Captivating Catania

September 26th, 2008 | by Ainsley |

Catania, like so many of the enchanting towns and cities on the west coast of Sicily in Italy, is gloriously overlooked by the 3350m Mount Etna, while it in turn looks out onto the Ionian Sea.

Sicily’s second city, it is an irresistible mixture of various cultures down the ages, a city where Norman meets medieval, where Roman meets Greek.

A city of cathedrals topped by spectacular cupolas and glorious edifices of white limestone and black lava rock.
A city whose diverse influences are typical of the myriad of cultures that make Sicily, this land of such contrasts, the beguiling region of Italy that it is.

A city of the modern and the traditional. Amble along Via Etnea and gaze at its boutiques; relax in one of the trendy bars of the Bonajuto Lane and the Scalinata Alessi.

But for a taste of its rich past, stop for lunch at one of its numerous old butcher’s shops, visit its famous fish market and then, come nightfall, bed down in one of its Norman palaces now elegantly transformed into a glamorous modern hotel.

Any tour of Catania should start at the hub of the city, its main square, the 17th century Piazza del Duomo. This houses its cathedral; its famous elephant fountain, the city’s symbol; and also the Palazzo degli Elefanti.

A short stroll from here lies Via Crociferi, one of the most charming streets in Catania and boasting marvellous examples of 18th century Baroque architecture, in particular the Benedictine monastery and San Guiliani church.

If you are here, try to make time to take in the magnificent Ex Benedictine Convent nearby, now taken over by the local university.

Should you fancy a spot of lunch at this juncture, this part of Catania is well blessed with restaurants.

Highly recommended is the local delicacy of arancini ‒ rice croquettes packed with meat, cheese and tomato. Pasta alla norma is another local Sicilian staple and in addition the fresh fish, as you would expect from a seaside city, is almost uniformly without par.

As you continue your tour, Via Etnea is best appreciated slowly. This boulevard traverses Catania from Piazza Duomo to Piazza Stesicoro and allows you to view, in Piazza Stesicoro, the monument to Vincenzo Bellini, the early 19th century Sicilian composer, while opposite lie the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, dating from the second century BC.

This piazza also contains the Church of St Agata at the Furnace, one of eight churches in the city dedicated to its patron saint.

The ideal way to round off your visit to Catania is a relaxing stroll around the grounds of the 17.5 acre Villa Bellini public gardens, featuring beautiful squares, fountains and bridges.

However, no trip here is truly complete without seeing Mount Etna– Iddu to locals ‒ close up.

The mountain last erupted in 2002 and the area can be explored by hiking, cycling, horse-riding or in a 4×4 vehicle.

Getting to its summit offers spectacular views extending from the Gulf of Augusta to the Aeolian Islands to the Gulf of Augusta

The most relaxing way of discovering Mount Etna is undoubtedly by the Circumentea rail line. The train also stops off at the picturesque villages dotted around the foot of its slopes and two of the most beautiful are Linguaglossa, with its buildings in lava and sand stone, and Randazzo, renowned for its medieval architecture.

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