Catania – Sicily

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The image of the city is of course bound to the volcano towering over it, the Etna, which lava was used by the 17th century architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini to rebuild the majority of houses destroyed by the earthquake of the 16th century. The new architectural plan gave Catania an aristocratic aspect, haughty and sumptuous. There are many dilapidated and abandoned churches and palaces in Catania, nevertheless the city offers numerous baroque churches and interesting places to visit. The major attraction is probably represented by the lively social and cultural life of the city, consisting of open air markets and crowded pubs. Moreover, an excellent culinary tradition and the natural beauties of the surroundings complete this pattern.

Catania has a good and efficient bus service and a few kilometres underground line, going from the port to the city centre, crossing via Etna and terminating at the train station, where trains of the Circumetnea (the railway line which goes to the volcano) depart. Catania can be easily visited on foot.

Piazza del Duomo is the beginning point to discover the city. From here depart all streets that lead to the main points of interest. The Cathedral (open all days 07:30 am-12:00 am; 16:00 pm-19:00 pm) was founded by the count Ruggero in the XI century on the Roman ruins of the Spas. The apses embedded in the volcanic rock are the only elements remained of the original Norman structure. In the 17th century the cathedral underwent some readjustments, obtaining a sumptuous baroque aspect, especially inside. South of the square after Porta Uzeda the most chaotic market of Sicily is held every day, selling many products, especially fish. La Peschiera (the name of the market) is a good place where to taste fresh molluscs.

West of the market a series of tortuous lanes departs, which lead to the beautiful rock of Castello Ursino, an ancient fortress raised up by Federico II of Swabia, currently the seat of the Civic Museum.

Going back toward via Etna you pass by Piazza Mazzini, one of the most beautiful areas of the city, with a maze of churches, narrow 18th century streets and archaeological ruins. Here the Baroque stile dominates every façade on the palaces overlooking Via dei Crociferi and the numerous churches, like that of San Giuliano.

At the beginning of Via dei Crociferi lies the home of the famous musician Vincenzo Bellini (the name of the Catania traditional pasta, Pasta alla Norma, comes from the famous opera piece of the musician). Today the house hosts a museum. Opposite this museum lies the Roman Theatre (open Monday to Saturday 09:00 am-13:30 pm; 15:00 -19:00pm; Sunday 09:00 am-13:00pm). The theatre was built in lava stone in the 2nd century b.C. on the site where an older Greek theatre once stood. Not far from here, in the hidden street Sant ’Anna, lies the Museum dedicated to the Italian writer Giovanni Verga.

In Piazza Dante, a lovely string of houses in semi circle, with shops and small workshops of craftsmen, stands the biggest church of Sicily, San Nicolò l’Arena (105 m). The majestic 18th century façade stands out from the sober and simple style of the inside. From the dome one can admire one of the most spectacular views over the city, the opposite coasts of Sicily and Calabria, and the volcano.
The Benedictine monastery lying next to the church is as big as the church self, in fact it is the second biggest monastery in Europe after the Portuguese monastery of Mafra.

Via Etnea is a long boulevard which winds through Catania from Piazza del Duomo until the foothills of the volcano outside the city. The initial leg of the road is a commercial area full of shops and fashion pubs. On the west side can be seen the University, the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre (II or III century b.C., open every day 09:00-13:00; 15:00-19:00, free entry) and the small park of Villa Bellini, with the adjacent Botanic Garden (open Monday to Saturday 09:00-13:00).

On the east side of the road is concentrated the majority of cheap restaurants and pubs, as well as the market Fera o Luni, in Piazza Carlo Alberto, where to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and many clothing and household goods. The market is open every day except on Sundays. Going South toward the sea lies the square Massimo Bellini, a bizarre mix of buildings and palaces of different architectural styles, with the homonymous theatre.

Civic museum

  • Piazza Federico di Swabia
  • Opening hours:
  • Tuesday to Saturday.: 09:00-13:00; 15:00-18:00
  • Sunday.: 09:00-12:00 am
  • Ticket: free entry

Museo Belliniano

  • Piazza San Francesco, 3
  • Opening hours:
  • Monday to Saturday: 09:00-13:00
  • Tuesday and Thursday.: 09:00-13:00; 15:00-18:00
  • Sunday: 09:00-12:30
  • Tickets: free entry

Casa museo Giovanni Verga

  • Via S. Anna, 8
  • Opening hours
  • Tuesday to Saturday.:09:00-13:00; 15:15-18:30

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