CULTURE, NATURE, SEA AND SUN IN CATANIA
Catania is located on the east coast of the main island of Italy, Sicily. The city lies on a flat plane with the same name, between the Ionian Sea and the slopes of the majestic Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, a Unesco World Heritage site, that is a Nature reserve: the Etna Park is a must-see.
A daily bus runs from Catania and Nicolosi to Rifugio Sapienza about 1400m below the summit on the south side, giving you enough time for a trip up the mountain and a wonderful walk in a striking nature.
From the port, very close to town’s centre, it is possible to reach other tourist attractions to be visited in around hundred Kilometres: first Etna, but also Taormina, Siracusa, Caltagirone, Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Piazza Armerina.
The historic centre of Catania, where you’ll find the main sights, is easy to explore on foot.
Piazza Duomo, the city’s focal point, a grandiose square was laid out in Baroque style in the 18th century after a volcanic eruption and a tremendous earthquake that devastated the city in the late 1600s. Here admire the baroque façade of the Cathedral of Saint Agatha constructed to replace the city’s Norman Cathedral which was destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, it has an unusual grey and white colour scheme, like many Catania’s 18th-century buildings. Inside, look out for Bellini’s tomb and the Chapel of Saint Agatha, where the Patron Saint’s relics are kept.
North of here, there’s a second impressive square, Piazza Università, which leads on to Via Etnea, the city’s main shopping street. On both sides of this traffic-free street, you can find lots of bars, trattorias and restaurants.
Enjoy also the city’s exuberant fish market: the Pescheria. In piazza Federico II di Svevia there is the Ursino Castle, wanted there by the Swabian Emperor, it is the most representative museum of Catania, even if the city is a museum itself. Inside it is possible to admire Roman, Greek finds, metal engravings and the picture gallery which includes very valuable paintings too. In piazza San Francesco there is the Bellini House-Museum where a wide collection of prints and autograph scores by the big composer, as well as his original harpsichord, are kept. The same building hosts Emilio Greco Museum where you can find a collection of his lithographs and etchings.
Founded in 729 b.C. by Greeks from Kalkis and then conquered by the Romans, Catania has a long history characterized by several rulers who had enriched its artistic, architectural and cultural heritage. This is witnessed by those buildings survived to the present day: the Amphitheatre, the Greek-Roman Theatre, the Odeon and some Roman thermal baths.
Traces of the 2nd-century b.C. ancient amphitheatre can still be seen in piazza Stesicoro that once seated up to 16,000 spectators. Further south, you’ll find ruins of the Roman Theatre and the Odeon, in Via Vittorio Emanuele.
For a more modern theatrical experience, try for a matinée performance at the plush opera house, the Massimo Bellini Theatre in piazza Teatro Massimo V. Bellini.
A little north, there is via Crociferi which deserves particular attention for its late baroque style, declared a Unesco World Heritage site along with other south east cities of Sicily.
Here you can admire the beautiful churches of San Benedetto and San Giuliano. Other gorgeous examples of baroque are the Jesuite church, annexed to the ex-Jesuit convent, the church of Saint Nicholas, located in piazza Dante, whose front was oddly never completed and the Benedictine Convent, one of the biggest European convents, extremely interesting for the fine ornaments of its balconies and windows, as well as, for its two inner courts showing arcades and loggias.
The feast of St. Agatha in Catania is one of the most famous world religious feasts. The most important celebrations are from the 3rd till the 5th February, every year. In these days the traditional religious procession with the relics of Saint Agatha takes place. In summer on the 17 th of August the Saint’s bust and the silver casket, where the relics are saved, go around the centre of the town from the Cathedral to piazza san Placido and back. It is a more intimate feast, less crowed, where it is possible to stay in close contact with the Saint. Agatha feast’s traditional cakes are related with her story: the cassatelle di Sant’ Agata and the olivette. The cassatelle remember women’s breast and they are related with the story of the tortures of Agatha whose breast was cut. The cake is made with sponge cake, ricotta ( a special cheese), chocolate and candied fruit. A red candied cherry completes the cake. The olivette are little, round, green cakes which remember olives. They are made with almond pastry and sugar.
Catania is one of the few cities in Italy to offer such diverse landscapes concentrated in a single site; it offers one of the most beautiful and suggestive views with its volcano in front of the Ionian Sea that ends in typical lava cliffs but at the same time, the coast offers you the magical and irresistible Playa, a long sandy beach. Its territory includes a large portion of the plain of Catania, one of the largest growing areas of Sicily, and the Simeto Oasis, a 2,000 hectares nature reserve, close to the sea, which takes its name from the river Simeto, the most important river in the island, which flows south of the city. The climate is Mediterranean, but with some subtropical and continental features. Summer is long and usually quite hot. This is perfect to give value to the wonderful and different kind of seashore that can be found in Catania, where golden sands and black lavic stones beaches can be experienced.