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Piazza Duomo, Ortigia

How to rediscover a Caravaggio
March 27, 2021
Castello Maniace
March 27, 2021
How to rediscover a Caravaggio
March 27, 2021
Castello Maniace
March 27, 2021
Ph. © S.K.

Piazza Duomo - Cathedral square

Ancient heart of Ortigia

Piazza Duomo - the cathedral square which isn’t a square - lies at the heart of Ortigia, on the highest point of the island. This makes it a special place, strategic for the people who in the Bronze Age built a settlement of huts here from which they could control the area of the Great Harbour, and highly symbolic for the Greek colonists who chose the site for their oikos, the building which marked the foundation of a new city.
The traces of the foundation of this small building, constructed in rough stones and mud, long searched for by the great archaeologist Paolo Orsi, emerged during the excavations carried out during the repaving of the square, stubbornly insisted on at the end of the Nineties by another famous archaeologist, Giuseppe Voza, the superintendent of cultural heritage at the time, who wanted to explore the central part of the square where Orsi hadn’t excavated, and opening a large dig in front of the cathedral. The dig was greatly appreciated by the citizens who, for the first time, were able to observe the ongoing excavations through observation windows and admire the finds as they came to light, with a feeling of participation and possession. Other circles were less enthusiastic; the Curia openly accused Voza of interfering with the Festivity of Saint Lucy, while others commented, somewhat ironically, that the dig was a mannara, the Sicilian for animal pen or fold. But it was actually in the area of the mannara that the oikos was found, the only known example of the Greek colonies of Sicily, a testimony to the act of foundation - political and religious - of a city. Its position is today marked by black lines in front of the cathedral, set in the white stone of the square.
Excavations in Piazza Duomo from 1910 to today
General plan of the central sanctuary in Ortigia
Around it, already in the VIIth century BCE a small temple was built here, and the entire area took on a role of synthesis between sacred and profane, a role which it continues to have today two thousand years later.
At the end of the VIth century BCE, considerably later, a large Ionic temple began to be built which today lies under the municipal building designed in the 17th century by Andrea Vermexio, while in 480 BCE a temple was built in Doric style and dedicated to Athena. It was later transformed into a church and now it is the Cathedral with its late-baroque facade.
La Cattedrale - Tempio di Athena

What is remarkable about this place is the continuity of its role as a perpetually extraordinary place where coherent layers have built up without ever breaking the thread which ties its appearance today with its distant and ancient roots. Piazza Duomo is the nerve-centre of the urban plan, skirted by the main artery which crossed all of Ortigia running north-south in the Greek period - and today - and which dictated the orderly division of the housing blocks and which extended ideally onto the mainland.
As we have already noted, Piazza Duomo has an unusual shape, with one curving and one straight side; it's form can’t be fitted into schematic geometric definitions. Its shape has followed the morphology of the place, maintaining a harmonious character despite successions of additions.

Piazza Duomo, cuore pulsante della vita della città
La piazza vuota durante il primo lockdown, marzo 2020
The facade of the buildings facing east curves because it follows the line of the rocky terrace that for centuries used to look directly over the sea; the transformation was definitively completed during the late-baroque rebirth of the city when the buildings were reconstructed after the terrible earthquake of 1693, with a few later additions of the 19th century.
At the end of this long process, standing at the centre of the square, the eye of the observer is invited to run over the lines that mark all the facades on all sides, to admire the orderly rhythms and the fantastic curves, to appreciate the overall effect and the individual details. This isn’t simply a space defined by theories of volumes; Piazza Duomo is almost a collecting basin that Vittorini defined rightly as “a pool of light”, faced rather than surrounded by the architecture which, in its diversity and evolution, tells us its story.
Gennaio 2021

Archeozoologo e paleontologo, laureato in scienze e specializzato in beni culturali. Studia il rapporto tra uomini e animali nelle società del passato come risorsa economica, alimentare, simbolo sociale e rituale. Avido lettore di storia e dei classici della letteratura greca e latina, ma anche di saggi di astrofisica e meccanica quantistica, vive perennemente in equilibrio tra il mondo dei numeri e quello delle lettere…e scrive per SiracusaCulture.