A stroll in Catania

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If you come to Sicily you have to visit Catania, the second most important city in the area after the capital Palermo. Like Palermo, you can get here easily by plane, or by train, a slower method of transport but more interesting as there are many colorful sights along the way. It is well connected to the other parts of the island by a good public transport system…

It lies on the east coast facing the Ionic sea and behind it looms Mount Etna with a majestic height of 3,323 meters above sea level. It remains snow-covered for many months of the year and often blows out a dark puff of smoke to remind us that it is still an active volcano, and taking a walk through the streets of Catania it can seem both protective and threatening at the same time…

The urbanistic aspect of the city is dominated by 18th century Baroque which takes its origins from a tragic event. As a matter of fact if the earthquake of 1669 saved the old city protected by a wall, the earthquake of 1693 brought more death and destruction, but gave the architect Vaccarini the opportunity to reconstruct Catania with main roads, squares, churches, palaces and monuments, that we can admire today. The centre, and symbol, of Catania is the fountain with the elephant that the local people call “U Liotru” from the Byzantine name Eliodoro, and the obelisk. The elephant is from the Roman era and is made from the dark lava of Mount Etna, the obelisk is Egyptian. Both decorate the beautiful square of the cathedral, which needs time to visit as it contains many treasures. The cathedral was built in Medieval times, even though it was rebuilt after the earthquake. It is dedicated to Saint Agatha, the patron saint who is celebrated in a feast involving the entire city, from the 3RD to 5th February. Inside, starting from its Norman structure, you can find treasures from different ages, from Roman sarcophagi to paintings and sculptures from the 1700 and 1800s. Next to the Amenano fountain (from which water flows from the underwater river of the same name) is an area well-loved by the Catanese people and which is full of life from early morning, the fish market. A popular market where you can find not only the best local fish but also other food products, a place which transmits aromas and flavors from which you can imagine yourself sitting at the dinner table. From here take via Garibaldi, marvel at Mazzini Square with its characteristic arched doorways and which is full of bars. Look for Giovanni Verga’s house and, before reaching the beautiful Garibaldi gateway with its arch of triumph, stop at the Ursino castle with its immense size, and its square shape surrounded by a moat. Built in the 13th century by Federico II of Sweden, inside it hosts the civic museum. Here, every evening, you can find all the young local people, it is a place teeming with life.
Let’s not forget the ancient history of Catania which was first a Greek colony, oppressed by the Syracuse, and then by the Romans. There are at least three buildings still preserved from that era: a theater, an amphitheater and the thermal baths. In this area the main reasons for visiting are the beautiful Baroque churches that you can admire while walking along via dei Crociferi, starting from the archway of San Benedetto, where there is also the church of the same name, and just after, the churches of San Francesco Borgia and San Giuliano, then there is the church of San Camillo and the adjacent convent of the “Padri Crociferi”. San Nicolò is both a church and a monastery, and is very impressive. Turning towards “I Cruciferi” take the direction north along via Etnea, with its beautiful 19th century houses. You can immediately see the volcano in front of you which continues to accompany you on this beautiful walk with many varied and interesting points. Here in place of the dark lava stone – greenery dominates. Enter villa Bellini, the public garden, that takes its name from the great Catanese musician (to which the city has dedicated the Baroque theater of the same name). Walking along the sidewalks look at the statues of well-known Sicilian celebrities as well as the many plants and colorful flowers, and if here the greenery seems ever so beautiful, just look a bit further and you will see a lot more. The botanical garden of the university.

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Roberta Zennaro

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