Messina sits across the Strait of Messina, which divides the Region of Calabria from the Island of Sicily. As in the past, Messina is the main portal to Sicily. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Swabians landed on its coasts and had a heavy influence on culture here and throughout the Island. By exploring the small provincial towns, one can discover precious works of art in its churches and palaces, and important traces of great and faraway civilizations. Messina is known as the door of Sicily. With its port, shaped like a sickle, it has always been a trading city. Situated close to the Peninsular, there has been busy thoroughfare between Messina and the Mainland
History and General Information on Messina
Messina was founded by the Greeks who named it Zancle which is connected to the word Scythe, in the ancient native tongue of the city, and was also the name of the legendary king, who built the harbor, whose name was said to be Zanclus. Following the Roman, Byzantine and Arab invasions, in the latter of which Messina was the last to submit to the Arab yoke, the Normans; Swabians and Angevins came to Sicily left their mark and were either conquered or fled the wrath of native Sicilians. Messina’s epoch of glory come with the rule of the Aragon dynasty, who made Messina the capital of the kingdom of Sicily and recognized its value and potential as a port. Messina is the 3rd largest city on the island of Sicily, and the 13th largest city in Italy, with a population of more than two hundred and thirty eight thousand inhabitants in the city proper and about six hundred and fifty thousand in the Metropolitan City. It is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, opposite Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, and has close ties with Reggio Calabria.
Things to See in Messina
The Statue of Neptune
The Fontana del Nettuno, or Neptune Fountain, is located in a park, set apart from the city center. It was built in 1557 and, like the Orion fountain, is a work of Montorsoli. The fountain shows the god of the sea caught between Scylla and Charybdis, the two monsters of the Strait of Messina. The Via della Libertà begins at this fountain and leads out of the city towards the exhibition ground of the Fiera di Messina.
The Cathedral del Duomo
The cathedral forms one end of the wide Piazza del Duomo, Messina’s historic center, and in front of it is the Orion fountain, created from 1547 to 1551 by G.A. Montorsoli from Florence, a student of Michelangelo. On the left long side of the cathedral stands the Baroque column of the Virgin Mary by Giuseppe Buceti, erected in 1758. The church was built in the 1100s by the Normans, who ruled Sicily at the time, but it was seriously damaged by an earthquake that devastated much of Messina in 1908. Barely recovered from that, the cathedral was again severely damaged by World War II bombing. Following both, the reconstruction remained true to the original form and retained important later features such as the carved stone portals from the late Gothic period, medieval relief carvings on the lower facade, and three apses on the east side that date from its founding. Like all Norman cathedrals in Sicily, the cathedral is a columned basilica with three aisles, a transept, and three apses. The monumental interior has a brightly colored roof truss and arcades with pointed arches; the apse mosaics of the enthroned Christ are reconstructions, as are the apostle altars of the side aisles. Through all its travails, this remains one of Sicily’s finest cathedrals.
What to Do in Messina
The Province of Messina, in the northeastern corner of the Island of Sicily, sits on two different seas, each in their own right a chest of natural treasures. Excursions over land and sea allow for the discovery of every corner and angle of the Aeolian Islands, rich in beaches and tiny coves where one can stop to explore, even if just for a few hours. One definite must is Pollara Beach on the island of Salina; Pollara was the result of a crater formed by the six volcanoes making up Salina, around thirteen thousand years ago. Here, one can take a hot bath of mud and saltwater that forms from the fumaroles (lava and gas emissions) of nearby Vulcano Island.
Those arriving with a boat can circumnavigate the coasts and enjoy the spectacular natural hollows and giant boulders, rocks and mounds that surround the islands’ shores. The Aeolian Archipelago is a true paradise for trekkers. Hiking trails go on forever here, and take hikers on a journey of landscapes, putting the islands’ diverse beauty on full display.
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