THE ISLAND OF ORTIGIA
|THE ISLAND OF ORTIGIA| Arethusa Fountain| Judaica. Exploring Jewish Siracuse| The Seaside| Piazza Archimede| Piazza Duomo| Palazzo Bellomo| St. John the Evangelist| Santa Maria della Concezione| The Temple of Apollo|
The Seaside of Ortigia, in Syracuse.
For those who would like to take a relaxing stroll in Syracuse, the street that
runs around the island of Ortigia proves to be ideal, given its modest length, which allows for a complete tour
without excessive effort or investment in time.
The Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel is situated right on the sea; the proposed itinerary goes from the hotel to
the tip of the island and back.
Belvedere San Giacomo – Syracuse |
Leaving the hotel to the left one finds the remains of the ramparts of San Giovannello, one of the few points still visible from the high walls that completely surrounded
Ortigia. They were constructed during Spanish rule, under Charles V, and largely demolished after the unification of Italy (1860).
From this side of the island, the walk runs along the open sea. After several
meters, the street widens onto a space that offers a beautiful view, the Belvedere San Giacomo, a favorite romantic destination in Ortigia. Just beyond, a promontory is home to the former Vigliena Fort, where a (rather steep!) stairway provides access to the sea: here in the spring
and summer one notices the presence of bathers.
From this point on past the curve, one sees the view toward the point of the
island and the Maniace Castle.
Before reaching this, one passes in front of the Church of Santo Spirito
, completed in 1797 with a façade in the baroque style like nearly all of the
churches in Ortigia.
The Maniace Castle
The castle that covers the entire point of the island of Ortigia (where previously
a temple of Hera, and later the palaces of the Greek “tyrants” of Syracuse and of the Roman administrators stood) takes
its name from its first builder, the Byzantine general George Maniakes, who liberated Syracuse from Arab rule for a few years (1040-1043), and fortified the port at this point.
The appearance that it has today, however, is that given it in the third decade
of the 13th century, when the emperor Frederick II made it not only a fortification but also one of his residences (it is believed
that the castle also had a second floor, used just as the imperial palace).
From this time dates the magnificent room under gothic pilasters, which are of
rare grandeur and elegance. It is the only part of the original construction,
that at one time covered the entire space of the quadrangle (with the exception
of the small courtyard), because in 1704 the explosion of a gunpowder magazine made a wing of Swabian / Spanish construction collapse, never to be reconstructed. A few columns of the part
that collapsed are seen today incorporated into the walls of the courtyard.
Finally, under Charles V, the castle was surrounded for a good five meters and fortified with bastions
that surround it still today, necessary to resist canon fire.
After the unification of Italy, the building was annexed for many years to the
adjacent former barracks (that today houses the University of Syracuse), and its return to public use required restoration work and liberation from
modern buildings added in the 19th and 20th centuries.
For information: Tel. (++39) 0931 22255.
The bank of the Porto Grande
Having reach the point of the island, one moves in the direction of the mainland,
along Via Maniace, which ends at Largo Aretusa.
Here, from the remains of a tall Spanish rampart, it is possible to admire the Fountain of Arethusa. Going down (thanks to a ramp accessible even for people with difficulty getting
around) to the level of the seashore, one arrives at the Villetta Aretusa, a little garden (complete with public changing rooms) adorned with shady and
exotic ficus trees, under which the entrance to the Aquarium opens.
The walkway of the Villetta Aretusa.
From here one enjoys a beautiful panorama over the Porto Grande of Syracuse, unfortunately not as intact as it was when admired by travelers a century ago: speculation, in fact, left clearly visible scars on the landscape.
The port was a vital resource for Syracuse for more than 2,500 years, given that
in ancient times it allowed the city a natural landing for those coming from the
Orient (for example from the large port of Alexandria in Egypt). Not by chance, St. Paul, en route from Palestine to Rome, stopped right in Syracuse for three days.
The port can be visited by boat, which departs not far from the Villetta Aretusa.
Past the public garden, leaning upon the base of the wall you can see the so-called Fontana degli Schiavi (Fountain of the Slaves), decorated in relief and constructed in the Spanish era as an alternative water supply, after the construction of the ramparts had made
use of the Fountain of Arethusa problematic.
From this point one proceeds along a route suitable for walking since the 19th
century, the Foro Italico (Italian Forum), featuring trees, benches, and above all an atmospheric view of the city and
of the port, which is particularly picturesque at sunset and at night.
The Foro Italico comes to an end at the Porta Marina ("Sea Gate") which is the only surviving element of the medieval fortifications
of the island, and one of the few features that allow one to imagine how Ortigia
appeared surrounded by white walls.
The gate, which lost its upper part, appears extremely plain; it’s decorated
from a gothic-Catalan kiosk, worked with delicate ornamental relief.
A little further along, a detour is warranted to the little church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (from the 13th century, but reconstructed after its destruction during the Second
World War), that retains a beautiful gothic-renaissance façade, with stained glass
windows from 1501 of the Madonna and saints.
In front of Porta Marina, from pier Zanàgora in the holiday period (summer), the boats depart for the beaches of Punta del Pero and Isola Maddalena.
To return to the hotel one can make a cut, reaching corso Matteotti and from
here taking via Mirabella, that emerges right next to the hotel Algilà; otherwise
complete the tour of the island by following the canal that cuts through the isthmus.
This area has a thoroughly modern appearance, as occupied by buildings made in
the space obtained, after the unification of Italy, by demolishing the mammoth
Spanish ramparts that protected access to the island.
Following the sea, one arrives at the Porto piccolo (Little Port), reserved for smaller boats.
Located here (at pier Forte Gallo) is the Yachting Club of Syracuse, which offers moorings, boat rentals, sailing courses, and fishing and also organizes
tourist visits along the seaside.
From here, along the coast occupied by modern port facilities, one returns to
the ramparts of San Giovannello and therefore to the Hotel Agilà.