ORTIGIA, SICILY: ITALY’S HIDDEN MAGICAL CITY

Ortigia, Sicily, Italy, spelled both Ortigia and Ortygia, is everything you imagine an ancient Sicilian town to be. It is a jumble of disparate cultural influences combining to create impressive architecture, a laid-back attitude, and food so good you want to stop strangers on the streets and induce them to try it.

Il Duomo Cathedral in Ortigia

ORTIGIA, SICILY, ITALY. MAGICAL ISLAND.

Where is Ortigia, Sicily?

Siracusa is the main town but the little adjacent island of Ortigia, Sicily, which is the original, historical settlement is a more enchanting place to stay.  This is an amazing little town on Sicily’s east coast connected by bridge to Syracuse.

Just wandering its narrow alleyways was one of the trip highlights. It is a well-preserved medieval island with authentic trattorias and specialty shops selling home-made goods down every alley.  The colorful alleyways suddenly open up on spectacular plazas, brilliant fountains and ancient ruins. I wondered how a place like this managed to remain below the radar. It was overwhelming.

I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians. – Elton John Click To Tweet

A brief history of Ortigia, Sicily

Unlike Palermo, the big bustling capital of Sicily, Ortygia is small.  It is impossible to get lost in this 1 kilometer long and 600 meter wide island. It’s also old, about 2500 years. Throughout its history, Syracuse and the adjacent Ortygia was part of several cultures; Arabs, Roman, Normans Byzantines, Spaniards and others. The waves of different conquerors, settlers, visitors and invaders of the city is reflected in the island’s architecture.  It’s fascinating to see the different architectural styles as you wander the city’s streets.

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Can’t miss attractions in Ortigia, Sicily, Italy’s magical island.

Temple of Apollo

Just after crossing the bridge from Siracusa the first attraction you see are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.  Over the centuries this structure was a church, market, mosque. Today it sits in ruins as a reminder of the different cultures that flourished here.

Piazza Archimedes

Archimedes, the famous mathematician was from Ortigia and the town has honored its native son with a plaza which sits regally in the center of Ortigia. Nearby is the fountain of Diana with its elaborate stone carvings.

Ortigia Market

Every day except Sunday you can visit the Ortigia market open from 7 AM to 1PM where you can buy anything from shoes to cheese.  I love markets because they give you an opportunity to see how local people live and go about their daily chores.

Olives at Ortigia market

A really nice experience in this market is to buy yourself a nice lunch; prosciutto, olives, cheese freshly baked bread, and have your self a picnic  at a local park or plaza as you watch the Sicilian world go by.

Piazza Duomo

This ancient square is considered by many to be sacred ground and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  For millennia local residents of Ortigia have worship here and built their houses of worship. One of these was the Temple of Athena, built in the 5th century.  It’s remains can still be seen today incorporated into the magnificent Cathedral of the Nativity of Mary dating from 1753.  The plaza is in the Baroque style designed in a semielliptical design with glorious buildings on both sides.

Make sure to watch out for the many cats that haunt the Plaza.  They make for great photo opportunities.

Places to eat in Ortigia

We got a recommendation for a good, typical Sicilian restaurant, L’Osteria da Seby, and headed out in a rainstorm that flooded the streets. The food there was on a par with the rest of the town, fantastic!  One of the dishes was so unusual and delicious it merits special mention.  It was a delicate fish wrapped in what looks like an edible brown paper bag. Definitely a culinary highlight!

Fish wrapped in edible paper bag served in Ortigia Osteria da Seby restaurant

Ristorante Porta Marina for seafood specialties everyone raved about.

Regina Lucia Sit at one of their open air restaurants in the plaza right in front of the Duomo di Siracusa. The combination of the magical plaza and the delicious Sicilian cuisine is unbeatable!  Great pasta, desserts and seafood.

A nice day trip from Ortigia

NOTO, A BIG SURPRISE

Basking in the afterglow of Ortigia, Sicily, we headed to Noto not really expecting much.  That’s the charm of Noto.  It takes you by surprise. The main pedestrian street is lined with beautiful baroque palaces built with a golden color stone that shines in the sunlight. That seemed to be the only outstanding sight the town had, but it sure was enough.  

Learn more about the rich cultural history of Sicily and Ortigia in particular.

Ortigia, Sicily, Italy.  I will always remember it as the town whose charm took me by surprise. What destination has thoroughly taken you by surprise?

Don’t forget to read the other wonderful southern Italy cities in the series.

Naples: Pizza and Erotica,

 Matera and the Fairy Towns

Taormina, Intro to Sicily,

Agrigento, Greek Ruins,

Monreale’s Architecture,

 Palermo Streets,

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