Catania Vacations - Customized Italian Vacations

Catania Vacations

Catania Vacations

Catania is a wonderful combination of ancient and modern. Her history and character is inextricably linked to the formidable form of Mount Etna, who looms over the city like a maternal menace. At the foot of this great volcano, facing the Ionian Sea lies Catania, a Sicilian monument to survival and resilience, defying the ravages of time and nature. Etna has an interesting character and, despite its imposing appearance and destructive potential, is known to many as the “good volcano”. Since the eighteenth century, Catania has been the second most important city of Sicily, supplanting Messina in that respect. Subjected to Etna’s fickle temperament, Catania has been damaged by lava flows and earthquakes on several occasions. A particularly destructive volcanic eruption in 1669 was followed by a serious earthquake in 1693.

History and General Information on Catania

The city has a history dating back 2700 years, dominated by several different cultures Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish and was a rich commercial centre, mainly due to its port. Again, since the 70’s, the city economy is growing as the urban area and the suburbs, making Catania a large metropolitan centre, mainly between the volcano and the sea. Today, even if you can find there most of the biggest commercial centers in Europe especially Etnapolis; the old 17th century downtown area is still the center of the day-to-day life. Catania is situated under the biggest active volcano in Europe and has been destroyed many times in the past. Today, you will feel in Catania a mix of nostalgia and “joie de vivre”, especially at night or during festivals. The city’s symbol is an elephant, as it is said that in ancient times, Pigmy elephants lived there and chased away enemies of the city’s inhabitants. Frederic II commissioned the building of the Ursino Castle there, which became a model of military architecture, and was originally built as a coastal fortress to protect the city as well as the island from unwanted marauders. The history of the city lies in its folklore more than its monuments; in fact the last time the city was rebuilt was in 1700. Town planning has been remodeled according to the Roman style, with straight parallel streets forming a grid, bearing little reminiscence of Medieval, Byzantine, or Arab era’s which were an important part of its heritage.

Things to See and Do in Catania

Visiting Catania is quite easy, as the old town centre is relatively small. An ideal starting point would be the main square, Piazza Duomo.

The Piazza Duomo

This delightful square and all its surrounding buildings was designed by one man, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini from Palermo. The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Agata, 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, imposing Baroque structure that incorporates some Roman columns taken from the amphitheatre. These are not the only Roman elements; however, as underneath are some Roman baths. Inside, the Baroque theme continues with several ornate chapels and a fresco recording the 1693 earthquake. Bellini, Catania’s most famous son, is buried here, as are (in ash form) three Aragonese kings: Frederick II, Louis and Frederick III. The other sides of the square are equally impressive and include the Diocesan Museum and the Municipio, (town hall) built in 1741. In the centre stands the city’s symbol, a lava elephant fountain carrying an obelisk. It bears an enigmatic inscription, MSSHDEPL, which according to some is an acronym for “The mind of St. Agata is sane and spontaneous, honoring God and liberating the city”. Such is the devotion to St. Agata in Catania that there are another two churches named after her, one just across the road from the Cathedral, the other just a short walk away off Via Etnea.

The Roman Theatre

The Teatro Romano, in Via Vittorio Emanuele, was built on the site of a Greek theatre in the 2nd Century AD. Its use of lava stone demonstrates how long the excretions of Etna have been put to good use. Next door is the Odeon, a smaller theatre used for more intimate occasions, such as musical performances. The Amphitheatre, found in Piazza Stesicoro at the crossroads of Via Etnea and Corso Sicilia is not usually open to the public, though can be viewed from outside. It is well worth enquiring about a special tour, however, as it was the largest amphitheatre in Sicily, said to accommodate around fifteen spectators. A fascinating warren of passages runs underneath it, bringing to mind its more famous cousin the Colosseum. The area around the first amphitheatre is given over to a series of churches and the Museo Belliniano, dedicated to Catania’s most famous son, the composer Vincenzo Bellini. A short walk north east will take you to another building dedicated to his memory, the opera house Teatro Massimo Bellini. The opera season runs from around October to June and is well worth a visit if opera is your thing.

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