Ortigia, Sicily Walking Tour - 4K - Prowalk Tours
Welcome to Ortigia, Sicily. Ortigia is a small island along the southern coast of Sicily in the Ionian Sea. The island, also known as the Città Vecchia (Old City) is the historical center of the city of Syracuse, Sicily.
Two bridges connect the island to the mainland: S. Lucia (Patron Saint of Syracuse) and Umberto I (King of Italy) The bronze statue represents the genius Archimedes, born in Syracuse in 287 B.C. He is holding a burning mirror, an instrument that he invented to burn the sails of the ships of the Romans during the siege of Syracuse in 212 B.C. The large building in the distance is the former post office built during the 1920s. The building is now the home of the Ortea Palace Luxury Hotel, a 5-start hotel that is worth visiting for the external and internal decorations.
Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C. by Greek people coming from Corinth. Throughout much of its history as an independent city, it was governed by a succession of tyrants, with only short periods of democracy and oligarchy. Ortigia was eventually conquered by the Romans in 212 BC, after which it became the seat of Roman rule in Sicily. Ortigia's name derives from the ancient Greek ortyx (ὄρτυξ) which means "quail ". The name was possibly given to the island because its shape slightly resembles a quail. Ortigia welcomes its visitors with the ruins of the Greek temple of Apollo, built in the 6th century B.C.
The temple is the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily and the first to be built in the Peripteros style; a temple surrounded by a portico with columns. As a point of reference, the Parthenon in Greece was built 100 years later and is also a peripteral temple. We will come back and examine the temple more after we walk through the market. The Ortigia local market used to be inside the building on the left, but in the ‘80s it was transferred outside in the surrounding streets Many Sicilian cheeses such as Provolone, Caciocavallo and Caciotta Ragusana come from the province of Ragusa.
A specialty from Syracuse is the capuliato, a tasty chopped sun-dried tomato. The town of Pachino, in the province of Syracuse, is renown for the production of cherry tomatoes called, in fact Pachino. With the sun dried tomato we also prepare the paste, a concentrate of sundried tomatoes that boosts the flavor on many Sicilian recipes, such as Cavolfiore affogato (drowned cauliflower). Tuna fish and swordfish are very common in the local Sicilian market. You can find the best tuna from March to September. Most of the mussels of the market come from an area in the mainland, facing Ortigia, called Isola, famous for mussel farming. The Ortigia Market is open every morning, Monday through Saturday.
The market offers the best products of the Sicilian tradition: fruits, almond biscuits, cheeses, olives, pistachios, fresh fish, sicilian herbs, handicrafts, cured meat, and other street food specialties. The main entrance of the former indoor market. Now it is a venue for musical and cultural events The main material used to build temples and palaces was sandstone and white limestone, extracted from the numerous quarries in the Syracusan territory.
The building material of this temple arrived probably via sea, transported from the peninsula facing the island of Ortigia. The Byzantines transformed it into a Church, the Muslims into a Mosque, and the Normans into a Church again. The temple was used later as a military barracks and in part as a private house. Excavations to recover the monument started in the 19-century. There were originally 46 monolithic columns surrounding a cell which guarded a statue of the god. An inscription on the steps mentions the architect of the temple.
Corso Giacomo Matteotti was built during the fascist period to provide a straight and large main street connecting the center of Ortigia to its entrance. The original name was via del Littorio, a synonym of fascist. Via Cavour is one of the most ancient streets of Ortigia. Its narrow alleys on the right go to the big port of the island. Many alleys have names of ancient crafts such as ronco bottai, coopers, via dei cordari, rope makers or via dei candelai, chandlers... Along via Cavour and its alleys we find some very typical restaurants and trattorie such as la Tavernetta or D Dioniso.
Via Cavour opens up to the heart of ancient Syracuse, the Piazza Duomo, where you can visit some of the main historical and religious sites in Ortigia. Below the piazza are the remains of an ancient series of tunnels that date back to Greek times which were only rediscovered in 1869. The square is dominated by the Cathedral of Syracuse, also known as the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, originally built in the 7th century.
The façade of the church was built in late baroque style between 1728 and 1753, after the original was destroyed in the great 1693 earthquake. The building of the Duomo of Syracuse contains the whole history of the city. The statues to the left and right represent St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Lucy and St. Pancras, while St. Mary stands in a central position inside a niche. Between the columns on the left are 3 statues from the Sicilian renaissance representing St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Mary with the baby and St. Lucy. The church incorporates the original columns of the Greek temple of Athena which was built on this site by the tyrant Gelon I around 485 BC.
The inscription around the wall says: “Ecclesia Syracusana, prima divi Petri filia et prima post Antiochenam Christo dicata” meaning that the Church of Syracuse was the first Christian church of the West. The Byzantines opened the arches on the walls of the cell of the temple to obtain the three naves. They also inverted the orientation of the church. This was because the ancient Greeks put their altar outside the church at the entrance, while Christian churches put their altar inside the church at the end of the central nave. This is the Chapel of the Most Holy Crucifix, built in 1691. Three of the original Greek columns were removed to build this chapel along the side of the church.
The chapel hosts tombstones of bishops of the city, the bones of St. Benedetto and St. Vittoria and two painting from the XV century. The chapel is named after the byzantine crucifix of the main altar. This octagonal room is the chapel of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1616. Artists and artisans from many parts of Sicily and Italy worked to its decoration such as Vanvitelli from Naples and Marabitti from Palermo The columns embedded in the walls of the church survived the 1693 earthquake.
These columns are different than those found at the Temple of Apollo as these were divided into two three separate blocks called drums. A bronze statue of patron saint of Syracuse is kept here in the chapel of St. Lucy, behind the small painting. Every 13th of December and for the first two Sundays of May the city celebrates St. Lucy carrying the statue in a procession. The baptismal font was originally a Greek amphora found in the catacombs of Syracuse. The black lines on the ground outside indicate the original position of an Oikos, the most ancient house of worship of the Greek colony of Syracuse Here next to the church is the Vermexio Palace, built in the 17th century as the seat of the Senate of Syracuse. Today it is the Town Hall. The crowning of the lateral wall was added in the 13th century, known as the Norman Period.
The black line on the floor marks the original position of the Artemis temple which mirrored the Temple of Athena which became part of the church . This is Via Roma, and like Via Cavour, it follows the route of an ancient Greek road that joined the two main temples on the island. Via Roma soon opens up into the Piazza Archimede, which is considered to be the geographical center of Ortigia. During Greek times it was not a square but rather the intersection of the two main roads on the island. At the center of the square is the monumental Fountain of Diana, built in 1906 by Giulio Moscheti.
The fountain represents the myth of the nymph Arethusa, transformed into a freshwater source by the goddess Diana (or Artemis) to escape from the god Alpheus. The next 13 minutes of the walk were filmed later in the evening on the same day. The Fish House Art Gallery has an incredible collection of fish of all species made out of recycled glass. Porta Marina is the only surviving gateway of the Spanish walls of fortification. It leads to the big port of Ortigia. The nice walk of Foro Vittorio Emanuele II was built to celebrate the Italian union in 1861.
Ortigia is one of the main cruise destinations in Sicily along with Palermo and Taormina. Fratelli Burgio al Porto is one of the most popular restaurant-bars in Ortigia. Many locals love to spend the last hours of the day here, sipping a drink and admiring the sea Beginning in the 8th century BC, Greeks began to settle in Sicily and the southern Italian peninsula. These new colonies from Naples down to Sicily remained closely linked to their home cities in Greece proper, and together they became known as Magna Graecia, Greater Greece. Athens is only 471 miles (758 km) away across the Ionian Sea.
Many famous Greek philosophers and mathematicians were in fact from Magna Graecia, and not specifically Athens. Archimedes was from Ortigia, Euclid was from Egypt and Pythagoras was from Crotone in southern Italy. Do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem?? Think back to geometry class! The Pythagorean Theorem states that for any right triangle with sides of length a and b and a hypotenuse of c, a² + b² = c². Archimedes died during the Siege of Syracuse in 212 BC, where he was killed by a Roman soldier despite orders that he should not be harmed.
Archimedes was contemplating a mathematical diagram when the city was captured. When asked to meet the Roman General Marcellus, Archimedes refused because he was so caught up in his work. The Roman soldier was furious and killed Archimedes with his sword. Archimedes' last words were "do not disturb my circles." This garden is nicknamed "villa re varagghi" (meaning yawn), since so many elderly people like to come here and rest, and yawn, in the garden.
The seven rocks emerging from the sea are linked to the local legend of "Paolino and the Seven Rocks" about a boy who brought good luck to the local fisherman. Up ahead is the Fountain of Arethusa, a freshwater spring that the locals like to call the Fountain of the Ducks. The spring is one of only three places in Europe where the aquatic plant known as Papyrus grows. Greek myth says Arethusa was a nymph who fled from her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a fresh water fountain here on the island of Ortigia. The beautiful corner of Henry’s House Charme Hotel and Mikatù bar are one of the many popular spots in Ortigia The Plemmirio peninsula facing Ortigia is a natural reserve with many public beaches.
On the right is the entrance to the medieval Maniace Castle, located on the southern cusp of the island. The castle gives the name to this district, rich in ruins dating back to the middle age Here is where the beautiful Ortigia promenade begins. It is a 1.5 km walk on the Spanish walls looking out over the Ionian sea Along the Ortigia coasts we find many public beaches, such as the Cala Rossa beach. Here we see again via Roma, the street built on the ancient path that cuts the island from north to south.
Syracuse suffered from the bombings of World War 2, hence we can notice a lot of modern buildings next to older buildings. Forte Vigliena is another viewpoint of the promenade and an area for a relaxing swim in the Ionian sea. The east side of Ortigia faces the open sea. No boats usually sail next to the east coast as the waves may sometimes be high and threatening.
Offshore there are many visible rocks which are linked to ancient legends and local stories. We are in the heart of the Jewish district (Judecca). The Jewish community in Syracuse was one of the largest in Sicily. The church of St. Philipp is worth visiting, mostly for its 3 underground levels: a crypt, a greek aqueduct, later used as a bunker and a supposed mikveh (jewish bath)
All the Jewish people were expelled in 1492 by the Spanish kings. In this district it is also possible to visit another mikveh and the museum of the Sicilian Puppets Minerva square is named after the Athena temple, which is today the Cathedral of Syracuse. Minerva is how the Romans renamed Athena. It is possible to visit the fascinating underground Syracuse from the small door of the Archbishop’s Palace on the left The west coast of Ortigia, the 7 rocks and the Plemmirio peninsula at the horizon. According to the tradition, the plant of Papyrus was brought from Egypt to Syracuse as a wedding gift from the daughter of the Pharaon, Filistide, to her future husband, Ierone II, Tyrant of Syracuse The specialties of Syracuse local restaurants are of course fresh fish and pasta with fish, such as linguine allo scoglio or pepata di cozze Short boat excursions offer an enchanting perspective from the sea of the island of Ortigia and give the chance to also visit the marine caves.