The Temple of Athena in Ortygia

January 24, 2022 By Bellarome Travel

Ortygia is the oldest part of Syracuse and a celebrated tourist destination with many wonderful places to see. One of the must-visit sites of Ortygia is the temple of Athena. 

The temple of Athena is arguably the most important sacral complex (and the most ancient) on the island of Ortygia and is located in the highest area. Despite being the oldest temple, it has best stood the test of time against the weather. In a luxury tour of Sicily, spend an afternoon on Ortygia and see the magnificent Baroque church, unwind with a coffee in the Piazza, and be in awe of the historic Temple of Apollo.

This temple dates back to the 5th century BC and was realised by Gelone – a descendant of the Dinomenidi family, a dynasty of Greek tyrants who ruled Sicily. He was the eldest son of Dinomene and has gone down in history as the one who defeated the Sicilian Killichirioi by taking possession of the island of Ortigia. 

Under his tyranny, Ortigia became a political and religious center. It is for this reason that a sacred road was built on the island where lies a temple dedicated to the goddess, Athena.

The temple stands on the ruins of a much older structure. Excavations carried out between 1912 and 1917 brought to light various architectural elements dating back to around the sixth century BC. 

Like all the other sacred buildings, the temple of Athena is oriented towards the east. According to some scholars, it also had the dual function of temple and lighthouse for sailors who approached Syracuse from the seaside of Ortygia. This theory is supported by the presence of a large statue of Athena with a golden shield, whose glow could be seen even from afar.

Archaeologists went on to discover some similarities with the temple of Victory located in Imera. This convinced them that both the period and the historiography are responsible for the positive outcome for the Syracusans from the Battle of Imera in 480 BC.

Some testimonies on this temple then come directly from the writings of Cicero, who told of how this place of worship was respected by Marco Claudio Marcello but devastated by Gaius Licinius Verre.

Today, the temple of Athena has become part of the Cathedral of Syracuse but some columns are still visible on the outside. Add Syracuse to your Classic Sicily itinerary to discover this and more. Or choose the historical tour to visit the historical wonders of Ortygia.