A Brief History of Catania: The second largest city in Sicily by population, Catania spreads out over the plain between the Ionian Sea and the slopes of Etna. The surrounding countryside, made more fertile by volcanic eruptions, is cultivated, for the most part, in citrus gardens. The close link between the city and the volcano is also visible when observing the buildings, many of which are built with lava stone.
According to Thucydides, Katane was founded after 729 BC by Chalcidian settlers from Naxos, on the hill “of the Benedictines”. In the following century, the legislator Caronda gave the city a moderately inspired government, halfway between oligarchy and democracy. In 476 BC, Catania was conquered by Hieron of Syracuse: the inhabitants were deported, only to return 15 years later, in 461. During the Punic Wars, the city was conquered by the Romans in 263 BC and was able to maintain a considerable wealth until the imperial age. After the the barbarian invasions and the Byzantine conquest in 535, the town was occupied by Muslims in the ninth century, who redistributed the land and gave impetus to agricultural and commercial activities.
Since 1071 with the Norman conquest, the cathedral was built as a church-fortress, and the estates were reinstated and assigned to the monasteries. What followed was an economic crisis that was worsened by the earthquake of 1169. During the Swabian Age (the late XII century and much of the XIII) Federico II built Castello Ursino, 1239-50, in order to complete the fortification of this part of Sicily and erect a symbol of his power. With the advent of the Aragonese in late thirteenth century, Catania, Palermo’s rival, was often chosen as the base of the court, and so the Siculorum Gymnasium, the first prestigious Sicilian University, was founded. The great eruption of 1669 and the terrible earthquake of 1693, which struck all of eastern Sicily and destroyed much of the city, annihilated an already tenuous economy. Catania was rebuilt and spread considerably, then underwent a new agricultural crisis before recovering yet again. It was elected provincial capital in the nineteenth century, expanding into new areas until reaching, to this day, the current image of a modern city.
Tourist Spots: Catania is a city with beautiful landscapes and environmental characteristics. Located at the foot of Mount Etna, the largest mountain in Europe, the city has become a must-seefor tourists visiting Sicily. Among the main attractions include the Greek Theater, the Odeon and the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, the Cathedral of Catania, the Swabian castle (Castello Ursino), Biscari Palace, the Monastery and Church of the Benedictines, the Elephant Square (Piazza Duomo or Piazza dell’Elefante), San Giuliano Church, St. Agatha Church and St. Benedict Church. Catania, a city with ancient history, is full of monuments and beautiful sights. Moreover, in 2002, its historic center and seven municipalities of the nearby Val di Noto were included on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. For those who decide to visit Catania and stop in town for a few days, we recommend the following attractions: the numerous historic buildings and monuments dating from the Roman period such as the Thermal Baths, the Roman Theatre of Catania, the Amphitheatre and, in the Piazza del Duomo, the ‘liotru’ (the ancient symbol of Catania built on lava stone depicting an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk); the beautiful Castello Ursino is memorable, and now houses the Museo Civico di Catania, where many exhibits are kept to testify the long and troubled history of the city. The city also contains many Baroque buildings (mostly concentrated in the historic center of Catania) that, from the beginning of the millennium, have been included on the lists to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the buildings were built in the eighteenth century following an earthquake that destroyed the city. Among them should be mentioned the Cathedral of St. Agatha, the Abbey of St. Agatha, the Church of St. Benedict, the Palace of the Elephants (the town hall of Catania), Biscari Palace, the Toscano Palace and many other buildings. For those who love nature walks, we recommend spending a day in the beautiful Bellini Gardens or in the Boschetto Plaia. Last but not least, don’t miss the Mediterranean Reptile Museum, with unique and rare collections of various species of reptiles living in Europe and in tropical areas.