed and enlarged in the 15th century by the Bellomo family -
Location: Via Capodieci 16
Info: 0931 69511
Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday – Saturday from 9:00 to 19:00; Sunday from 9:00 to 13:00 (ticket office closes 30min before)
Tickets: Full price -