Ortygia (also spelled Ortigia) is Syracuse’s enchanting centro storico (old town), set upon an ancient island and rich with history and charm. Connected to the mainland by several impressive bridges, the beating heart of Syracuse has seen more than 2,500 years of life thrum through its streets, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanks to its compact proportions, Ortygia is easy to explore, and packed with an impressive number of beguiling sights and attractions.
Originally a Greek settlement, the city first gained renown when it managed to defeat Athens back in 413 BC. It then continued to thrive, passing through numerous civilisations including the Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Catalan people before enjoying centuries of peace under present Italian ownership. The city now provides a tantalising glimpse at many of these moments in its history, with a vast array of different architectural styles and many atmospheric lanes to explore.
Right at the centre of Ortygia is the Piazza Duomo, home to the city’s remarkable baroque cathedral. It is here that many of Ortygia’s finest marvels can be found, with numerous palazzos and the Church of Santa Luca, home to one of the city’s only Caravaggio paintings. The long, thin square is also home to a hidden attraction – the Hypogeum. Accessed through a palatial entrance, the Hypogeum is a haunting network of tunnels deep below the city that can be explored for a small fee. Not for the faint hearted!
Elsewhere in the maze of ancient streets, visitors will discover peaceful springs, hidden piazzas and local businesses, selling everything from original artworks to authentic Italian food. The city is best explored by on foot, with many of the most popular sections not open to cars.
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