Baroque town at the foot of Mount Etna: Catania

Baroque town at the foot of Mount Etna: Catania © Gandolfo Cannatella /

Colorful town in the shadow of Mount Etna

The colorful town situated on the plain between Mount Etna and the sea is – with 650,000 inhabitants – the second largest in Sicily. It was founded by Greek settlers in the 8th century and its rise is owed to the port and the fertile lava soil. In 1669 the town was buried by Mount Etna and completely destroyed by an earthquake. After that it was rebuilt in the late baroque style. Today the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Worth seeing are the cathedral and the Elephant Fountain made of black lava stone.

Attractions Catania

L'Orto Botanico di Catania

Oasis of peace and quiet in the noise of the big city

The Botanical Garden of the University of Catania was established at the beginning of the 19th century as a scientific teaching garden. Today the Botanical Garden extends over an area of 16,000 square metres, divided into a general garden with many exotic plants and a smaller garden, the Hortus Siculus, dedicated to the flora of Sicily. The main building is a classicistic temple from 1857 – an oasis of peace and tranquillity in the middle of the hectic city.

La Pescheria

Catania's traditional fish market

From the cathedral square you can reach the fish market via a staircase. Against the backdrop of dark palazzi, merchants loudly advertise their goods early in the morning. The visit is an experience for all senses, especially for the nose. Swordfish (pesce spada) and sawfish (pesce spatola) lie rolled up on wooden boxes. The fishermen constantly pour water over their catch to keep it fresh. Squids, shrimps and mussels are other seafood. In the narrow streets around the fish market, traders sell meat, poultry and cheese in front of their shops, as well as mountains of fruit and vegetables, dried herbs and exotic spices. The colourful stands and the busy alleyways are reminiscent of Arab souks on the other side of the Mediterranean.

San Nicola Monastery

Sicilian baroque with lava putti

When the Normans expelled the Saracens from Catania in the 11th century, they had a Benedictine monastery built on the slopes of Mount Etna. In the 16th century Etna erupted and drove the monks from their ancestral place, whereupon the monastery in Catania was built. It became the second largest in Europe after the one in Mafra, Portugal. The construction of the monastery began in 1558 and it was inaugurated in the same year, still unfinished. In 1669 the lava flows reached the monastery again and destroyed the church. The monumental reconstruction of the church of San Nicola began around 1687, but remained unfinished. The façade is a typical example of Sicilian Baroque – with putti and lava, a typical building material for Catania. Today the university library is located here.

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