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Ortygia, also spelled as Ortigia (Ὀρτυγία), is a small island which is the historical centre of the city of Syracuse, Sicily. The island, also known as the Città Vecchia (Old City), contains many historical landmarks. The name originates from the ancient Greek ortyx (ὄρτυξ), which means "Quail". Ortygia is located at the eastern end of Syracuse and is separated from it by a narrow channel.


Ortygia, being an island just off the coast, was easily transformed into a natural fortress with harbors and was big enough that it could hold a significant population in ancient times. Therefore, the history of Ortygia is synonymous with the early history of Syracuse.

Greek Legends


The Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo has it that the goddess Leto stopped at Ortygia to give birth to Artemis, the firstborn of her twins. Artemis then helped Leto across the sea to the island of Delos, where Leto gave birth to Apollo. Other ancient sources state that the twins were born in the same place – which was either Delos or Ortygia – but Ortygia, according to Strabo was an old name of Delos. Further, there were perhaps a half-dozen other places called Ortygia, so that the identification is uncertain.

It was also said that Asteria, the sister of Leto, metamorphosed into a quail (Ortyx), threw herself into the sea, and was metamorphosed into the island of Ortygia. Another myth suggested that it was Delos, rather than Ortygia. Eos, the goddess of the dawn, fell in love with the mortal hunter Orion and abducted him to Ortygia, where he met Artemis and joined her retinue. He was slain by the goddess either for because the gods did not approve of goddesses taking mortal men to lovers, or for challenging her in an archery contest, or trying to force himself upon one of her maids.

Ortygia was the mythological home of Arethusa, a chaste nymph who, while fleeing a river god, was transformed by Artemis into a spring, traversed underground and appeared here, thus providing water for the city. Arethusa and her pursuer, the river god Alpheus, came from Arcadia in Greece.

Notable Structures

circa 550 BCE

Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo on the island of Ortygia is the ancient most Doric temple in stone peristasis of western Greece, dated to the beginning of the sixth century BCE with a perstasis of 6x17 monolithiccolumns and a secondrow on the east. Thestone colonnade, instead of the wood one, is a novelty, as stated in its inscription: "Kleomene made for Apollo (the temple), the son of Knideidas and raised the solonnade, the beautiful works". In the north there are remains of a previous building; in the west there is a Byzantine tower. It has undergone severaltransformations over the centuries, Byzantine Church. Arab Mosque, Norman Basilical. Incorporated in 1562 CE, in the Spanish barracks, the church of Saint Maria delle Grazie superimposed in 1664 CE, then demolished in 1864 CE. The complex work of returning the building to the original began in 1858 CE and ended in 1942 CE.

circa 450 BCE

Greek Theatre
The Greek theatre of Syracuse lies on the south slopes of the Temenite hill, overlooking the modern city of Syracuse in southeastern Sicily, Italy. It was first built in the 5th century BCE, rebuilt in the 3rd century BCE and renovated again in the Roman period. Today, it is a part of the Unesco World Heritage Site of "Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica".

circa 1040 CE

Castello Maniace
The Maniace Castle (Castello Maniace) rises on the extreme land spit of Ortigia, to control the port and the city of Syracuse. It was built by Frederick II, betweek 1232 and 1240 CE, in compliance with precise rules of rationality, geometry and symmetry. The building has a square plan, closed by a powerful permiter wall with four cylindrical towers at the corners. The name refers to the Byzantine general Giorgio Maniace, who in 1038 CE took the city for the Arabs.

circa 1700 CE

Santa Lucìa alla Badìa
The Santa Lucia alla Badia is a baroque-style, Roman Catholic church, now deconsecrated, located on the south corner of the piazza duomo, located to the south of the facade of the Cathedral of Syracuse), located in the island of Ortigia, the historic city center of Siracusa in Sicily, Italy. The church building and adjacent former monastery is now used for special exhibitions and functions. A church and monastery at the site, attached to a female Benedictine monastery was present by the mid-15th-century CE, putatively with the patronage or Queen Isabelle of Spain. It was supposedly built at the site at which Saint Lucy was forced into prostitution. Documentation is lacking as to whether the church and monastery predates the reign of Isabelle, and may have only been refurbished by her.

See Also


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