After leaving Catania on our Sicilian road trip, we spent a few glorious days in Siracusa. I could have stayed for ages. I was utterly charmed by the sun-bleached buildings, the bright blue sky, the blazing sun, and the brilliant flowers that spilled over crumbling walls. The people were lovely, the food divine, and the sunsets gorgeous.
The heart of the city is Ortigia island, which is connected to Siracusa by three bridges. The island itself is very small, but it’s bursting with cute little streets to wander down, great restaurants, and many historical sights to see. We had an excellent visit there and saw a lot, so I thought I’d write up a walking tour of Ortigia.
Here’s your free map, which includes all the sights we’ll cover, plus another layer of foodie spots, because, well, you know, it’s Luggage and Life!
Luggage and Life’s walking tour of Ortigia island
The Temple of Apollo
The first stop on our walking tour of Ortigia, the Temple of Apollo, is located just over the main bridge, called Ponte Umbertino.
The temple was constructed in the 6th century BC, when Sicily was ruled by the Greeks as part of the ancient civilization known as Magna Grecia. Built in the Doric style, the Temple of Apollo in Ortigia is one of the oldest examples of this kind of temple in Western Europe.
Visible today is a long portion of the cella wall. The cella, in Classical architecture, made up the part of the temple that housed a portrayal of the god or goddess the temple was dedicated to.
In the far corner, you can also see two columns with the remains of the architrave on top, which is the main beam that ran along the top of the columns.
Over the years, the temple was transformed into a church during the Byzantine period, then into a Mosque, and turned back into a church during the Norman reign. After this, it was deconsecrated and used as an army barracks during Spanish rule.
Today, you can see the remains of the decorations at the Museo Archeaologico Paolo Orsi.
Fore more information on the Temple of Apollo, click here.
The fountain of Diana
Pick up Corso Giacomo Matteotti and head down towards stop number two, The Fountain of Diana in Piazza Archimede.
Archimedes, for whom the piazza is named, is a well-known classical scientist. He was born in Siracusa in in 287 BC.
At the center of the piazza is the magnificent fountain of Diana. It was built in 1906 by Giulio Moschetti.
The fountain depicts the myth of the nymph Arethusa. The story goes that Some Annoying Ancient Dude™ named Alpheus was pursuing her, and she wanted to get away from him so badly that she asked the goddess Diana (Artemis in the Greek pantheon) for help. Diana transformed her into water. Wouldn’t that be handy to escape from Annoying Modern Dudes™ at the club?
In the fountain, you’ll see Diana at the center, with Alphesus the Annoying peering out from behind her, and Arethusa about to give that mofo the slip and become one with the water. Boy bye.
Arethusa pops up elsewhere in Ortigia. Stay tuned for another fountain dedicated to her.
I loved, loved, loved this fountain. You just keep noticing more and more about it the longer you stand there, staring at it like a goon, blocking traffic.
The sculpture itself is lively, with lots of movement happening, a horse, and a sea creature riding another sea creature. The movement is enhanced by the thin jets of water that shoot up towards the center of the fountain, sprinkling and sparkling in the sun. The bright blue sky and brilliant white buildings around the piazza are the perfect complements to the sandy tones of the sculptures.
For more information on the fountain, click here.
Il Duomo di Siracusa
When you’ve had your fill of the fountain, take Via Consiglio Reginale down to Piazza Duomo to visit the beautiful Cathedral of Siracusa.
The edifice of the church is in the typical Sicilian baroque style, characterized by lots of undulating shapes and details.
This cathedral has a very fascinating aspect, because inside, you can still see the columns and cella of the Temple of Athena, which stood there in ancient times. What was left of the original was incorporated into the modern church, designed by Andrea Palma and completed in 1753.
On my first visit to Ortigia, we didn’t go into the cathedral, but I’m so glad we did go in on my second visit. It’s one of those special buildings in Italy where you can see the layers of history that have unfolded across thousands of years. Don’t miss it. Entry costs 2 euros.
For more information on the Duomo of Siracusa, click here.
The Fountain of Arethusa
Here continues the narrative of the nymph Arethusa, who lives as one with the water. She escaped Alpheus thanks to Diana in Piazza Archimede, and bubbled up again a few streets down in the form of a natural spring.
In contrast to the perfectly sculpted Fountain of Diana, with its sleek figures and engineered water dancing, the Fountain of Arethusa is beautiful in a wild and natural way. Birds and fish mingle with a huge, lush burst of papyrus plants in the middle of the water.
In ancient times, the natural spring provided fresh water for the people of Siracusa and those who defended her. The year 1196 brought an earthquake, and the shifting of the ground changed the source of the spring somehow, causing the water to dry up. However, after a few years, the water returned, but this time, it was brackish.
There are many interesting legends and stories surrounding the fountain. For more information, check out this page.
If you continue straight down Via Castello Maniace, you’ll run into its namesake, the Maniace Castle. It has been closed both times I’ve visited, but it’s probably worth a visit!
La spiaggia di Cala Rossa – public beach
Want to take a dip? You can head down Lungomare d’Ortigia until you reach the free public beach. It’s rocky, but the water is really refreshing on a warm day. I also found tons and tons of sea glass there, so if you’re into that, then check it out!
Molo Zanagora: the pier
That’s the end of the walking tour, but if you’re in Siracusa/Ortigia overnight, you should definitely catch the sunset near the boats.
Head towards Molo Zanagora, grab some beers from the stand nearby, and enjoy the view.
Food tips for Siracusa/Ortigia
Have an aperitivo At Mokrito
Mokrito has a great aperitivo and you get a good view of the sunset there too.
Have a cannolo at Pasticceria Artale
I have to give my sweetheart credit for finding this place. He found it on our most recent visit to Ortigia, when we were there with my parents and three family friends earlier this year. The staff was lovely and extremely patient as he and I ordered for our large group, asking what things were, who wanted what kind of coffee, etc.
They fill the crunchy cannolo shell on the spot with dense, sweet ricotta cream, and dipped each end in chopped pistachios. As I happily munched mine in the afternoon sunshine, and elderly man stopped, smiled and said to us in Italian, “well done, you’ve found the best pasticceria in town!”
Who were we to argue?
Aside from the cannolo, we tried almond cookies, candied fruit, and frappè, which are flat, fried dough sprinkled with icing sugar and are typical of the Carnevale season. Every single thing was delicious.
Have a pizza at Piano B
On my first trip to Siracusa, our Airbnb host gave us a list of restaurants to try. One of them, Piano B, was truly divine.
A bright and busy pizza place, we booked a table for nine o’clock and it was pumping. They have high quality toppings and ingredients from all over Italy, and you can choose the thickness of your crust, ranging from thin and crispy Romana to thick and hearty Siciliano.
I went Romana (obviously). My pizza was topped with creamy mozzarella, sweet and tangy cherry tomato confit, rich, fried eggplant slices, salted ricotta, and a swirl of basil pesto. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. I had a glass of the house Nero d’Avola, and it was also delicious. If you want a great pizza in Siracua, look no further.
Make sure to do a bit of wandering in Ortigia as well. There are charming little streets at every turn, a lively fish market with great restaurants, and undoubtedly, other treasures to discover on this gem of an island.
A note on Siracusa
From Siracusa we explored nearby Noto, Avola, and Marzamemi. If you want to avoid the chaos of Catania and Palermo and explore some smaller towns and cities, Siracusa would be a good home base for doing so.
The majority of the sights to see are on Ortigia island, but Siracusa itself is home to many ancient treasures, including an ancient Greek amphitheater and a limestone cave known as the Ear of Dionysus.
Here’s the map, one more time!
More Sicily guides and posts
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