After spending the first hours of the day in Taormina we headed to Syracuse. Only the name evokes the ancient Greek Empire. Syracuse was the most important city in Sicily during the splendor of the empire. And as we have seen, that sublime richness has remained to this day; especially on the Ortygia Island. Here, we can still see the limestone columns of a majestic Greek temple bearing what is now the cathedral.
Syracuse is the greatest example of integration of centuries of history that I’ve been able to see. That’s why it’s my favorite city in Sicily. Cycling in Ortygia and snorkeling in the incredible protected marine area of Plemmirio just 20 minutes away is a privilege. I totally recommend spending at least one day in Syracuse during your visit to Sicily.
WHERE TO STAY IN SYRACUSE
Undoubtedly, the most beautiful part of Syracuse is the island of Ortygia. Unfortunately, within the island the prices are very high so we stayed out of this one, but only a 15 minute walk from the island.
To get to Ortygia you have to cross one of the two short bridges that connect them: the Santa Lucia Bridge and the Umbertino Bridge.
If you stay outside of Ortygia you will save a lot of money. Also if you book an Airbnb that includes bikes, as we did, you will enjoy the city much more.
WHAT TO DO IN SYRACUSE
Since we arrived quite early and we knew that during the afternoon we would have enough time to explore Ortygia, we decided to spend the morning in the incredible protected marine area of the Plemmirio.
This natural setting is located on the coast of Penisola della Maddalena.
Getting there is quite easy from Ortygia as it only takes about 20 minutes. In what we lost most of the time was in deciding which part of the peninsula we wanted to see.
Our first idea was to reach the Faro di Capo Murro di Porco.
Once parked, on the path that reached the lighthouse we found a map that explained a little the regulation in the protected area of Plemmirio. Basically in which points could be made scuba diving, which areas are of greater protection and which areas are on medium protection.
The floor was difficult to walk, the access to the sea was very complicated and there was not a place that would give some shade, so we went back to the map and decided to change the location.
So we drove then to point 29, Via Degli Zaffari.
We parked the car and walked towards the sea on almost lunar terrain. After finding the path to get down to the cove, the environment hypnotized us.
The beach is not sandy, but it made up for being virtually alone in that paradise.
We left the towels in the shade of a cliff and we submerged in the crystalline and refreshing waters. At the base of the cliffs were caves with all kinds of marine life.
We spent the morning swimming and snorkeling, which for me was the most beautiful snorkeling trip.
After eating a sandwich on the beach we returned to the center of Syracuse. We changed our clothes and in the early hours of the afternoon we were already on our bikes heading for the island of Ortygia. This island of only two square kilometers connects with the island of Sicily through two bridges of short length.
After crossing the Ponte de Santa Lucía the aesthetics of the streets changed radically. That was the first of three times we crossed to visit Ortygia: one in the afternoon touring each alley by bicycle, another at night to see the lights of the city and the last to see the sunrise from the fort San Giovannello.
During the afternoon we were able to see not only the highlights, but also the beauty of a city that has maintained the legacy of the past. The thing is that Ortygia has more than history to tell you. It was founded by the Corinthians, who arrived in 735 BC. and was -and still is- the center of Syracuse.
That is why I recommend that you not only go to find the highlights, but also get lost in as many alleys as you can to breathe the essence of the city.
TEMPIO DI APOLLO
The Tempio di Apollo was one of the largest Greek temples in all of Sicily. However, to this day, only its foundations remain. We found it almost by accident as we rode Ortygia by bicycle.
FONTANA DI ARTEMIDE
This fount has clean finishes due to its recent restoration is dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemisia. In it is represented the myth of Arethusa and Alphaeus, of which I will speak later.
The fountain is in the square of Archimedes, in memory of the famous mathematician who was born in Ortygia in 287 a.C. The square is surrounded by luscious palaces.
DUOMO DI SSyracuse
The Duomo di Syracuse is without doubt the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen.
The Sicilian baroque façade with its convex forms is impressive. The color of granite and marble gives an aspect of grandeur to this work.
However what left me speechless were the Greek columns that are holding the cathedral. This cathedral was built over the Greek columns of the Temple of Athena in the Cathedral of Syracuse.
It is impossible not to feel ephemeral next to them, and to know that they have been there for centuries, bearing the weight of the Greek temple, then to endure a mosque during the Arab conquest and currently being pillar for the cathedral.
We will leave and they will continue to bear the full weight of history and make us feel volatile.
The Cathedral of Syracuse and its square must be seen three times, one when it is open to see its interior, another at night, as the illumination of the square will make you fall surrendered to the beauty of Ortygia, and the last with the first Lights of the dawn, when you can contemplate the building in solitude and see as the first rays paint the marble orange.
And to tell you about Fonte Arethusa I will tell you the myth of Arethusa and Alpheus.
Arethusa was a virtuous nymph protected by the goddess Artemis to whom she had sworn chastity. During a very hot day the nymph decides to undress and to bathe in a river of a forest in Greece. The hunter Alpheus sees her and wants to violate her and Arethusa requests aid to its protective goddess Artemisia. The goddess turns her into a fountain far away from there, in Ortygia, to escape the rape. Alpheus, who is a sick stalker, asks Zeus for help, which makes him a river in Greece. The hunter does not surrender and crosses the sea, even manages to make an underground tunnel to reach the source in which Arethusa had become.
Fonte Arethusa is a source of fresh water that communicates with the sea. In ancient times it supplied Ortygia with water. Today it is one of the most visited spots on the island and where ducks, fish and papyrus plants live.
The Castello Maniace is built on a Byzantine fortress from 1038. The reconstruction was implemented in 1239 by the emperor Federico II. Its location at the tip of Ortygia makes it perfect for defending the city from sea attacks.
Nowadays it cannot be visited, since it belongs to the Military Heritage.
FORTE SAN GIOVANNELLO
From there we saw one of the most beautiful sunrises together. If you travel as a couple, or you are a sunrise obsessed like us it is well worth the early morning.
We arrived with the sun peeking out on the horizon.
From this fort you can see the entire east coast of Ortygia, including the protruding earth spigot. We were the first to arrive, not even the fishermen had left to fish yet.
The sun was just looking out for us.
That morning was undoubtedly the most difficult for us to get up. The accumulated fatigue of the days of volcanoes, rocks and beaches were taking their toll, but after seeing how beautiful it was, we were very glad we had not let the sheets sticking together.
We loved to stroll around the coast and to see the life of Ortygia with the first lights.
How lucky we were to be able to enjoy together the things that we like the most, and that they are achieved as easy as getting up early.
We took advantage of the first few hours to enjoy Ortygia for ourselves, and for the last time.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF NEÁPOLIS
Before heading to Giarratana, we made a quick visit to the archaeological park of Neapolis. There is a private parking in the park that costs € 2. We found a place outside although a golfer tried to pay us for a ticket that he put and that of course was not official.
The entrance fee is € 9 and includes a visit to the different monuments and points of interest. We do not spend more than an hour there, although, if you are a lover of archeology and ancient history you will surely need all morning to make a full visit.
I advise you to visit it first thing in the morning, which is when fewer people are there and when the heat is more bearable.
The remains not only belong to the Greek period, but can be found ruins from the Norman domain until the middle Ages, including the Roman Empire and the Hellenistic period. Among the remains include:
- The Greek amphitheater, which could also be flooded to make water games and water fights during the Roman Empire by storing water in swimming pools.
- The Altar of Hierón II where, in festivals, sacrificed dozens of oxen as an offering to the gods and of which we only found the foundations.
- The Greek Theater quite plundered since much of the stones of its stage and stands were reused in the construction of the fortress of Ortygia.
- The Orechio of Dionysus, the main cave of the Latomia of Paradise. A series of artificial caves that were formed when using the rock like quarry and that later was used like a prison.
WHERE TO EAT
To finish this post I will recommend a place for breakfast, another to eat or dinner and a last to snack at any time of day.
BREAKFAST IN BAR DEL PONTE
We had breakfast at the Bar del Ponte after seeing the sunrise at Forte San Giovannello. Its pastry filled with ricotta cream will make your mouth water. If you have a chance to have breakfast here do not hesitate.
STRONG PLATE ON THE CAMBUSA
The price is a bit higher than other restaurants, but it is true that the quality was very good. This is why it is not a place for tourists only, but the inhabitants of Syracuse usually go to dinner. But remember to reserve a table because it can be difficult to find room.
ICE CREAM AT ANY TIME IN LA GELATERIA FIORDILATTE
In la gelateria Fiordelatte we take the best ice cream of the whole trip. The creaminess of its creations is insurmountable. In addition the infinity of flavors and the friendliness of the staff made it my favorite Sicilian ice cream shop. If you go to Syracuse you cannot lose them, to have breakfast, to have lunch and even to have dinner. Ice cream for everyone!!