Syracuse is geographically closer to Noto than Catania is, but it enjoys a separate World Heritage recognition as an exceptional record of the development of Mediterranean civilization over three millennia. The WH site is actually a three-part collection that includes the archaeological park of Neapolis over a mile northwest of the city center, and the Necropolis of Pantalica good 25 miles out of the city. On our trip, we budgeted time solely for the island of Ortigia (sometimes spelled Ortygia), the historic nucleus of Syracuse that has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years.
Ortigia is very walkable and reasonably compact, high on the historic-feel quotient with a significant dollop of decay and occasional neglect, and somewhat short on the killer features.
The Temple of Apollo is the most well-known of Roman ruins.
In the background, there is the Ortigia street market, well worth spending some time browsing through.
The classical Fountain of Diana on Piazza Archimede was only built in 1907.
The natural spring of Arethusa, a place of mythical renown and a rare host to the growing papyrus, is another mild point of interest.
The 13th-century Maniace military fort at the southern tip of the island is yet another.
Piazza del Duomo is by far the widest public space on the island, presided over by the cathedral itself, whose full name is Chiesa Cattedrale Natività di Maria Santissima.
The church at the end of the above perspective is called Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia. Here is the opposite perspectives from its steps.
The interior of the cathedral combines asceticism with a number of eye-catching details.
Most incredibly, the present-day church, dating from the 7th century CE, incorporates in its structure the remnants of the Greek Doric Temple of Athena, built on this same site all the way back in the 5th century BCE. This angle includes original columns.
A couple of interior shots of Santa Lucia alla Badia, not without some lovely Baroque accouterments.
Syracuse may not be part of the “Baroque Towns of Sicily” WH site, but there are plenty of examples of Baroque in town. An impressive civic architecture specimen sits right on the Cathedral Square – the late-18th-century Palazzo Beneventano Del Bosco, which remains in private ownership to this day and is not habitually open for visitors.
My favorite vistas in Syracuse are those over water on the southeastern edge of Ortigia.
The crescent of Lungomare d’Ortigia here creates a sliver of a beach called Spiaggia di Cala Rossa.
The reverse view, with the Church of the Holy Spirit anchoring the seaside ensemble.
When we walked by the church, I at first thought that the façade was standing mostly on its own…
Throughout the town, there are picturesque street perspectives, combining the aforementioned signs of decay and lack of TLC with plenty of pretty features and colors.
And eye-catching individual buildings maintain the theme.
Our visit to town coincided with preparations for the annual vintage car competition called Raid dell’Etna. The central area around Piazza Archimede was chock-full of participant cars.
I am not too much of a car afficionado, but these were as much objects d’art as any museum exhibits.
Curiously, on the southern waterfront, we came across a separate vintage car convention, this one comprising solely Karmann Ghia Volkswagen models with German license plates.
Finally, the most famous denizen of the ancient Syracuse, the statue of whom stands at the connecting point between Ortigia and the mainland part of the city.
Ortigia on its own deserves at least half a day, just for walking around. There are several museums the could be worked into the itinerary for a longer stay. I assume that going to the Neapolis archaeological park is similar in experience to the Agrigento visit, which means at least 2-3 hours. That, and other points of interest in the city, if added to the exploration of Ortigia, may require a full extra day of stay in Syracuse.
As always, something to come back to!