Catania, destroyed several times by eruptions, earthquakes and invasions, has always managed to revive. The sights of Sicily are countless, and this area unites some of them among architectural treasures, cultural offerings and the liveliness typical of creative cities full of exchanges. Its historical center is included in the UNESCO Heritage List, not to mention the beaches of Catania and its surroundings: real oases of relaxation and beauty.
Visit with us the rich history and culture of the Sicilian city at the foot of Etna and discover its historical and architectural beauty.
Cathedral of Sant’Agata
One of the symbols of the city, of course, is the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, dedicated to the patron saint of the city. His story is quite restless and tells of various destructions due to earthquakes and the eruption of Etna. The building was built around 1070, but only the apse remains of the original construction. The current look dates back to the works that were carried out in the eighteenth century. The facade is built of Carrara marble with the addition of columns of the ancient Roman theater. The interior is particularly majestic, with a Latin cross plan and a division into three naves.
Outside the gate is the chapel of Sant’Agata, where his relics are kept. Especially exquisite are the frescoes by Giovan Battista Corradini, which are located in the central apse with the coronation of the saint. In front of the altar is also the grave of the Catalan musician Vincenzo Bellini. The cathedral also houses the tombs of numerous Swabian, Aragonese and Norman royals.
The second characteristic feature of the city is this fountain, shrouded in legend. There are those who consider the elephant (a black basalt statue) to be a reminder of an ancient religion or just a magic charm for good luck, protecting against the eruptions of Etna. The current shape of the fountain dates back to 1736, although it is the result of several changes over the centuries. For example, the obelisk was brought to Catania after the Crusades, the trunk was restored several times, and the tusks were added after the damage caused by the earthquake of 1693. To build this monumental work, the architect was Giovanni Battista Vaccarini.
On the elephant’s back is an Egyptian-style obelisk with a height of more than 3 meters. Over time, a bathtub and a small garden were added. In 1905, the second fountain was built. The background of the fountain is the Palazzo degli Elephanti (the current residence of the town hall) and the Palazzo dei Chierici, connected to the cathedral by a passage. In front of the town hall there is another fountain, Amenano, just a river that flows in the bowels of Catania.
Elephant Palace, Catania
We stay at the Piazza del Duomo to visit this building, built in the seventeenth century, which now houses the Town Hall of Catania. Quadrangular in shape and with an atrium on each facade, the building took the place of a medieval loggia destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. The work began under the direction of architects Sanarelli and Longobardo. Later, the architect Vaccarini took responsibility and revolutionized this avenue. A central balcony supported by four columns was introduced: from here the Catalan authorities look at the Cathedral of Sant’Agata.
The gables of the balconies were decorated with many elephants, hence the name of the building. The opposite facade facing the University Square was built by Carmelo Battaglia in 1980. In 1944, a fire damaged the building and destroyed the city’s historical archive and the Risorgimental Museum. The carriages of the Senate of 1700 are displayed in the central courtyard. There are numerous works of art, paintings and frescoes in the reception halls.
Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine
Another historical building of Catania is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine, which was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. The altar of Sant’Agata is particularly interesting: the painting depicts the appearance of the saint in Santa Lucia, and the statue perpetuates the memory of the lying martyr.
The interior, preceded by the vestibule, is particularly luxurious and consists of three naves supported by arches. In the left aisle there are ex voto plaques, donated by believers since 1867. The sanctuary is located on Carlo Alberto Square in the historical center. The original structure of the complex also included a convent, which over the years was transformed into a barracks.
The most picturesque and important street in Catania starts from Piazza del Duomo. A three-kilometer trail facing Etna (hence the name). It is an ideal place for walking for both tourists and residents of Catania. It will be a real trip to the Sicilian Baroque. Most of the palaces and churches were built by Vaccarini and Battaglia after the catastrophic earthquake of 1693. Trendy shops, clubs, restaurants, gourmet pastry shops and at least 7 Baroque churches, including the Collegiate, will alternate.
Piazza Universitit certainly deserves a stop surrounded by the Rector’s building (with its wonderful library) and the San Giuliano building. The walk ends at Piazza Cavour, which the people of Catania affectionately call “Il Borgo” because it was outside the city walls until 1693. Via Etnea is a showcase that preserves all the souls of the city: freedom, modernity, Baroque and the nineteenth century. Along Etnea there is also access to the Botanical Garden, where you can stroll among an incredible collection and variety of plants and a neoclassical building.
In the center of Stesikoro Square, the remains of a Roman amphitheater stand out. It is assumed that it was built in the II century AD and has a diameter of about 300 meters, second only to the Colosseum. According to historians, the building was already in a neglected state at the time of Theodoric and some of the stones of which it consisted were used as building material.
The lava stone of the Amphitheater was used for the Cathedral of Sant’Agata and for the construction of ancient walls. The work on the extraction of the remains was started only in 1903. In 1943, during the Allied bombing, the building was used as a shelter. Most of the Amphitheater is still underground, and its tunnels are closed for security reasons.
Via dei Crociferi
Here we are on another historical street of Catania, which also harbors a bit of mystery, starting with the origin of the name. It could have originated from the Crusading Fathers or from the Crucifixion to emphasize the presence of 4 churches within a radius of only 200 meters. These are samples in the Baroque style. Access is guaranteed by the arch of San Benedetto, connecting the Benedictine monastery with the church of the same name. The religious building is popular due to the Angel’s Staircase, a majestic marble staircase with several statues of angels.
Then you will find yourself in front of the Church of San Francesco Borgia, followed by the Jesuit College with an exquisite monastery with columns and arcades. Nearby is the Church of San Giuliano, one of the emblems of the Sicilian-Catalan Baroque. Your walk will end at Villa Cherami, a green oasis where the Faculty of Law is located. Via dei Crociferi is included in the UNESCO Heritage List.
Bellini Garden, Catania
It was opened to the public only in 1883, but it is a garden that is most loved by the people of Catania. The main entrance is located on Via Etnea: a staircase leads to it, surrounded by dazzling flower beds leading to the square. In the center there is a swimming pool in which graceful swans swim. On a small hill flanking the pool, there is a large clock made up of evergreens. The Bellini Garden (one of the four main ones) covers an area of more than 72 thousand square meters.
At the top of the southern hill there is a wrought-iron monastery with a stage for music. Pools, statues and fountains alternate along secondary avenues. On the west side you can visit the Avenue of Famous People, which is surrounded by busts representing the greatest glory of the city. Once there were caves in the lava stone, inside of which there were fountains. In the 1960s, a real zoo was attached to this area. The gardens really are an oasis of tranquility and are distinguished by a diverse flora.
Like any Sicilian city, Catania is also popular for its markets: here everyday life consists of authentic gestures and a small amount of folklore. One of the busiest is La Pescheria, located on Carlo Alberto Square. A riot of swordfish, lobsters, sardines and anchovies. The voices of sellers are heard here, calling customers back and informing them about daily offers. The counters have been installed since the beginning of the 19th century and are also always very crowded with tourists.
Nearby there is also a fruit and vegetable market, toys and other objects that have acquired a polyethnic hue. Some kiosks also sell meat and cheeses. There is also a Flea Market on Sundays for those who want to find deals and bargain prices.
Monastery of San Nicolo l’Arena
A pearl of the late Baroque, located just over 10 minutes from the Duomo. The Monastery of San Nicolo is one of the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe. The building was founded in 1528 and symbolizes an example of balance and perfect integration between different historical periods. The original structure was square in shape with a gallery of Carrara marble, as well as a fountain with Renaissance decorations.
The terrible eruption of 1669 and the earthquake of 1693 damaged the complex, partially sparing the basement and floor of the monastery and 14 columns of the monastery. Reconstruction work began in 1702, and the entire structure was expanded with two monasteries and various rooms for the collective life of the monks. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, it is the seat of the University of Catania and includes monasteries, a Roman house and an exquisite hanging garden.
Ursino Castle, Catania
The manor was built by order of Frederick II between 1239 and 1250 to protect the coast of Sicily. In 1500, it was transformed into a temporary residence of the governor, and part of its structure was used as a prison. Inscriptions and graffiti made by prisoners are still visible, despite several repairs. In 1932 it was renovated and was chosen to house the Civic Museum of Catania, which currently houses the Benedictine collection, part of the collection of Prince Biscari and many private donations.
The museum consists of three sections: archaeological, medieval and Renaissance. In 1995, a wing of the estate was opened for the part related to the art gallery, which also houses a valuable collection of Byzantine tablets. There is also a valuable collection of Greek and Roman coins.
Catania has towered a thousand times like a phoenix, and traces and remnants of its millennial past have been preserved in the depths. And it is for this reason that various tours are organized to discover these underground treasures, possibly starting with the connections of the Patron Saint with the city. In this city hiking game you will be able to discover the Roman city among the fears, theaters and aqueducts that speak of the past.
Sometimes the Baroque hid other styles, but Catania remains a center that is also closely associated with the Middle Ages. Different paths will emphasize the freedom and richness of the decor. There are other historical routes that will help you understand the consequences of the eruption of Etna in 1669 for the artistic heritage of Catania.