The plethora interesting things to explore in Catania
As the second largest city on the Italian Island of Sicily, Catania is an important economic hub for the country and is actually the 7th largest metropolis by area. With a population of 315.000 and a greater metropolitan population of 767.000, Catania lies on the eastern coast of Sicily directly in-between Siracusa in the South and Messina in the North. This city was originally founded as a Greek colony in ancient times and since then has been part of numerous Empires and cultures including the Carthaginians, the Roman Republic, the Ostrogoths and eventually became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
During the Renaissance period, Catania was one of the most influential cities in the country and was known for its rich culture, arts and history. Today, Catania maintains a huge amount of its heritage and culture and offers a plethora of interesting structures and museums such as the Basilica Sant’Agata and the Museo Civici. Furthermore, this charming Sicilian city lies in close proximity to the legendary Mount Etna and offers a great amount of different day trips and outdoor sight-seeing excursions. Lets explore the best things to do in Catania:
Basilica Cattedrale Sant’Agata
The Cathedral of Catania is a simply beautiful structure and is a masterpiece of Norman and Baroque architecture. Located in the centre of the old town, the cathedral can be found in the self-styled Piazza Del Duomo and is in close proximity to many of the other sights. Originally constructed in 1078 over the ruins of a Roman Baths, the cathedral has been restored many times due to earthquakes in the region. The front façade features a grey stone design with a series of ornate statues depicting religious figures and a large domed basilica sits at the back of the main aisle. Inside, there is a large amount of beautiful details such as the frescos at the main altar, the decorative artwork and paintings, and the tomb of the notable composer Bellini.
Sicily has several fine castles that serve as remnants from the period of conquest that saw the island change hands from various different ruling factions. Ursino Castle is a relic from the 13th century and was built as part of the Kingdom of Sicily by Emperor Frederick II. Today the castle stands in remarkable condition and all four of its original towers and walls still stand without damage; furthermore, remnants of the surrounding walls can also be seen in the castle grounds. Walk around the castle for some photographic opportunities, but also visit inside to see the fantastic Museo Civico which is housed within the castle walls.
Catania virtually sits in the shade of the immense Mount Etna, and this active stratovolcano is one of the main tourist attractions of Sicily. Mount Etna stands at a height 3329m and is considered the tallest active volcano in Europe. The most recent eruption was in 2015 and the volcano actually discharged some lava. When travelling to Catania, you cannot pass up on the chance to climb Mount Etna and witness its gaping caldera up close. Various tour operators offer day trips to the Volcano, You can choose to hike, cycle, or even ride an ATV or a jeep, The choice is yours. When at the top of Mount Etna, on a clear day the scenery is unbelievable and you are granted with fantastic views of Sicily.
Monastero dei Benedettini
This Benedictine Monastery complex is located in the centre of Catania and is one of the most important and largest examples of its kind in Europe. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this monastery is a stunning piece of architecture and was originally founded in 1558. As a mix of many styles, the complex is an interesting site and notable structures include the Marble Cloister, the Red Hall, and the Basilica of Saint Nicolo. Consider climbing to the top of the basilica dome for panoramic views of the city; admire the front façade that features sculptured window decorations, and walking through the cloisters to see the fantastic arches and fountains.
Piazza Del Duomo
As the main square in Catania, the Piazza Del Duomo has a great deal to offer in terms of attractions. Located in the heart of the city close to the port area, this central square is a regular gathering place for the locals and a great tourist spot. In the centre of the square is the impressive Fontana Dell’Elefante, the Fontana Dell’Amenano, Catania Cathedral and the Palazzo degli Elefanti. All fine pieces of architecture. Furthermore there is a series of cafes and restaurants with ideally situated outside seating so you can have a drink, a bite to eat, and enjoy the fine Sicilian weather. The Piazza Del Duomo is a great place to start a walking tour of Catania, and from here you are in close proximity to many of the main sights.
San Nicoló L’Arena
Connected to the Monastero dei Benedettini, the Chiesa di San Nicoló L’Arena is built over the site of a Greek Acropolis and several of the original columns still stand on the front façade. This is actually the largest church in Sicily and is one of the most bizarre. Its front façade has never been complete therefore looks quite strange and sinister. Furthermore, the ancient Greek columns do not really compliment the design therefore the church looks quite mismatched. Inside, the church is more pleasing and features a myriad of columns, arches and religious decoration.
Sicily has several Roman Theatres all of which are in fantastic condition, and the Teatro Romano in Catania is no exception. Located in-between the Benedictine Monastery and Catania Cathedral the theatre is easily accessible and is a great site to visit whilst exploring the historic centre of the city. Created in the 2nd century BC, the theatre features a main seating area and also a smaller Odeon theatre to the left hand side. The seats of the theatre and several other sections are actually created from lava taken from Mount Etna and the structure remains in fantastic condition.
Possibly one of the most impressive structures in Catania, this monumental gate was created in 1768 and dedicated to King Ferdinand IV and his wife Maria Carolina. Designed and built by Francesco Battaglia and Stefano Ittar, the arch is now named after Giuseppe Garibaldi who was instrumental in the unification of Italy during the 1800’s. Aside from the various stone and marble statues that top the arch, the white and black striped walls and frame create a fantastic contrast and make the arch stand out. At the pinnacle of the gateway is an inscription and also a working clock that is crowned with and eagle.
San Giovanni Li Cuti
This beach is a true natural phenomenon and features black volcanic sands, ash and a multitude of volcanic rocks. Located on the east coast of Sicily, opposite the Via Zoccolanti, the San Giovnani Li Cuti is a great place to explore and escape from the busy city. A small harbour is located at the northern end of the beach and is full of old wooden fishing boats that are still used by the locals, and behind this is several bars and restaurants. There is also several sections of wooden decking complete with sunbeds, consider relaxing for a while here, enjoying the sea air and exploring the volcanic beach.
Via dei Crociferi
This historic street is one of the main arteries of the city and features a plethora of historical buildings. Located in-between the Roman Theatre and the Giardini Bellini, the Via dei Crociferi features four spectacular churches: The Church of St. Francesco Borgia, The Church of San Benedetto, The Church of St. Francis Assisi and the Church of San Giuliana. Each building has its own unique design and offers something different. Furthermore, there is also the San Benedetto Arch and the cloisters of the Jesuit College. Consider visiting this street in conjunction with a trip to the Roman Theatre.