Please see part one of this trip report.
As for the highlights of Ortigia, one not to be missed is the marvelous Piazza Duomo, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. As you stroll through the labyrinth of narrow ancient streets, you suddenly find yourself in this large square dominated by the Cathedral of Siracusa. The Cathedral was actually built around the ancient Temple of Athena and has been lovingly cared for.
Don’t miss a visit to the little Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia in the corner of the same piazza. An intimate church which drew thousands in the last decade due to its housing of one of Caravaggio's last works.
One beautiful sun soaked afternoon we enjoyed a delicious leisurely seafood lunch in a quant bistro perched above the ruins of the Castello Maniace and the sparkling bay. We chose a short guided tour of the Castello followed by an afternoon of exploring this captivating ruin. Jutting out into the Ionian Sea, this limestone fortress is the spearhead of Ortigia. Built in the 13th century, it was named after the man who reconquered Syracuse from the Arabs in 1038. Over the centuries it has been used as royal residence, a prison, and a defensive fortification. Today, as visitors wander the ruin’s ancient walls, it’s easy to spot numerous carved messages from the soldiers who did battle here, hundreds of years ago. The Castello offers spectacular views, historical insights, and has a small but impressive museum with wonderful exhibitions.
No visit to this area would be complete without a morning spent at the Neapolis Archeological Park of Siracusa. Home to a spectacular 5th century BC Greek Theater (the largest in Sicily,) a Roman Amphitheater and (with its incredible acoustics,) the Ear of Dionysus. During the tyrannical reign of Dionysius, this cavern (aptly named by Caravaggio,) was used as a prison. Utilizing its incredible acoustics, Dionysius was able hear the whispers and secrets of those he’d imprisoned within its walls.
It’s worth spending at least couple hours marveling at the ancient sites. The INDA Foundation also holds performances of Greek classics in the outdoor theater from May through July each year. We drove from Ortigia but public transportation is available.
I would highly recommend having a car, as there are a great number of sites within a two hour drive of Ortigia (and plenty of reasonable parking within a short walk of the city center.)
Having previously seen Agrigento and Taormina, we chose to visit Noto, Ragusa and climb Mt Etna. Each of which proved quite remarkable.
If you have any questions about this destination, please feel free to contact me.