Ortygia and Syracuse, Sicily

At one time, Syracuse was the largest city in the ancient world, larger than either Athens or Corinth!  It was the birthplace of Archimedes, the mathematician and engineer.  This city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Ortygia is an island, on the edge of Syracuse, where colonists from Corinth first settled in 734 BC.  Now the ancient alleys, lanes and piazzas are filled with cafe’s and shops. 

We stayed in Ortygia, at the Domus Mariae Hotel.  It is run by the Ursuline Sisters, who live on the third floor.  Our room was very nice and had a view of the water.

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As the sun set we got our first look at Ortygia on a walk with our guide.

The Duomo on Piazza del Duomo



Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia


Ortygia is especially pretty at night!



Our walk eventually led to a Puppet Theater, Teatro dei Pupi.

Even though we couldn’t understand the language, we got the gist of it.  Afterwards the puppeteer showed off the puppets.


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The next day we visited the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis.  This is Syracuse’s main attraction, the ruins of the “new city of Syracuse”.  The colonists expanded across a narrow inlet to begin developing Syracuse four years after Ortygia was settled.  The Teatro Greco was built in the 5th century BC.  It was actually hewn out of the rocky hillside.  One of the largest in the world, it is 455 feet in diameter and it could seat 16,000 people!

The Romans later adapted the theater, so they could flood the stage for tiny mock sea battles.

You can just make out some ancient writing on this wall.

The Theater is still being used in the summer for classical theatre.

There are niches at the top of the theater that once contained little votive altars.  The larger holes were probably crypts, like we saw in Agrigento.  There’s a pond in one of them fed by an ancient aqueduct. 

Next to the theater is the Latomia del Paradiso, the Garden of Paradise.  It is a deep limestone quarry for stone that was used to build the city.  It’s now filled with citrus and magnolia trees.



In the back corner of the garden is the Orecchio di Dionisio, the Ear of Dionysius (a ruler of Syracuse).  It is a narrow cavern, 76 feet high, 214 feet deep and about 25 feet wide.

The acoustics are such that you can stand at one end and hear a whisper at the other.  The legend is that the ruler, Dionysius could spy on his captives in this cave. 



There was a visiting chorus singing in the cavern when we walked up.  It sounded like a cathedral!


A couple cats here seem to call this park home.

This is an Acanthus plant.  I think they might be weeds here!  The leaves are often seen in architectural carvings.

The Anfiteatro Romano, 1st century AD, was used for gladiator combats and horse races.   Now they hold musical productions here in the summer.

The Altar of Heron II (Ara di Ierone) is from the 3rd century BC.  It was used for sacrifices to Zeus of up to 400 bulls at one time.  At 653 by 75 feet, it is the longest altar ever built.


Just outside the Park is the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime.

This sanctuary was built in memory of a miracle of an effigy of the Madonna that cried tears inside the humble home of a couple in Syracuse in 1953.  It was designed in 1957 by French architects following an international competition. 


The construction began in 1966 but it was not finished until 1994 because of controversies about the design (considered a monster of reinforced concrete) and the location (6th century houses and a piece of road were found during excavation of the foundations).

The bus brought us back to Ortygia.  We crossed the short bridge and returned to the Old Town.

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We had a group lunch in a crowded market restaurant.

With fancy wine…


and local entertainment.

We had the rest of the afternoon on our own to wander Ortygia in the daylight.


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The Temple of Apollo, dated to the beginning of the 6th century BC, is one of the most important ancient Greek monuments in Ortygia.   It is the oldest existing example of a Doric temple in Sicily.  Transformed over the years, it was a Byzantine church, an Islamic mosque, restored to a Norman church, then incorporated into 16th century Spanish barracks and private houses with some of the original temple architecture remaining visible.  The temple was rediscovered around 1890 inside the barracks and was excavated.

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There are many beautiful buildings dating from the 14th and 15th centuries around the Piazza Archimede.  In the center is the Fountain of Artemis (or Diana in Italian), the goddess of the hunt, built in 1906.  Diana is transforming the nymph, Arethusa, into a spring which, according to legend, can be found near cathedral square in Ortygia.

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Piazza del Duomo is a beautiful square sitting on what was originally Syracuse’s fortified citadel (acropolis). 

The Duomo was built on the skeleton of a 5th century BC Greek temple.  It became a church when the island was evangelized by St Paul.  The baroque façade was added after the 1693 earthquake.  A statue of the Virgin Mary crowns the rooftop where a golden statue of Athena once served as a beacon to homecoming Greek sailors. 

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These thick Doric columns, incorporated into the cathedral side wall, were part of the original citadel.


These tools are made from chocolate!!


This is Arethusa’s source (from the Artemis Fountain).

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Ortygia has the largest natural harbor in Europe.

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A fun pizza restaurant for dinner!

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Moon over Ortygia….buona notte.

About graciamc

Gracia's Travels is a photo blog. I always take too many pictures on trips so I justify my compulsion with this blog! The blog is mostly photos - they tell the best part of the story. Please contact me if you would like to use any of my photos.
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8 Responses to Ortygia and Syracuse, Sicily

  1. Patricia says:

    So enjoyed this travel picture blog of yours Gracia. Were you there as part of a cruise or was Sicily a separate itinerary? Has me thinking of Italy for next overseas trip.

  2. Catherine says:

    Wow! Not only are the pictures spectacular (as they usually are) but so are all the descriptions of what we’re seeing which really makes it special and all come alive! You outdid yourself this time even including two precious cats 😉

  3. Heide says:

    What a stunning place! Even through your two-dimensional photos the sense of history is palpable. And yet how wonderful that life goes on with such a vibrant public life — and even puppet shows! You’ve really outdone yourself with this post, Gracia.

  4. Mary Holm says:

    Love the moon over Ortygia!

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