Catania City

Catania is the second city of Sicily after Palermo due to its size and number of inhabitants.

It stretches out on the plain of the same name and is located between the Ionian Sea and the slopes of Mount Etna.

The link to the volcano is clearly visible all over Catania due to the many historic buildings that are made entirely out of lava stone.

Brief History of Catania

According to the historian Thucydides, Katane was founded after 729 BC by the settlers of Naxos, on what is known today as Benedictine Hill. In the century to follow, Charondas the lawgiver introduced a moderate political order, a mix of oligarchy and democracy, but it was taken away by the tyrant, Hieron I (or Hiero I) of Syracuse in 476 BC. The inhabitants of Catania who were deported under his jurisdiction, were not able to return to the city until 461 BC, 15 years later.

The Romans came to Catania in 236 BC, during the Punic Wars. Their government was prosperous and rich and stably flourished until the imperial age. It is well known that the year 535 was marked by the barbarian invasions and the Byzantine conquest, and Catania was firmly involved. Indeed, in the 9th century, it was occupied by the Muslims, who redistributed the land and set up intense agricultural and commercial activities.

etna monte catania mare

From 1071, the Normans were the masters: they were responsible for the construction of the Cathedral, used as a church-fortress, the restoration of the land and the sale of the monasteries. Upon their fall, there was a severe crisis that followed, which reached its peak after the earthquake of 1169.

Peace and stability finally came at the end of the 12th and much of the 13th century with Frederick II of Swabia: it was he who commissioned the construction of the Ursino castle completing the fortification of eastern Sicily, an expression of its immense power.

castello ursino sicilia

The Aragonese followed Frederick II at the end of the 13th century. Under their domination, Catania was chosen as the best place for the seat of the court by Palermo and also the Siculorum Gymnasium was founded, the first true prestigious Sicilian University. 

The great eruption of 1669 and the terrible earthquake of 1693 affected all of eastern Sicily and destroyed much of the city, bringing Catania’s economy to the ground. Thanks to the commitment and willpower of the inhabitants, Catania was rebuilt and managed to extend its borders, until it was elected provincial capital in the 19th century.

The wonders of the city

Catania is a city that stands out because of its environmental features and its peculiar landscapes. The very fact that it is located at the foot of Mount Etna, the largest volcano in the whole of Europe, makes the city a must-see destination for all of those visiting Sicily.

Here are just some of the main tourist attractions:

piazza duomo catania

Being a city with a thousand-year history, Catania is full of monuments and works of art that cannot be missed on ‘a list of things to see’ if you are visiting. In addition, in 2002 the old town and 7 municipalities of the Noto Valley were declared as Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Catania has been dominated by different cultures, which have left their mark. For this reason, there are many historic buildings and monuments dating back to the Roman Empire such as the Baths, the Roman Theatre, the Amphitheatre and, indeed, the “liotru” in Piazza Duomo (the ancient symbol of the city made completely out of lava stone and depicting an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk).

It is also definitely worth a visit to the Ursino Castle, built at the behest of Frederick II, which today houses the Civic Museum of Catania, displaying artifacts and testimonies of the long and troubled history of the city. But there are also many buildings in pure Baroque style, also elected as Unesco Heritage and built during the 18th century following the violent earthquake that hit the city.

The Baroque not to be missed

parco villa bellini catania

For nature lovers and outdoor excursions, Catania offers beautifully warm, sunny days inside the Bellini Garden, located in the centre and adjacent to Via Etnea, or in La Playa beach. A trip to Etna, the volcano, is not to be underestimated, giving visitors a wonderful surprise when they get to a certain altitude: spectacular sea views!

Finally, it would be wrong not to mention the Mediterranean Reptile Museum, which contains unique and rare collections of numerous species of reptiles that live in Europe and in tropical and exotic areas; as well as the Simeto Oasis, the river that passes through the city and a favourite place for various animal species, including endangered ones.

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