Catania Tourist Attractions
Provincial capitalLocationCatania, situated on level ground halfway along Sicily's eastern coast, is a provincial capital and the second largest city on the island after Palermo.
It is the seat of an archbishopric and of a university - the oldest in Sicily. With a cityscape determined by its many Baroque buildings, both sacred and secular, with its many monuments from both ancient and more modern times, and not least its position on the Piana di Catania, a highly fertile plain between the volcano Mount Etna and the sea, Catania is an important and rewarding city to visit. In addition it is an important industrial and commercial city and port, the second largest in Sicily.Beautiful beaches nearby and the opportunity to visit both Mount Etna and the many historical sites in Eastern Sicily add to the attractions of the city for the holidaymaker.HistoryThe town of Catane was founded by Ionian Greeks in 729 B.C. on the site of an earlier Sikel settlement. This was also the time of the founding of Zancle/Messina (also by Ionians) and was just a few years after the neighboring town of Syracuse was founded further south by Greeks of Dorian extraction. These first settlers of Catane had not come directly from their homeland of Chalcis but instead had founded the town of Naxos (below Taormina) in 735 B.C., from where they created both Catane and Leontinoi in 729.Of the earliest period of the city's history, very little is known. The lawmaker Charondas lived here in the second half of the sixth century B.C. In the first half of the fifth century the town went through a dramatic period in its history. It was then under the jurisdiction of Syracuse, whose tyrant ruler, Hieron I, moved all the inhabitants forcibly to Leontinoi and populated Catane, which was now named Aitne (like the nearby volcano Etna), with 10,000 new settlers. These people were, however, in their turn driven out after Hieron's death in 466/465 B.C. and dispersed to Inessa on the southern slope of Mount Etna, which they named Aitne. The previous inhabitants returned to Catane. The town was then devastated by lava flows in 425 B.C. In 415 it was used by the Athenians as an operational base for their campaign against Syracuse. Following the failure of this venture Dionysios I of Syracuse conquered the town in 403 B.C., enslaved the inhabitants and replaced them with campaign mercenaries, who in turn though were transferred to Inessa/Aitne in 396.However, in the ensuing period Catane prospered again thanks to the productiveness of its agriculture. In 278 B.C. it was one of the earliest Sicilian towns to give refuge to King Pyrrhus of Epirus. In 263 it was conquered by the Romans and thenceforth belonged as civitas decumana to the Roman province of Sicily. In 135 B.C. it sustained damage in the Slaves War, while in 123 B.C. it was ravaged by an eruption of Mount Etna. Augustus classified it as a Roman colony and during this colonial period Catane/Catania experienced another blossoming, of which the ruins of a number of buildings bear witness.During the Byzantine period Catania was eclipsed by Syracuse and in the Arab period by Palermo. However, in the 12th century it regained some of its importance, developing into a trading and seafaring power under Norman rule. There was a hiatus in its growth caused by the earthquake of 1169 (15,000 dead) and the destruction at the hands of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Henry VI in 1194. Spanish rulers from the House of Aragon, however, fostered the town's prosperity, founding a university there in 1434. Later on further natural catastrophes were to befall the town: in 1576 the majority of the population fell victim to the plague and in 1669 the western part of the town was destroyed by lava flows, whilst the rest was ruined by the great earthquake of 1693.In the 18th century Catania's splendid reconstruction took place, including parts designed by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, who was also responsible for several buildings (Sant'Agata, the cathedral facade, San Giuliano, the university) and the famous elephant fountain. The result was a city with axes formed by wide main roads, interspersed with large rectangular squares. Owing to the predominant lava stone, which has frequently been employed as a building material, the overall impression of the city is perhaps more somber than that of Messina. Nevertheless, those who in 1768 erected the triumphal arch in the west of the city (Porta Ferdinandea, today Porta Garibaldi) could justifiably inscribe it with the motto: "Melior de cinere surgo" ("I rise thriving from the ashes").In the 19th century Catania took its full part in the movement of the Risorgimento. In the Second World War it suffered substantial bomb damage. The effects of this have been largely eliminated and in the last few decades an enormous amount of building, particularly in the outer suburbs, as well as programs of modernization and the development of an industrial zone, have considerably altered the city's appearance.TopographyThe two axes which since the reconstruction of the city in the 18th century have formed the city's essential framework, are the Via Etnea, running north-south and the Via Vittorio Emanuele, running east-west, which meet at the Piazza del Duomo. The oldest Greek settlement can be shown by pottery finds to have existed to the northwest of this junction, on a hill at the Piazza Dante, which for a long time served as the site of a castle, but is nowadays occupied by the large Benedictine monastery of San Nicoló. In the Roman era the city spread out eastwards and southwards into the plain and this is where the monumental buildings of this period are to be found (theater, odeon, amphitheater, hot springs). In the north the ancient city probably extended to the Via Plebiscito, and in the east as far as the Via Etnea. In the Middle Ages the center of the city shifted southeastwards to the area around the present-day cathedral square, where in Norman times the cathedral was constructed. For the Castell Ursino Frederick II chose a site to the southwest of the center, directly by the sea (this changed when in 1669 a flow of lava reached the castle and caused the coastline to move outwards).The cathedral square is today still the center of the city, and still preserves the Baroque appearance which was conferred on it during the 18th century. Around the elephant fountain on the east side are the cathedral, altered in the Baroque style, and the church dedicated to the city's patron saint, Sant'Agata; in the northwest is the Palazzo del Municipio and in the south the Porta Uzeda. To the north of the cathedral square, on either side of the Via Etnea, lies the heart of the Baroque area, with its broad streets and well-defined squares.CommunicationsSS 114 and A 18m (Messina-Siracusa), starting-point of the SS 114 (Orientale Sicula), SS 121 (Catanese, to Adrano), SS 192 (Valle del Dittaino, to Enna), SS 417 (Gela) and the A 19 (Palermo). Railway station, direct lines to Palermo, Syracuse, Messina, Rome, Milan; starting-point of the Etna Circular Railway (Circumetnea). Ship connections with Sicilian and Italian ports; hydrofoil services to Taormina, Messina, the Aeolian Islands and Ostica (summer). Fontanarossa Airport (5km/3mi to the south) with direct flights to Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Paris, London, Malta and Tripoli.Cultural eventsSant'Agata Festival ("Candelore" procession, February); commemoration of the transfer of the relics of Sant'Agata from Constantinople to Catania (August); opera, concert and theater season (October-December).
Piazza del Duomo
The central point of Catania is the Piazza del Duomo which assumed its present form towards the end of the 17th century and the 18th century, with the Porta Uzeda (1696), the cathedral (1730-39), Sant'Agata (1737-67), the elephant fountain (1736) and the Palazzo del Municipio (1741) - all created by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini.
From the southwest corner of the Piazza del Duomo in Catania the busy Via Garibaldi runs past the Piazza Mazzini, to the Porta Garibaldi (1768).
The Cathedral of Sant'Agata was built in the 11th C on the location of the Roman springs of Achilles, and the supposed spot where Saint Agatha died a martyr.
The church of Sant'Agata's Convent opposite the north side of the cathedral, built between 1735 and 1767, is the principal work of G. B. Vaccarini. The massive building, dominated by a huge octagonal dome, is fronted by a superb facade, the middle section of which is concave in outline. The church consists of a central structure with four arms of unequal length around the square occupied by the dome. The longest of the four arms is the one containing the west entrance, which also supports the nuns' gallery.
If we go along the Via Vittorio Emanuele in Catania, between Sant'Agata and the cathedral, a short way to the east, the convent church of San Placido, with its single aisle, is reached. Its three-story concave facade is the work of Stefano Ittar (1769).
Teatro Massimo Bellini
Crossing the Via Teatro Massimo in Catania we come to the Piazza Bellini with the Teatro Bellini, one of the most beautiful opera houses in Italy. The building, which is conceived in the neo- Renaissance style, was opened in 1890 with a performance of Bellini's "Norma". The sculptured decorations are the work of Maccagnini and Moschetti.
In the Piazza del Duomo in Catania is the elephant fountain (Fontana dell'Elefante), which Vaccarini designed in 1736, inspired by Bernini's elephant obelisk in Rome: an elephant made of black lava supports a small Egyptian obelisk.
The Porta Uzeda in Catania separates the start of the Via Etnea from the port area.
Behind the Porta Uzeda in Catania, to the left in the Via Dusmet, are the Archbishop's Palace and the Palazzo Biscari, which the family of Paternó Castello, Princes of Biscari, ordered to be built in several stages between 1707 and 1763 by A. Amato. On the facade it is the opulent window- frames in the upper story which catch the eye. Ignazio Biscari, the grandson of the man who had originally commissioned the palace, extended it in order to create space for his extensive art collections. Goethe was just one person to visit "the museum, where pictures, vases and all kinds of similar antiquities in marble and metal are assembled" and to whom Prince Vincenzo, the son of the collector, "showed his coin collection as a special favor". This collection is now to be found in the Museo Civico in the Castello Ursino. If we go down the Via Dusmet in the opposite direction, to the west, we cross the Via C. Colombo and come to the Piazza Federico di Svevia, the "Square of Frederick of Swabia", with the Castello Ursino.
Castello Ursino was once located along the seafront but due to a lava flow in the 1600s, it now stands inland, amidst a residential area.
To the north of the Castello Ursino in Catania the Via Auteri leads to the Piazza Mazzini, a large Baroque square which interrupts the course of the Via Garibaldi, the road leading from the Piazza del Duomo westwards to the Porta Garibaldi. The Piazza Mazzini (originally Piazza San Filippo or Piazza del Mercato), a square-shaped area in the middle of a road intersection, has been kept as it was in the 18th century, with porticos around it - for which 32 ancient columns were used - and buildings of the same height with their pilasters.
The Via Garibaldi in Catania leads to the Porta Garibaldi (formerly Porta Ferdinandea). This monumental gate was erected in 1768 in honor of King Ferdinand IV and his consort Maria Carolina, daughter of the Empress Maria Teresa. The architects were Francesco Battaglia and his stepson Stefano Ittar. They built the gate with horizontal layers of white limestone and black lava. The side facing towards the city is simpler, the west-facing side has concave wings and is crowned by a clock placed between two winged figures, symbolizing glory.
Going a few meters northwards from the Piazza Mazzini in Catania we reach the Via Vittorio Emanuele, which also begins at the Piazza del Duomo and is therefore within the limits of the ancient city. Here, on the southern slope of the old acropolis, is the Teatro Romano (entrance Via Vittorio Emanuele 266). It was built in the second century B.C. on the site of a Greek building. The auditorium has a diameter of 100m/328ft with two perimeter passages. The steps are made of lava, the orchestra and seating rows being covered in marble.
Adjacent to the Teatro Romano in Catania to the west is the Odeon, a small theater whose orchestra is on the same level as the highest corridor in the theater; it is built entirely of lava.
On the corner of the Via Vittorio Emanuele and the Via Crociferi is the house where the composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35) was born. A Museo Belliniano has been established here with a grand piano, scores and other mementos of the composer.
San Francesco d'Assisi
Opposite the Museo Belliniano in Catania stands the Church of San Francesco d'Assisi with an impressive Baroque facade.
A little to the north on the left-hand side of the Via Crociferi in Catania stand two important Baroque churches: the first one being the Chiesa di San Benedetto, the church of the Benedictine nuns. Its special attraction is the entrance hall with its elegant staircase which leads up to the single- aisled interior which has ceiling paintings ("Glory of Saint Benedict") by Giovanni Tuccari from Messina (1726).
The Jesuit college in Catania, was designed by Angelo Italia at the end of the 18th century. It has a frontage composed of seven axes, on to which that of the Church of San Francesco Borgia (double pairs of columns on two stories) adjoins.
Opposite the Church of San Francesco Borgia in Catania stands the oval building of the Church of San Giuliano, built by G. B. Vaccarini in 1739, with its convex protruding façade and an enormous dome.
A left turn from the Via Crociferi in Catania leads into the Via Gesuiti, which opens into the Piazza Dante. Here, on the site of the Greek acropolis, the Benedictines in 1702 began the building of the Church of San Nicoló and the monastic buildings attached to it, which, while being amongst the most extensive in Europe, still, despite the long period of construction, remain a fragment. The work on the church continued until the end of the 18th century. The unfinished facade is characterized by pairs of massive columns left incomplete on raised plinths. A large dome surmounts the plain, three-aisled interior, which, besides a meridian of 1841 in the transept, contains 18th century choir stalls and the great organ made famous by Goethe (built by Donato del Piano between 1755 and 1767). From the dome there is a beautiful view as far as Mount Etna (to go up into the dome apply to the sexton). The former monastery, to the left of the church, displays a rich facade with rusticated pilasters and sculptured window decorations, as well as two charming inner courtyards (four were originally planned).
The visitor is recommended to proceed in an easterly direction to the great north-south axis of the Via Etnea. In its lower section, not far from the Piazza del Duomo, its course is interrupted by the Piazza dell'Università; this creation of Vaccarini's is lined by two buildings; the university on the left, with its bell-shaped gable, and the Palazzo San Giuliano (1745) on the right.
From the Piazza del Duomo Via Etnea, Catania's wide principal street, runs north for 3km/2mi, interrupted by a series of spacious squares, with a prospect of Etna in the background.Immediately on the left stands the Town Hall.
Nearby the Piazza dell'Università in Catania, is the University, founded in 1444, in a fine building erected in 1818. Farther on is the Collegiate Church, with a fine Baroque facade (1768). The next square is the palm-shaded Piazza Stesicoro, with a monument to Bellini.
Past the Palazzo San Giuliano in Catania stands the Chiesa Collegiata, a three-aisled vaulted basilica with a curved facade by Stefano Ittar (1768).
On the left side of the Piazza dell'Universita in Catania are the remains of a Roman amphitheater (perhaps second century A.D.), partly demolished during the reign of Theodoric in order to provide material for building the town walls; only the north end is visible. The amphitheater originally measured 126 x 106m/416 x 350ft; its unusually large arena (70 x 50m/231 x 165ft) was second only to the Colosseum in Rome (86 x 54m/284 x 178ft). A little way to the west is the church of San Carcere (13th century doorway).
Sant'Agata al Carcere
On the Piazza San Carcere, the Chiesa Sant'Agata al Carcere was erected in the 18th century as a memorial to the dungeon (visible inside) where Saint Agatha was kept imprisoned before her martyr's death. The church has a beautiful doorway dating from the 13th century which until the earthquake of 1693 formed part of the cathedral facade.
Farther along Via Etnea, on the left, a few steps beyond Piazza Stericoro, is the main entrance to the Giardino Bellini, an attractive public garden (pleasant views from the terrace).Along the north side of the Villa Bellini runs the tree-lined Viale Regina Margherita, which with its eastward continuation the Viale XX Settembre and the wide Corso Italia, beginning at the beautiful Piazza Verga (with the modern Law Courts), forms the main traffic artery, 6km/4 mi long, of the northern part of the city.
Santa Maria di Gesù
On the Piazza Santa Maria di Gesù in Catania stands the church of the same name, which was built at the beginning of the 18th century on the site of a former Renaissance building. Inside it contains various works of Antonello Gagini, while the crucifix on the main altar is by Frau Umile da Petralia.
At the eastern end of the Corso Italia in Catania is the Piazza Europa, which looks down on to the sea and from which a magnificent coast road (lookout terraces) leads north to the suburban district of Ognina, with the little Porto d'Ulisse in a sheltered bay.
Piazza Carlo Alberto
Map of Catania Attractions