Sicily – Siracusa – a walk round Ortigia

I’ve been to Siracusa twice, most recently in May 2019 on a day trip from Catania and a fleeting visit for work back in November 2009. I ate very well at the same restaurant both times (see next post) but the 2019 trip allowed me to see a lot more of the sights on the island of Ortigia.

Also known as the Città Vecchia, the original location of ancient Siracusa, Ortigia is a historical and architectural gem and an absolute joy to wander around. The photos below are in geographical order so you could follow them as a walk, with my map to help you.

As you cross over the bridge to Ortigia (streetview here), the first building that grabs your eye is Casa Cassola-Lucchetti, a Venetian-style palazzo built in 1893.

It’s currently for sale if you fancy a neo-Moorish palace of your very own.

Just up the road are the remains of the Tempio di Apollo (Temple of Apollo) in Largo XXV Luglio. Built in the 6th century BC it’s Sicily’s oldest Doric temple.

Around the corner, this impressive statue is outside the Palazzo Greco (National Institute of Ancient Drama) at 29 Corso Giacomo Matteotti.

At the end of the street is my favourite sight, the Fontana di Diana (Fountain of Diana), a monumental fountain in Piazza Archimedes. The monument depicts Diana (Artemis), the mythical protector of Siracusa in the Greek era, with a bow and a dog, as befits the goddess of hunting.

Below and behind her are the nymph Arethusa and her suitor the river god Alfeo. Arethusa is in the process of transforming into the ‘Fontana Aretusa’ (see below), much to Alfeo’s consternation.

Around the pool are Tritons (mermen and women) riding hippocampi (horses with fish tails) and pistrice (water monsters with serpents’ tails, looking here more like big fish).

It was created in 1907 by the sculptors Giulio Moschetti and his son Mario Moschetti. Giulio was also responsible for the Fontana di Proserpina next to Catania’s Stazione Centrale (my post here). Both fountains are in an Art Nouveau style and are early examples of the sculptural use of reinforced concrete (cheaper but also more versatile than stone or bronze).

A few more minutes and you come to Piazza Duomo and the Duomo di Siracusa (Cathedral of Syracuse). The cathedral is on the site of a Greek temple dedicated to Athena that was built arond 480BC and some of the original columns are visible inside. The Byzantines converted the temple into a church in the 6th century and it was probably a mosque under the Arabs in the 9th century, before becoming a church again with the Normans in the 12th century. The current facade with its huge Doric columns is Baroque.

On another side of Piazza Duomo is Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia (Church of Saint Lucia alla Badia), which has lovely elliptical columns.

I wanted to go inside to see the Caravaggio floor but it was a bit too busy on the day I was there.

A short distance again and you come to Largo Aretusa and the Fonte Aretusa (Fountain of Arethusa), a spring and freshwater pool, right next to the sea wall. Incorporated into the fortifications in 1540, the resevoir was probably a vital source of drinking water for the island’s inhabitants. Nelson stocked up on water here on his way to victory in Egypt and poetically predicted the success would be due to the power of the waters.

As I mentioned above, Siracusan legend has it that Alfeo the river god fell in love with Arethusa, one of Diana’s nymphs, and tried to seduce her. Arethusa asked Diana to invervene and the goddess turned her into the spring. Alfeo, unwilling to resign himself to the loss, went underground and re-emerged as the sea in the port, next to his beloved. The love story has captured the imaginations of numerous artists and visitors ever since.

After this I went for lunch at Mariano’s which is nearby (see next post), and then for a post-prandial stroll along Foro Vittorio Emanuele II, a long, straight promenade next to the water.

This impressive coat of arms in on a wall along Foro Vittorio Emanuele II. Not sure what the astronaut is doing on it though.

Towards the end of Foro Vittorio Emanuele II, you come to the Camera di Commercio (Chamber of Commerce) at 4 Via Duca degli Abruzzi.

Built in 1895 the Neoclassical building has some lovely Art Nouveau-style ornamentation.

After this I went to see the Porta Urbica, an ancient city gate at 30 Via XX Settembre, but there wasn’t much archaeology left to see, just a few blocks of stone. However this nice palazzo was right next to it.

You could end the walk here as Casa Cassola-Lucchetti, where we started, is just two blocks away. However I had some time left so I wandered around a little more.

Chiesa San Cristoforo on Via Dione has a nice door frame.

The backstreets around the church are very atmospheric.

And that was my brief experience of this wonderful city. There’s lots more to see and explore of course but I think I’ve given you a glimpse of the main architectural sights.

Now, let me tell you about my wonderful lunch…

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