A busy industrial and commercial port town, Catania is the second largest city of Sicily. Situated at the base of Mt Etna, it was partially destroyed in a massive eruption in 1669 and, as reconstruction began, it was razed to the ground in 1693 by an earthquake that devastated much of the south-eastern part of the island. The 18th century a project to rebuild the city in grand baroque style was largely overseen by the architects Giovanni Vaccarini and Stefano Ittar.
The main train station and Intercity bus terminal are near Piazza Giovanni XXIII. From there, Corso Sicilia heads towards the city centre, about a 15 minute walk. Follow the road to Piazza della Repubblica and continue along Corso Sicilia to Via Etnea, the main thoroughfare running north off Piazza del Duomo. Most sights are concentrated around and west of Piazza del Duomo, while the commercial centre of Catania is farther north around Via Pacini and Via Umberto I.
Piazza del Duomo & Around
The principal square of Catania is easy to identify, as its centerpiece is the Fontana dell’Elefante, which was assembled by Vaccarini. The lava statue, carved possibly in the days of Byzantine rule, carries an Egyptian obelisk on its back. The architect worked on the square after the 1693 earthquake. He remodeled the 11th century cathedral , incorporating the original Norman apses and transept, and designed the Palazzo del Municipio (town hall) on the northern side of the square. It features an elegant baroque facade and it’s known as “Palazzo degli Elefanti” (Elephants’ Palace).
North along Via Etnea from Piazza del Duomo there are several buildings of interest. Facing each other on Piazza dell’Universita, there are two masterpiece designed by Vaccarini: Palazzo dell’Universita on the left and Palazzo San Giuliano on the right.
A few blocks north-east you’ll stumble onto Piazza Bellini that hosts the same named Theatre, an eye-catching example of the city’s architectural richness.
Roman Ruins & Churches
The Roman Theater, in Via Vittorio Emanuele, was built on the site of a Greek theatre in the 2nd Century AD. Its use of lava stone demonstrates how long the excretions of Etna have been put to good use. Next door is the Odeon, a smaller theatre used for more intimate occasions, such as musical performances. The Amphitheatre, found in Piazza Stesicoro at the crossroads of Via Etnea and Corso Sicilia is and not usually open to the public, though can be viewed from outside.
Situated at the center of the old town, this imposing structure was built by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen in the 13th century on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. However, the massive lava spill of the 1669 eruption pushed the sea back, creating in one fail swoop a new coastline and stripping Castello Ursino of its strategic position.
Catania celebrates the feast of its patron saint Agata from 3 to 5 February. During this period thousands of locals and tourists follow the Fercolo (a silver reliquary bust of the saint covered in marvellous jewels) that is carried along the main street of the city. There are also spectacular fireworks during the celebrations.