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Visit Catania

Catania is located on the eastern coast of Sicily by the Ionian Sea, halfway between Messina and Syracuse.

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, and is also a port town. In common with other Sicilian cities Catania has a rich historical heritage, and the foundations of the city are thought to predate the Romans - during the Roman Period the city was a well known city of the empire with a name very similar to its Italian variation: Catina.

The city suffered very extensive damage during an earthquake in 1693, hence a great deal of the baroque architecture we see today dates from the century that followed the tragedy.

Explore Catania

Spain This Way comment: Catania is not one of the unmissable stops on a visit to Sicily but does have some interesting monuments to explore. Try to visit on a sunny day as those buildings built of grey larva stone do not look their best on a cloudy day!

Bellini opera house in Catania

Due to its large number of fine Baroque buildings Catania has been listed as part of the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As in other Sicilian cites, Catania’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) has a central position in the city life. The elephant made out of larva and carrying an Egyptian obelisk is an unusual feature of the square and is the symbol of Catania.

Catania's Cathedral was originally built under King Roger I of Sicily though following an earthquarke, fire and then the 1693 earthquake only a small part remains of its Norman origins. The current cathedral is one of the key Baroque buildings of Catania and has a facade by Vaccarini.

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Agatha and the main door features 32 sculpted plaques with details of her life and martyrdom and her statue is the main statue on the facade of the cathedral. The main chapel inside is the Capppella di Sant'Agata which holds relics of the saint.

Also inside the cathedral is the tomb of Constance of Aragon and the treausury holds the body of a martyred woman from the 3rd century.

Aswell as the cathedral there are a number of fine buildings around the square including the Palazzo dei Chierci and the Palazzo degli Elefanti. Catania's famous fish market is near to the main square.

There are a good number of churches to be admired as you walk the streets of Canania. Many of them are also in Baroque style like the cathedral. Amongs these are: the Basilica della Collegiata, the San Placido church, the Badia di Sant Agata, the San Benedetto church, the Basilica di San Nicola l'Arena and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

Opera fans will be interested to know that the famous composer Vincenzo Bellini is buried in the cathedral of Catania. The Baroque opera house is named after him and puts on productions of many of his works.

Want to buy something Sicilian? Head for Via Etnea, a popular shopping avenue. This long street is lined with elegant shops and has magnificent views along its length to Mount Etna looming over the city. That is the case on a sunny day anyway. Mount Etna was shrouded in cloud during our visit!

Whilst Catania is not the prettiest of the Sicilian towns its centre is filled with elegant builidings and the town has an energy and a dynamism due to its university which is appealing and lends it a charm that makes you want to explore further.

As well as its Baroque monuments Catania has a number of Greek and Roman monuments of interest. These include a Greek-Roman Theater and Odeon, the Roman Thermal Baths, and the Catanian Roman Amphitheater.

Catania teatro antico

The Roman Baths are quite extensive and the entrance is just next to the cathedral. The baths are underneath the Piazza Duomo and there are seven distinct areas including the 'ephebeum' or gym and the 'frigidarium' and 'caldarium' where you could rest before bathing.

The Roman Theatre and Odeon are to the west of the Piazza Duomo on Via Vittorio Emanuele II. The theatre was built in the first century AD on an existing Greek building and could hold about 7000 people. Next to the theatre the Odeon was built for poetry and musical events and to rehearse events to take place in the theatre.

The Roman ampitheatre to the north of Piazza Duomo was one of the largest in the Roman Empire and could hold 15000 spectators. It is elliptical in shape and has an outer circumference of 309 meters. It was built to watch the battles between the gladiators and could even be flooded to alllow gladiators to compete in water battles. Much of the structure is currently covered by buildings but part of it has been excavated and preserved.

Also to see in Catania is the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolo l'Arena to the west of the Roman Theatre. The Monastery is build in late Baroque style and it can be visited. Two cloisters, a garden, a monumental staircase, the monks refectory and an archaeological museum are amongst the places of interest to viit in the Monastery.

South of the old centre the Castello Ursino is home to the Municipal Museum of Catania. The castle was built in the 13th century and its exhibits include Roman artifacts from excavations of the Roman theatre, Roman, medieval and Renaissance statues and Byzantine paintings.

St. Agatha is the patron saint of the city and her feast is celebrated on February 5.

In the shadow of Mount Etna

In common with Naples on the Italian mainland (which sits in the shadow of the notorious Mount Vesuvius), Catania is also a coastal city which is overshadowed by an equally devastating yet breathtaking volcano at Mount Etna - an active volcano that still erupts from time to time.

At 35 km north-west of Catania, and visible from much of the region, Mount Etna is a major source of interest for tourists to Catania. At 3370 metres high it is Europe's highest volcano, and it is still active.

You can arrange tours to the base or drive yourself. Once there you can walk up to the summit, or use the cable car or the 4*4 vehicules. Once above the cable car guides will lead walks around the summit and keep you at a safe distance from the acive craters. The black landscape is very eerie and well worth the trip.

Apparently the city has been buried in Lava from Mount Etna a phenomenal 17 times and remains of the Roman and Greek cities of earlier times are buried in the larva.

Where to visit nearby?

Visit the Norman castle of nearby Paterno or the archaeological site of Lentini to the south.

You can find more local travel ideas in the East Sicily guide and the guide.

See also:

Photos of Catania

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • ampitheater
  • basilica-di-maria
  • castello-ursino
  • catania-centre
  • catania-centre1
  • catania-centre2
  • cathedral-interiors
  • chiesa-san-giuliano
  • elephant
  • fish-market
  • monastery-benedictine
  • palazzo-dei-cherchi
  • palazzo-dell-universita
  • teatro-antico
  • theatre
  • villa-cerami

Map of Catania and places to visit

Catania places to visit

Aci-Trezza

Aci-Trezza

Aci-Trezza is a quiet fishing and seaside town with dramatic rocks in the sea.

>> Aci-Trezza guide
Acireale

Acireale

Acireale has some fine Baroque buildings in its centre.

>> Acireale guide
Paterno

Paterno

Paterno is home to an impressive Norman castle.

>> Paterno guide
Lentini

Lentini

Lentini is a quiet town with a few interesting monuments.

>> Lentini guide
Mount Etna

Mount Etna

Mount Etna is one of the few active volcanoes in Europe and it is possible to visit it

>> Mount Etna guide
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