CATANIA

Catania , the “black city”, is the second largest city in Sicily, after Palermo.

It was founded in the 8th century BC by Chalcidian Greeks settlers from nearby Naxos along the coast. The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Agata who is the city’s patron saint, stands on the site of an 11th Century church that was almost entirely destroyed in the 1693 eruption. Its replacement is a very impressive late Baroque structure that incorporates some Roman columns taken from the Piazza Stesicoro Amphitheatre (once as large as the Colosseum in Rome) which is not usually open to the public but part of it can be viewed from outside.

The Impressive Diocesan Museum and the Town Hall built in 1741 in late Baroque style are beside the Cathedral square (Piazza Duomo) and, right below it, Terme Achilliane baths. Bellini , Catania’s most famous son and musician, is buried in the Cathedral besides three Aragonese kings: Frederick II, Louis and Frederick III. The Roman theater , in Via Vittorio Emanuele, was built on the same site of a Greek theatre of the 2nd century BC. The use of lava stone shows how extended its use had been. Next door you can see the Odeon , a smaller theatre used for more intimate occasions, such as musical performances.

The city’s symbol, a lava elephant fountain carrying an obelisk, stands In the centre Duomo square. It bears an enigmatic inscription, MSSHDEPL, which according to some is an acronym for “ The mind of St. Agata is sane and spontaneous, honouring God and liberating the city ”. The devotion to St. Agata in Catania is so great that 7 more churches were dedicated to her name. Heading south you’ll go under the 17th century arch of Porta Uzeda, towards the port. A quick right here will take you into Catania’s colourful, bustling and smelly fish market.

If you don’t get lost in the crowdy market and head south-west, you will come to Piazza Federico di Svevia and the old fortress of Castello Ursino . This majestic structure was built on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea in the 13th century by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen . The massive lava spill of 1669 eruption pushed the sea back, creating a new coastline and stripping Castello Ursino of its strategic position.