Golden Day Forty-Two: Enchanting Ortygia, Sicily
To get to the enchanting island of Ortygia, you cross over a bridge from Siracusa and enter what feels like a way-back machine. Traffic is limited here, so all is slowed down and peaceful. This was the land where the sea nymph Calypso lured Odysseus.
A Golden Day here begins at the morning market, that’s not large, yet impressive with enthusiastic vendors and varieties of fish–from glistening sardines to gigantic tuna. It’s also a great place to buy capers or chocolate from Modica to take home.
Ortygia’s masterpiece is the Piazza Duomo, rectangular-shaped, flanked by buildings that elegantly showcase the Sicilian baroqoe style. At the center of it all is of course The Duomo, built around the remains of a Greek temple dedicated to Athena. The columns still stand (I always love to run my hands across these pieces of the ancient world!)–and they’re blended in with the comparatively modern baroque and Norman designs of the church. It’s simply amazing to stand there and take in the centuries of design and worship coming together here. Not to be missed inside is the chapel dedicated to Saint Lucy, the patron of Syracuse and Eyes. Lucy was a feisty 3rd century Christian martyr who decided early on to dedicate her life to Christ and remain chaste. When an admirer kept saying how much he loved her eyes, she plucked them out and handed them over to him on a plate. Lucy is honored all over Siracusa, and there’s a stunning Caravaggio painting–The Burial of Saint Lucy–you can view at the Santa Lucia church in the Piazza–it’s open in the afternoons.
It’s lovely to walk the loop around the island after lunch to admire sea views or duck into the quiet alleys. On my last trip, thanks to the Country Walkers guide, Loredana, I discovered the Jewish Quarter of Ortygia. There, at the Residence Hotel Alla Giudecca (Via Alagona 52), you can make an appointment to visit an underground Mikva from the Byzantine age that was recently discovered–tours are conducted hourly. For a pick-me-up you may want to stop at Pasticceria Artale (Via Landolina 32), that has all kinds of great pastries (the Sicilian specialties–cannoli and cassata are divine, so are the almond cookies). This is also a good place for souvenir shopping–they do candied fruit the right way here!
In the early evening, you may wish to catch a show at the Piccolo Teatro Dei Pupi, (40 minute shows begin at 6:30), where traditional Sicilian style puppetry–knights in shining armor on romantic quests–is a delight.
Nearby is a cozy wonderful restaurant: Circolo Dell’Apollonio (Via Carmello Campisi 18, o161 272 0894)–a favorite of the locals, one of those places that has no menu, you simply sit back and get served the very best catch of the day.
Staying at the the Domus Mariae Benessere–a converted convent is a dreamy treat. The Benessere has a spa, the breakfasts buffet is delicious, and the rooms prettily decorated with mesmerizing views of the sea. Plus there’s the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family all around, to add to the peaceful ambience.