10 things to do in Catania

1- Etna - Unesco Heritage

Classified as UNESCO World Heritage on June 2013 for his scientific, geological and cultural value, mount Etna, with its 3329 meters height, is the highest active volcano in Europe. His millenary volcanic activity and his burning lava flow have been the main reason for the interest of scientists, hikers and visitors from all over the world. Hiking along the trails, with always changing landscapes that blend together woods, hundred of years old lava flow, caves and active fumaroles, makes Etna a wonderful natural oasis.le.

2- Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata

Considered as the masterpiece of the architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini, the Church of St. Agatha’s Abbey was built upon the ruins of the previous Church destroyed by the earthquake that damaged Catania in 1693. The Church rises to the North side of the Duomo, stands on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, and it is the full expression of the Sicilian Baroque style. Its magnificent facade and majestic octagonal dome, are the symbols of this impressing building. Next to the St. Agatha’s Abbey Church you will find the convent of the nuns, that, both with the Church, creates a great complex.

3- Piazza Duomo

Expression of the ancient Baroque of Catania, Piazza del Duomo stands on the historical and artistical core of the city and it is the point of origin of Via Etnea. Porta Uzeda (1696), il Duomo (1739), la Cattedrale (1767), la Fontana dell’Amenano ed il Palazzo del Municipio (1741), all are creations of Vaccarini and surround the symbol of the city, “the fountain of the little elephant ”. Placed upon the pedestal of the fountain, “u liotru” is pointed towards the cathedral. Dating back to the Roman times, it is the black elephant made of lava which carries on its shoulders an Egyptian obelisk.

4- Palazzo Biscari

Built by the family Paternò Castello, together with the Baroque architect Alonzo di Benedetto, between 1707 and 1763, Palazzo Biscari is the most important palace in Catania. The interior decor is sumptuously decorated in rococò style, instead the window frames adorned on the exterior facade were designed by the sculptor Antonino Amato from Messina. Later Ignazio Biscari, the builder’s grandson, expanded the palace in order to get more space for his collections of paintings, vases, coins and more antiques objects. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, welcomed by the prince Biscari in 1787, reported in detail in his written about the magnificence of the collections and the palace.

5- Monastero dei Benedettini e Chiesa di San Nicolò all'Arena

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò is considered as one of the biggest Monastery of Europe, following only the Portuguese one of Mafra. It is a jewel of the Sicilian late baroque. The construction of the building started in 1558 when the Duke of Medinaceli decided to make the Monastery a mansion for 52 monks, mainly originated from aristocracy, who gave prominent role and cultural distinction to the structure right until they left, in 1866. Three years later, the Monastery passed under the propriety of the state, then hosted a military barrack and various institutes: that was the beginning of a long period of neglect and destruction. The sequence of events has been going on until recent days, when, especially thanks to the restoration works made by the architect De Carlo and the Technical Office of the University, the Monastery has been recognised by the Sicilian region as a Work of Contemporary Architecture and it became the location of the Faculty of Humanities in 1977. Moreover, since 2010, the organization “Officine Culturali” has been curating its promotion through a lot of different public initiatives such as guided tours, laboratories for children and adults, workshops, cultural events and entertainment.

6- Teatro Massimo Bellini

Built on a project by the Milanese architect Carlo Sada, the theatre was inaugurated on the night of the 31 May 1890 with the opera “Norma” by the composer from Catania Vincenzo Bellini. The inside is characterised by a wide room, with an excellent acoustics, four orders of stages and the gallery. Ernesto Bellandi made the ceiling frescos which potray images of Bellini and his major works: Norma, La Sonnambula, I Puritani, and il Pirata. The curtain is a work of Giuseppe Sciuti, a painter from Catania, and illustrates the victory of the people of Catania against the Libyans. At the Bellini have sung some of the greater operatic singers, such as Toti Dal Monte, Maria Caniglia, Magda Olivero, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, Ebe Stignani, the “divina” (celestial) Maria Callas, Mario Del Monaco, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Renata Scotto, Montserrat Caballé. In its room with 1200 seats every year occur an opera season, with 7 subscriptions round, and a symphony and chamber season, with 2 subscriptions round.

7- Terme Achilliane

The Achillian termal baths are a wonderful Roman heritage site hidden underground, right below Piazza Duomo, which represent a heritage of great historical and cultural importance for the city of Catania. There are very few information about their origins, but for some studies that prove their existence in the fourth century, under the control of the Roman Empire. Achillian termal baths can be easily reached through a short bottleneck placed on the right side of the facade of the Cathedral of Catania. They take their name from an ancient Greek inscription found upon a marble slab of the half of the V century A.C., which is currently exposed at the Civic Museum of the Ursino Castle. This place, just like others historic sites, had to deal with terrible natural events that, in the half of 1600, brought to her knees all Eastern Sicily. The devastating lava eruption of 1669, and the following earthquake of 1693 completely covered the termal area which was later enhanced in the 1700s in the will of Ignazio Paternò Castello, prince of Biscari.

8- Teatro Greco Romano

The Greek-Roman Theatre nestles between Via Teatro Greco and Via Vittorio Emanuele. It was built upon a Greek age pre-existing structure which was part of the ancient acropolis of Catania dating back to the II century A.C.. Here are some of the transformations that in time had characterized this important building: in 1908, the theatre, which has a seating capacity of about 7.000 people, in the will of the Count Ruggero was deprived of its marbles and stones in order to facilitate the construction of the St. Agatha Cathedral; the following lava eruption and earthquakes have spared the orchestra pit, the cavea and some parts of the scene. The evidence found during the digging out of the XVII century are now guarded inside the Council Museum.

9- La Pescheria

Describing the most representative places in Catania, the fish market is the one that surely holds the spirit, the history and the folklore of the city. It stands right behind Piazza Duomo and it extends from la porta di Carlo V up to Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto and Piazza Pardo, the Old town centre. Tourists from all over the world, citizens, curious people, everyday get caught by this mix of voices and noises. Fish work benches, fruit stands, traditional products, Catania lives in her market.

10- Castello Ursino

In Piazza Federico di Svevia stands the Ursino Castle, a fortress built by Federico II himself between 1239 and 1250 upon the foundations of a Norman fortress. At the beginning, it was surrounded by the sea but, after the lava eruption of Etna in 1669, the coastline gradually drifted apart. The castle has a square diagram with four wings gathered around an interior courtyard.
The Ursino Castle played a main role both during the Sicilian Vespers, when the Sicilian parliament hold session in the castle, and when Federico II was elected. Later, it was used as a prison instead. Today the castle hosts the civic museum where local finds, sculptures, porcelains, weapons and paintings of Sicilian school are exhibited. Of particular noteworthy is a hellenistic portray of Polyphemus blinded by Ulysses.

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