Ortigia Island, White Pearl of Syracuse, Sicily

The Island of Ortigia, white pearl of Syracuse in Sicily, is a magical place full of history and poetry. What could be better than getting lost in the narrow streets of this island and be inspired by traditional architecture and ancient flowering balconies? The best way to appreciate Ortigia is on foot. Ortigia island is the oldest part of the beautiful city of Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), which is a Baroque city together with Ragusa and Noto. It is its historical center. It is connected to the mainland by three bridges: Umbertino Bridge (the older one), Calatafari Bridge, Saint Lucia Bridge (the most modern).

Visit the district of Giudecca, between Via della Giudecca and Via Alagona, with typical medieval houses and clothes hanging from the balconies. This neighborhood has all the imprint of the Jewish community that lived here. There were all the offices of the community: sinagogha, schools, bakeries, butchers and koshere. Many buildings were built around a courtyard, which had a palm and citrus tree in the center. You can still see someone of it.
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The Greeks built several temples in Ortigia island as the Artemision and Athenaion, which is the current Cathedral of Syracuse (Duomo), but also many  palaces. The earthquake of 1693 destroyed a large part of the island, which was later rebuilt in the Baroque style. The charm of Ortigia is also its mix of styles: Greek and Baroque but also Roman, Medieval and Norman. Ortigia island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Can you resist to the charm of Greek mythology? Me not! According to Greek mythology it is said that Ortigia was ruled by the sea goddess Calypso who held Ulysses captive for seven years. Isn’t it fascinating?

Crossing the oldest bridge, the Umbertino Bridge you will arrive at the stunning Temple of Apollo, really impressive at night. It is the oldest temple in the city. It was built in 654 BC and was discovered only in 1862. The inscription on the Doric temple says that the temple was dedicated to Apollo but according to Cicero seems that it was dedicated to Artemision.

Not far away you will find the fish market of Syracuse offering many varieties of fresh fish such as shrimps, crabs, sea urchins, octopus, sea bream etc… Seafood lovers cannot do without it, then if you decide to stay in an apartment in Ortigia you can cook fresh fish every day by your own!

TIP: there is a very nice restaurant and wine shop called “The taste of the flavors lost” by Fratelli Burgio, just near the market. Wine lovers will find their oasis of delicacies. In addition to a wide selection of wines you can taste cheeses and any kind of seasonings such as sun-dried tomatoes and other delicacies.

The waterfront of Ortigia island is full of churches and ancient buildings. Take a walk and admire the wonderful view.

You will arrive at Castle of Maniace. In 1038, the Byzantine captain George Maniace built a fort to protect the natural harbor of Ortigia. Only later it was turned into a castle by Frederick II of Swabia. The view from this castle is truly unforgettable. The ramparts are made of tufa stones.
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Opening hours are from 9 to 13. A single ticket is €4, a reduced ticket is €2. Make sure it’s possible to visit the interior of the castle which is under restoration. If you visit only the outside of the castle and the bastion, you will pay the reduced ticket of €2. It is worthwhile.

At the promenade there is the Fountain of Arethusa, an ancient source of water that flows out of a cave and it is very impressive. There are also plants of papyri. Here the myth is the protagonist. According to legend, the nymph Arethusa ran through the woods following the goddess Artemis. Alpheus fell in love with her but Arethusa did not return his feelings. Tired of the insistence of the young man she asked for help to Artemis that turned it into a source.

After visiting the castle go to Duomo square. Few places in the world can really leave you speechless. This is one of them. The square is completely white, really magical at night when lights make it shine like a real Baroque pearl. Inside the Cathedral, where as mentioned before there was the Temple of Artemis, there are Doric columns. To visit Artemision you have to pay approximately €5.
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The magnificent Church of Saint Lucia is on the square. Inside of it, you can admire the masterpiece of Michelangelo Caravaggio, which shows the burial of the Saint.

TIP: if you love the essences I recommend a shop in via Mestranza. It is called Le Antiche Siracuse ORTIGIA SICILY. Here you can buy soaps, perfumes, candles, creams with natural ingredients such as Sicilian olive oil and almodn. This street is full of shops, cafes, restaurants. Here in the past the noble families built their Baroque palaces.

Ortigia is a romantic place to dine. The atmosphere is really magical.

NOTE: you cannot enter Ortigia by cars and motorcycles, except for residents. AST (Azienda Siciliana Trasporti) provides shuttle service for visitors, who must leave the car in the car parks (parking usually cost €1 per hour). There are also other areas where you can park for free. They are out of the “ZTL” (northern section of Ortigia among the three bridges, the Riva Garibaldi, Piazza Pancali and Riva delle Poste). To learn more about the “ZTL” in Ortigia or the shuttle service

Ortigia island is all of this: narrow medieval streets, history, myths and legends, beautiful squares and magic places where to enjoy the view and feel for a while in a place out of time. The right place for romantic people with a deep love for history and traditions.

Would you like to visit this enchanting place?

12 replies
  1. Carmina says:

    Dear Maria,
    We will be in Catania Airport at 15.30 PM. Before accommodating in Catania, we would like to make a short trip to Ortigia and come back in the evening. What is the best way to get from the Catania Airport to Ortigia and then come back in Catania? I think there is an AliBus from the Catania Airport to Ortigia, but leaves from Catania at 16.30 PM, which means we will arrive in Ortigia around 17.30-18.00, right? We could enjoy 1-2 hours In Ortigia and the, around 20.00 – 20.30 PM to return to Catania. What transport options do we have for that, considering the late hour?
    Thank you in advance!


    • Maria Orlando says:

      Hi Carmina,

      please be careful when you plan your itinerary cause I’ve seen that, according to the day, there are different times for return. Sometimes, the last bus is at 19pm! It means you would have only one hour to visit Ortigia and I don’t think it is the best solution for you.

      Have a look here > https://www.checkmybus.it/

      Let me know if it helps.

      Best wishes,

  2. Tyssot says:

    I will travel very soon to Syracusa and Ortigia. We are beer lovers. Do you have a recommendation for us? Has the microbrewery revolution reached Sicily?

  3. Brooke Stebbins says:

    Hi Maria,

    I am visiting Sicily for 6 nights after Tuscany with my family, we have two children 19 and 16 years old. I have decided to split our time between taormina and then to either Ortygia or Noto (Masseria dela Vope). We will be exploring the South while based at either. Would like a pool (doesn’t have to be big) just to cool off after touring so don’t mind being outside of town. We would however like to be close enough to have dinners in town. That being said, which town do you recommend, Noto or Ortygia. If it is Ortygia, do you have a recommendation similiar to Masseria della Vope? When staying at Masseria della Vope did you think it was too far to go have dinner in Ortygia? btw, I am sicilian, ancestors from Messina, so plan to visit there while in Taormina. Thank you.

  4. theresa says:

    great article (travelector.com) i am visiting Ortigia island in September 2017 with a group of foodie ladies – it looks awesome!! can anybody recommend a restaurant that we should not miss out on??

    • Maria Orlando says:

      Hi Theresa!

      My favourite places to eat tasty food in Ortigia are: “O’ Scinà”, “Sicilia in tavola” and “Schiticchio Pizzeria”. Then go to “Casina degli spiriti” to taste good wiskey, rum and whatever you want. This is a really cool place! If you want to have a sandwich to take away go to “Angelina Panini Siciliani”.

      Have a nice trip! 🙂

  5. Susie says:

    What a beautiful location, full of history and charm! It’s surely a must-see destination! Thank you for sharing 🙂 🙂


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