Ortigia Island in Sicily is chock full of history and dazzling beauty. Like a tiny velvet box which holds the most breathtaking jewel in the world Ortigia is proof that, as the saying goes, big things come in small packages.
Only 1 kilometer long (slightly more than half a mile) and 600 meters wide (a this of a mile) it’s easy to explore this lovely little gem on foot. That way you don’t miss a single bit of Ortigia’s impressive sights. You would be hard-pressed to find another island with such rich examples of the diverse cultural style.
Begin your day meandering the marketplace, where you’ll find the freshest produce, exotic spices and delicious street food. The colorful vendors, like all Italians, are friendly and eager to please. From here begin your tour of the island's famed architectural sites.
Historical Architecture Abounds
The island of Ortigia has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years, making the nickname “Citta Vecchia” suitable. Throughout history Ortigia fell under rule of many different Mediterranean cultures. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Spaniards and even the Normans all had a hand in creating this cultural melting pot. The architecture alone is superb in its representation of the many influences.
A wonderful example of the diversity of this fascinating island is the Temple of Apollo. During Ortigia’s vast history the site, now a ruin, has been home to a church, a mosque and a marketplace.
The ancient square, Piazza Duomo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been considered sacred ground for time immemorial. It is truly one of the most remarkable squares in Europe. The Cathedral of The Nativity of Mary is a stunning site, especially as the sun sets.
This anchor of the plaza was built in 1753. However, incorporated into the cathedral are what remains of the 5th century Temple of Athena, as well as another temple to commemorate victory in the Battle of Himera. The remains of both have been incorporated into the cathedral and are visible both inside and out.
Another church, dedicated Ortigia’s patron saint, is the more intimate Santa Lucia alla Badia, which sits adjacent to the more imposing cathedral. You may also want to tour the impressive Palace Borgia del Casale, considered one of the most beautiful rococo buildings in Ortigia.
After you’ve viewed the lovely architecture of the Piazza, enjoy a respite in one of the nearby cafes. A meal, or simply a gelato and coffee, are best enjoyed al fresco in the balmy Mediterranean air. Relax as the local musicians wander about playing for your delight.
A much busier Piazza Archimede is a definite point of interest, for both architecture and ‘people watching.’ The plaza honors Ortigia most notable son, the mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, inventor and all-around busy guy, Archimedes. The renowned Greek scientist lived in the 3rd century BC but is still celebrated today for his contributions. The Fountain of Diana is located in Piazza Archimede. The classic fountain honors the goddess Diana and was built in 1907.
Even More Surprises
There’s much more to this tiny island than her historical architecture (Although it’s everywhere!). Explore the narrow back streets and you’re sure to find even more surprises to delight you. There are artisans selling one-of-a-kind pieces, trattoria and ristorante offering fresh seafood and traditional Italian fare, as well as unique dishes borne of the fusion of many cultures.
Wander the art galleries and shops dedicated to the regional beauty of Sicily. Visit the Jewish Quarter, one of the most picturesque areas of the island. There you’ll find the Museo dei Pupi or Puppet museum. Learn how puppets are crafted and how this long standing folk tradition became so important to the island. Perhaps you’ll time your visit just right and catch a puppet show.
Near the close of day, stroll the lungomare, or promenade, that winds its way around the island of Ortigia. Look out upon the crystalline waters of the azure sea as you make your way past the nearby marinas and the tiny beachfront of Fonte Aretusa, the island’s natural spring. Have your camera ready to capture the stunning sunset. Then enjoy an intimate cocktail or listen to some music in one of the many bars.
Ortigia is the ultimate dream destination. Her charm will dazzle you as you uncover surprise after surprise on this tiny island. Be sure to enjoy every precious facet of this Sicilian jewel.