The dynamics of vorticity in two-dimensional turbulence is studied by means of semi-direct numerical simulations, in parallel with passive-scalar dynamics. It is shown that a passive scalar forced and dissipated in the same conditions as vorticity, has a quite different behaviour. The passive scalar obeys the similarity theory à la Kolmogorov, while the enstrophy spectrum is much steeper, owing to a hierarchy of strong coherent vortices. The condensation of vorticity into such vortices depends critically both on the existence of an energy invariant (intimately related to the feedback of vorticity transport on velocity, absent in passive-scalar dynamics, and neglected in the Kolmogorov theory of the enstrophy inertial range); and on the localness of flow dynamics in physical space (again not considered by the Kolmogorov theory, and not accessible to closure model simulations). When space localness is artificially destroyed, the enstrophy spectrum again obeys a k−1 law like a passive scalar. In the wavenumber range accessible to our experiments, two-dimensional turbulence can be described as a hierarchy of strong coherent vortices superimposed on a weak vorticity continuum which behaves like a passive scalar.