February in Magical Ortigia, Sicily

April 14, 2020

In February, I spent 8 nights in Sicily, five of those on the Island of Ortigia. Some people visit this gorgeous town surrounded by the deep blue sea and only spend a few hours. I could have spent weeks in Ortigia, wandering along the tiny alleyways,

 breathing in the salt-sea air, 

and admiring the architecture. Walk with me.

It was night time when I arrived at my B&B.

From my balcony I could see the water as well as the traditional architecture. I sat outside planning my free day to wander. I considered so many places I knew from the history of Ortigia.

I pondered visiting the Fountain of Artemis, The goddess of the moon, the hunt and wild animals. You will find it in Piazza Archimede.

The churches intrigued me as they always do. Their architecture here in Sicily has its own version of a baroque facade,  frilly and heavily detailed. Their insides held treasures.

As I fell asleep, I dreamed of ancient Greeks walking this island with their gods.

The next morning, I began to wander. I had a map and my camera plus my good walking shoes. I went with the flow enjoying the exteriors. Many streets here in Ortigia are tiny, similar to the calle of Venice. I immediately became enthralled with the ornate balconies,

Covered with strange symbols,

And characters.

Entire streets of balconies with ornately decorated doors.

I love the doors.

Some had shrines above them.

Others with gargoyles and nymphs.

The entrance below is from the Church of Saint Christopher, built in the 14th Century.  Wow.

Just like when I visit Venice, I become completed disoriented by the tiny streets. I get turned around. My sense of direction seems to depart when I am wandering these narrow avenues. When that happens, I look for a path the the outside, such as the one below, which took me to the Lungomare D’Ortigia.

I could orient myself by walking along the water.

While in Ortigia you can walk along the sea nearly entirely around the island.

I had been walking for a few hours and felt the need for authentic food. I found it at aLevante.

It was delicious.

The atmosphere was spectacular.

So was the wine.

Now I was in need of a walk to burn some calories.  Again, I wandered without a plan and found an artisanal jewelry shop called baco where I purchased a set of crystal stone earrings.

If you are in the market for jewelry while in Ortigia, I would highly recommend baco.

I ended up wandering until after dark. 

I saw the Papyrus Museum,

More intricately carved doors,

The Pythagorean symbol for PY.

And more of the sea.

Lapping up against the walls of the city.

It was dark when I returned to the area of my B&B. I just wanted a an aperitivo. I decided to try a vegan location called Just Veggie. (www.justveggie.it.) 

It was just what I needed for the end of the day. I returned there another day for lunch too. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you will love the choices offered here. The music was uplifting, and the people were wonderful and helpful too.

Even though I stayed in Ortigia for 5 nights, I visited other locales. I spent two full days da sola, alone, on the island. The second day I set off to find the huge cathedral. But first I had a cappuccino and a dolce near the Artemis fountain at Café Archimede which was filled with locals inside. 

Their choices were excellent and the people working there were very friendly. Again, I would recommend this stop as I would every place I chose to eat in Ortigia.

From this piazza, I first visited the Archeological site of the Temple of Apollo.

Built in the 7th Century BC and originally contained a huge Doric Style Temple.

It is not so easy to imagine the temple here but it is definitely worth a visit. For me, the juxtaposition of the local architecture with the Ancient gives it even more meaning. 

The descendants of these great Greeks live among the inhabitants of Ortigia. Perhaps they are working at the market next to the ruins.

Selling their vegetables as was done over the centuries.

Selling colorful, juicy fruit.

And more.

The market is positioned between the Temple of Apollo grounds and the sea. The Blood Oranges were spectacular. 

Still, I had yet to make it to the Piazza Del Duomo, the home of Ortigia’s Cathedral.

I walked past the Opera di Domenico Umberto Diano and saw the lion laying with the lamb.

I took a side street by the fountain of Artemis and walked until I reached a giant structure.

There was absolutely no way the capture the entire façade of the Cathedral. Let’s walk around it.

The Shrine to Santa Lucia is situated on the side of the church and reflects the Roman design of the building across from it. 

You’ll see an exposed Greek Doric column on this side of the church also.

Originally The Temple of Athena with its Doric columns stood in this location. Those columns can also be seen within the church.

As I came to the corner of the church, a wedding party had just left it and were posing for photos in the piazza.

The actual piazza is huge.

The Cathedral is to the left and straight ahead is another perfectly baroque church straight ahead.

Inside the Cathedral you will find a center aisle or nave plus the side areas. I entered this one first.

The Greek Doric columns are exposed on the left as you walk along the intricately designed flooring.

If you took out the folding chairs you would feel transported back in time.

The center aisle takes you to the extremely ornate center altar.

Look up to see the wooden, coffered ceiling and the crucifix. 

The altar on the right side of the church is below.

Within this area are many burials from centuries past.

Along this aisle walking back toward the front of the church you can pray within many small rooms with different altars.

No cameras are allowed inside because this is for the Adoration of Christ.

I loved how the light crossed the altar from the window above.

Above is what is now used as a baptismal area but was built in the Norman era. Look at the original mosaics saved and framed on the wall. Magnificent!

I could show you 40 more photos, but you must visit yourself and experience this stunning cathedral. Outside, I wandered around the piazza, listening to accordion music and drinking my water. Next I crossed the island as I wandered. It was a warm day and I was hungry for pranzo, my lunch and main meal. I found Mokrito, a crowded casual eating establishment by the water.

Pizza was on the menu—I ordered the Ortigiana with red house wine.

I was in heaven. This place has a too huge menu and is a bit touristy but the food was excellent. And the place was packed.

After eating every bit of that pizza, drinking the wine and admiring the view, I wandered along the sea once again.

I walked until it was dark, winding through streets, discovering little corners and getting lost in it all. I would highly recommend that when you visit Sicily, you spend some time, at least two days, in Ortigia. Across the bridge is Siracusa, where you can see more. It is a great location to stay and visit other extraordinary towns like Noto, Avola, and others. I will be writing about my wanderings beyond Ortigia in another post. And I promise you that I will return to this island again, explore the places I missed and enjoy the people of the island. It was a perfect time to visit—few tourists, perfect weather (It could be rainy in February, but it was lovely while I visited.) and the sun and sea.

It is time to say arrivaderci, Ortigia. 

A dopo!

Ciao for now!

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