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Messina is located at the north eastern tip of Sicily (the closest point of Sicily to mainland Italy), and is the third largest city of the island.
Messina, like Syracuse and many other Sicilian cities was once populated by the Greeks.
Modern Messina has rather overtaken the splendors of Messina's past but non the less Messina has a rich historical and cultural tradition and offers a number of tourist attractions.
Messina's Cathedral is the key site of Messina and the current cathedral is of Norman origin though much has been rebuilt following damage in earthquakes. However some of the original building remains including a 15th century Gothic doorway and some 14th century mosaics. Next to the cathedral is its seperate 60 meter tall bell tower which is topped by an Astronomical clock with motorised figures that emerge each day at noon to depict scenes of local history.
The cathedral and bell tower are in the main square - the Piazza del Duomo. Also in the square is the fine 16th century Fontaine de Orione and the Palazzo Corvaia.
Another impressive fountain is the fountain of Neptune with a statue of Neptune holding a trident. Also to see is the Annunziate dei Catalani church built in the 13th century and which survived the 1908 earthquake. It is built with an attractive Arab-style of architecture.
Gothic architecture is rare in Sicily but the 13th century church of Santa Maria degli Alemmani is Gothic in style and was very popular with the Germans who lived in Messina in the 13th century.
One of the most important attractions is the Regional Museum of Messina which holds valuable works of art by artists such as Antonella de Messina and Caravaggio.
Head above the city for great views over the sea and city and explore the botanic gardens. Or explore the promontary by the harbour which is home to the San Salvatore fort and a lighthouse.
Since Messina is a coastal city, it features proximity to a number of beaches. The Capo Calava, Brolo, Mortelle and Capo d’Orlando are beaches near the city. Cape Calva is the right beach for those who would like to relax on a more isolated beach.
Messina's Turbulent Past
Messina began as a Sicilian settlement and then when the Greeks took it over in 756 BC it expanded rapidly into a major port. The Romans, the Saracens, the Moors and the Normans all gave it strategic importance.
During the Middle Ages Messina was a major departure point for the European Crusades and was visited by Richard the Lionheart and King Philip II of France.
Messina became the second most important city of Sicily after Palermo until the 17th century when Caterno overtook Messina.
Disasters have also been common to Messina and its role as a busy port led to it being the entry point of the Bubonic Plague into Europe.
Earthquakes have plagued Messina with a particularly devastating earthquake in 1908 which destroyed much of the historical architecture of the city. Most of the city was rebuilt after the incident. One of the major landmarks lost to the earthquake was the 12th century Cathedral of the city which was rebuilt in 1919.
The city was also victim to significant damage in bombing raids during the Second World War.
Places to Visit Nearby
Not far south along the coast from Messina is Taormina, which is another Sicilian coastal city and offers beautiful beaches of Giardini and Letojanni.
Messina is unique from the rest of the Sicilian cities, as it is very close to the Italian mainland. Messina is separated by 5 kilometers of the waters of the Strait of Messina from the Italian mainland province of Calabria. A bridge is often talked of but so far lack of funds has prevented this happening. For now a regular ferry crossing is the way to cross the Strait of Messina. Villa San Giovanni, an important landmark in Calabria, is just across the Messina straits from the town.
Explore the medieval centre and castle of Milazzo, another important coastal town of Sicily.
You can find more local travel ideas in the guide.