Piazza del Duomo is the main square of the city and certainly the most spectacular. In it converge three main streets: Via Etnea, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi and Via Vittorio Emanuele II. On the eastern side of the square stands the Duomo di Catania (Cattedrale di Sant'Agata), dedicated to Sant'Agata the patron saint of the city celebrated every February on the 5th, the biggest celebration in the city.
Piazza del Duomo (in blue) with main attractions (in yellow). The cloudy blue area south west of the Piazza is the Pescheria.
Cathedral of Sant'Agata seen from Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The Cathedral of Sant'Agata has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and eruptions of the nearby Mount Etna. It was originally constructed in 1078-1093, on the ruins of the ancient Roman Achillean Baths, by order of Roger I of Sicily, who had conquered the city from the Islamic emirate of Sicily. At the time it had the appearance of a fortified church (ecclesia munita).
The Cathedral of Sant'Agata.
The Cathedral of Sant'Agata (details).
The Norman apses (1094) of the Cathedral of Sant'Agata.
The current appearance of the cathedral dates from 1711 and it is work of Gian Battista Vaccarini, who designed a new Baroque façade after the 1693 earthquake. It has three levels with Corinthian columns made of granite, perhaps taken from the Roman Theatre of the city. It is decorated with marble statues: the most prominant is the one of Saint Agatha over the entrance, and the ones of Saint Euplius and Saint Birillus on either side of the entrance.
In 1169 the church was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake, leaving only the apse area intact. Further damage was caused later by a fire, but the most catastrophic event was the 1693 earthquake, which again left it mostly in ruins. Today, traces of the original Norman edifice include part of the transept, the two towers and the three semicircular apses, composed of large lava stones, most of them recovered from imperial Roman buildings.
The Saint Agatha's niche of the baroque façade of the Cathedral of Sant'Agata.
Inside the Cathedral of Sant'Agata.
The cupola and detail of the 11th-century Norman transept seen from the south (Giardino Pacini).
The main door, in wood, has 32 sculpted plaques with episodes of the life and martyrdom of Saint Agatha, papal coats of arms and symbols of Christianity.
The dome dates from 1802.
The cathedral has a Latin cross groundplan, with a nave and two aisles. In the southern aisle (on a pilaster) there is the tomb of the composer Vincenzo Bellini.
Also notable is the Chapel of St. Agatha.
Cathedral of Sant'Agata. On the left is Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata.
Across the square from the Duomo there are a couple of cafes, where you can rest enjoying some of the local pastries.
One of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of Christian antiquity, Agatha (Agata) was put to death during the persecution of Decius (250–253AD) in Catania, for her determined profession of faith. Agatha was born in Catania and died there. She is buried at the church of the Badia di Sant'Agata (on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 182).
According to the 13th-century "Golden Legend" by Jacobus de Voragine, fifteen-year-old Agatha, from a rich and noble family, made a vow of virginity and rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus, who thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and force her to marry.
His persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, so Quintianus, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of Decius, had her arrested and brought before the judge. He was the judge. He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying: "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil."
"St Peter Healing St Agatha", by Giovanni Lanfranco (c. 1614)
With tears falling from her eyes, she prayed for courage. To force her to change her mind, Quintianus sent Agatha to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel, and had her imprisoned there. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of rape, assault, and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. Quintianus sent for her again, argued, threatened, and finally had her put in prison and had her tortured. She was stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped.
"Martyrdom of Saint Agatha", by Sebastiano del Piombo.
After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, Saint Agatha was then sentenced to be burnt at the stake, but an earthquake saved her from that fate; instead, she was sent to prison where St. Peter the Apostle appeared to her and healed her wounds. Saint Agatha died in prison, probably in the year 251 according to the Legenda Aurea.
Although the martyrdom of Saint Agatha is authenticated, and her veneration as a saint had spread beyond her native place even in antiquity, there is no reliable information concerning the details of her death.
"Saint Agatha bearing her severed breasts on a platter", by Piero della Francesca.
Amongst the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts with pincers.
Although the martyrdom of Saint Agatha is authenticated, and her veneration as a saint had spread beyond her native place even in antiquity, there is no reliable information concerning the details of her death.
Saint Agatha is the patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, wet nurses, and bellfounders (due to the shape of her severed breasts). She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires.
The martyrdom of Saint Agatha has been a very popular subject in art, especially in painting; and it even "visualised" in the form of the "Cassatelle di sant'Agata", a typical Sicilian sweet shaped as a breast, representing the cut breasts of Saint Agatha.
Cassatella di sant'Agata.
"Saint Agatha Attended by Saint Peter and an Angel in Prison", by Alessandro Turchi.
Agatha of Sicily.
Il busto reliquiario di sant'Agata.
On 17 August 1126, the relics returned from Constantinople to the Cathedral of Catania. These remains are now partly preserved inside the precious silver bust, which was built in 1376. In fact, in the head, covered by a crown donated by the English king Richard the Lionheart passing through Catania to return from a Crusade, the skull of the holy catanese was inserted, while the chest is inserted in the chest of the silver bust. The bust was made by the artist Giovanni di Bartolo, commissioned by the bishop of Catania, Marziale who fulfilled a wish of Pope Gregorio XI, and it has over 300 jewels and ex votos.
Sant’Agata’s feast day is celebrated in the first week of February. This is the most important celebration in Catania with parades and events lasting for days. The religious ceremonies take place for 3 days (3-5 February), during which occurs a tour in the streets of the city of the reliquary bust of St. Agatha (Il busto reliquiario di sant'Agata).
Among these jewels are: two large golden silver angels that are placed on either side of the bust of Sant'Agata; a 15th century necklace set with emeralds, donated by the people of Catania even though many attribute this gift to the viceroy Ferdinando De Acuna; a large, elaborated cross from the 16th century; the collar of the French Legion of Honor belonged to the Catania musician Vincenzo Bellini; pectoral crosses belonging to the bishops of Catania, Dusmet, Francica Nava, Ventimiglia; a ring that belonged to Queen Margherita who donated it in 1881 during a visit to Catania.
On the north side of Piazza del Duomo is the Palazzo degli Elefanti, that is, the Town Hall. The building begun in 1696 after the devastating 1963 earthquake, on an design by Giovanni Battista Longobardo. The eastern, southern, and western façades were however designed at a later stage by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, while the northern one was by Carmelo Battaglia.
Palazzo degli Elefanti.
The staircase opening to the inner court with four porticoes was added in the late 18th century by Stefano Ittar. In the second floor are paintings by the Sicilian artist Giuseppe Sciuti.
Detail from Palazzo degli Elefanti.
Porta Uzeda. On the right is Palazzo dei Chierici and on the left Palazzo del Seminario dei Chierici.
The southern border of Piazza del Duomo is formed by the Museo Diocesano di Catania, which is adjacent to the Cathedral, and the Palazzo del Seminario dei Chierici. The two buildings are connected by means of a passage over Porta Uzeda. Outside Porta Uzeda, behind the impressive arches of the Marina which support the train tracks, Giardino Pacini and Piazza Paolo Borselino are located.
The porta di Carlo V, just on the right of Porta Uzeda is part of the only remainings of the city walls.
Palazzo dei Chierici seen from inside the Palazzo degli Elefanti (left). Via Etnea seen from Porta Uzeda (top right) and Porta Uzeda from outside the walls (bottom right).
Taking center stage on Catania's showpiece Piazza del Duomo is the Catania's most memorable monument and the symbol of the city, the marble Fontana dell'Elefante, a monumental work created between 1735 and 1737 by the architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini.
The base of the fountain is made of a white marble pedestal located in the center of a basin, also in marble, in which jets of water fall out of the basement. On the base two sculptures reproduce the two rivers of Catania, the Simeto and the Amenano.
The basic element of the fontana is an adorable, smiling elephant, known locally as "u Liotru", a lava stone statue dating probably from the Roman period. The elephant, has its proboscis turned towards the cathedral of Sant'Agata.
This elephant of uncertain age was originally carved from a single block of lava stone, but following the earthquake of 1693 the hind legs were shattered, restored by Vaccarini himself. During the restoration the architect added the white eyes and limestone tusks.
On the sides of the elephant falls a marble gualdrappa on which are engraved the coats of arms of St. Agatha, patroness of Catania. Liotru, who according to local folklore, possesses magical powers, is surmounted by an improbable Egyptian obelisk.
Most probably, the statue of the elephant symbol of the City of Catania was the gnomon of a sundial at the center of Piazza Duomo.
Thus, the monument used to measure time with the help of the sun light and therefore an "eliotrico” ("heliotropic"), became "liotru" in the local dialect. The quadrant on which the shadow projected on the ground has not survived, if ever existed.
The link between Catania and liotru is very old. An ancient legend tells of an elephant who was hunting ferocious animals around the time of the foundation of Greek Katane.
The 3.66 meters high obelisk, in granite, has no hieroglyphs, but is decorated with figures of Egyptian style that do not constitute a hieroglyphic writing of complete meaning. Of uncertain chronology, perhaps it was one of the two obelisks of the ancient Roman circus of Catania; the other one, more fragmentary, is in the courtyard of the Castello Ursino.
On the top of the obelisk a globe was mounted, surrounded by a crown of a palm leaf (representing martyrdom) and a branch of lilies (representing purity), above a small metal tablet on which there is an inscription dedicated to St. Agatha with the acronym "MSSHDPL" ("Mente sana e sincera, per l'onore di Dio e per la liberazione della sua patria" -"Healthy and sincere mind, for the honor of God and for the liberation of homeland"), and finally a cross.
Under Muslim domination, the city was known as Balad-el-fil or Medinat-el-fil, meaning "elephant city". The Liotru became an official symbol of the city only in 1239; before then, the city emblem was the effigy of St. George.
The pachyderm inserted in the municipal coat of arms and in that of the province and the university. Today it is the mascot of the main local sports clubs, including Calcio Catania and Amatori Catania.
Liotru is the official symbol of the city of Catania (far right) and the mascot of local sports clubs.
The Liotru (also called, more rarely, Diotru) owes its name to the crippling of the name Eliodoro (Heliodorus).
According to the popular legend, Heliodorus was a Catanese nobleman who had tried unsuccessfully to become bishop of the diocese. Having fallen into disgrace, he became an apostate and considered "a disciple of the Jews, a necromancer and a blacksmith of idols" or simply a black wizard.
He embraces the black magic and the demons he unleashes torment the city of Catania: turning men into wild beasts, making raw metals appear like gold coins, stones become precious diamonds that, after the purchase, show themselves as useless junk.
Heliodorus, the evil Heliodorus, makes himself a fearsome enemy of a holy and devout town. Bishop Leo II the Thaumaturge condemns him to be burned alive in the Forum Achelles.
The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, Vatican Museums, The Vatican.
Saint Leo Thaumaturgo defeats the wizard Eliodoro. Oil on canvas of the XVIII century by Matteo Desiderato. Mother Church of Santa Maria di Licodia.
He tries to flee away. But moving on foot, even if you are a big magician, is a real struggle! He decided, therefore, to shape a faithful and powerful animal of lava rock.
Thus, Liotru was carved and forged by the red-hot lava of Etna and, once completed, ridden like a steed while the hands of Heliodorus hurl terrible spells.
Nobody manages to defeat the terrible magician: the emperor of Constantinople himself, exasperated by the fatal news coming from the city of Catania, sends expeditions of philosophers, armies, intellectuals and saints of all kinds, but no one manages to stop the terrible Heliodorus, who is unbeatable thanks also to the mighty stone elephant. But the bad guys are always destined to lose: bishop Leo II, who become later a saint, with his faith manages to destroy, little by little, every emblem, every stronghold of the power of Heliodorus and, during a mass that the magician wants to disturb, the bishop throws to his neck a holy stole and there, in the sacred words of the Church, it expels the soul reducing him to ashes.
The Terme Achilliane (baths) are located about 4-5 meters below Piazza del Duomo. Access to the baths is possible by a staircase on the right of the façade of the cathedral (by the Diocesan Museum of Catania).
Under the square flows the underground Amenano river, whose waters rise to the surface in the nearby Amenano fountain, the only point the river surfaces in the city.
Catania's raucous pescheria (fish market), which takes over the streets behind Piazza del Duomo every workday morning, is street theatre at its most thrilling. The fish market is a true hymn to one of the most ancient economic resources of Catania and today it is also a place of unquestionable tourist attraction. The market occupies Piazza di Benedetto Alonzo, the streets around it and through Porta di Carlo V overflows to Piazza Pardo, Piazza dell' Indirizzo and the space under the neighboring Archi della Marina. We should not forget that, what is today a green space outside the walls, used to be the fishing port of the city.
The only point the Amenano river surfaces (Piazza del Duomo).
The fountain, which was built in 1867 by the Neapolitan master Tito Angelini with Carrara marble, depicts the river Amenano as a young man holding a cornucopia from which water is poured into a convex tank. The water, overflowing from this tank, produces a cascading effect that gives the sensation of a sheet. Behind the fountain, a lava stone staircase leads to the Pescheria, a 19th century fish-market that, together with the Vucciria of Palermo, is one of the major folk attractions of the two Sicilian cities.
Pescheria, the Piazza di Benedetto Alonzo.
Behind the Amenano fountain, a lava stone staircase leads to the Pescheria, a very old city market.
Tables groan under the weight of decapitated swordfish, ruby-pink prawns and trays full of clams, mussels, sea urchins and all manner of mysterious sea life. Fishmongers gut silvery fish and high-heeled housewives step daintily over pools of blood-stained water. It's absolutely riveting. Actually, one of my favorite things about the Catania fish market is not just the activity of the pescheria itself, but the crowd that it attracts. Really all this has to do with observing the people watchers who come to observe the bustle.
But man cannot live on fish alone, so there are also other market stalls located on the level above the fishy hubbub. Decidedly more lowkey, there are butchers, cheesemongers and fruit and vegetable sellers, but the star of the show remains the Catania fish market.
On the east of the square, on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, stands the 18th century Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata. The church is located opposite the north elevation of the cathedral, and occupies, along with the annexed former Monastery (now owned by the city and houses also the Tourist Information Center on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 172), the entire block bounded by Via Raddusa, via Santa Maria del Rosario and Via Sant'Agata.
With an elegant concave-convex facade, the church was designed by architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. The architect's death in 1768 saw Nicolò Daniele take over completion of the interior, his own contributions including the dramatic Carrara marble floor and amber-coloured altars in Castronovo marble. The 'pièce de résistance', however, is the spectacular, 360-degree panorama from the dome, which takes in the city's rooftops and domes, and a brooding Mt Etna to the north.
The church that we see today rests on the ruins of an older (1620) church and convent dedicated to Sant'Agata, designed by Erasmo Cicala and which collapsed because of the earthquake of 1693.
The roads around Pescheria are occupied by butchers, cheesemongers and fruit and vegetable sellers.
The entrance to Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata on Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata.
Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata.
walk no 4
VIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II -EAST
Via Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the most important streets of Catania. It develops through the historic center, from the sea and Piazza dei Martiri, to the western part of the city and Piazza Risorgimento.
Along the path of Via Vittorio Emanuele II (previously Strada Reale) there are numerous palaces and monuments, evidence of cultures and dominations that, over the centuries, have affected Catania. At the exact half of its extension crosses with Via Etnea and, therefore, with Piazza Duomo, forming the road septum which overlooks the Palazzo degli Elefanti.
Note: for practical reasons I split this walk into two parts:
👍Via Vittorio Emanuele II-east, and
👍Via Vittorio Emanuele II-west.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II walk - East of Duomo.
Start the Via Vittorio Emanuele II walk from Piazza Duomo and head east. After passing by Chiesa della Badia di Sant'Agata, soon you come to Piazza San Placido, where the homonymous late Baroque church of San Placido stands. Nearby, on Via Museo Biscari, stands the prestigious Palazzo Biscari.
The construction of the church of Chiesa di San Placido took place on the ruins of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the god Bacchus, a place of worship for the religious tradition of Catania, since it is said that once here stood the birthplace of St. Agatha, patroness of the city. This 15th century church was razed to the ground by the catastrophic earthquake of the Val di Noto in 1693, which destroyed Catania. On the initiative of the only three nuns who survived from the rubble of the earthquake, the reconstruction started, which entrusted to the architect Stefano Ittar. The new church was consecrated in 1723.
The 15th century church was razed to the ground by the catastrophic earthquake of the Val di Noto in 1693, which destroyed Catania. On the initiative of the only three nuns who survived from the rubble of the earthquake, the reconstruction was started, entrusted to the architect Stefano Ittar, and the new church was consecrated in 1723.
Chiesa di San Placido.
The facade of the church, in Sicilian baroque style, is made of white stone of Taormina. The facade is concave in the middle and ends at the sides with two sharp points. On either side of the single entrance door are the statues of saints Placido and Benedetto and above them, in smaller dimensions, those of the saints Scolastica and Geltrude. The entrance is enclosed by an artistic wrought iron grating, convex in shape, with the coat of arms of St. Benedict in the center. On the top of the façade there is a bell tower with three bells.
Palazzo Platamone (Palazzo della Cultura) is located Adjacent to Chiesa di San Placido. Testimony of late medieval and Renaissance architecture, it owes its name to the Platamone family, among the most illustrious families of Catania in the fifteenth century.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II with Palazzo della Cultura in the middle left.
After the terrible earthquake of 1693, the remains of the former Monastery of San Placido and of the Palazzo Platamone (already donated by the Platamone family to the Benedictines in the 15th ce) were integrated for the construction of the current Palace of Culture (Palazzo della Cultura). After numerous renovations, the only late-medieval testimony of those buildings is represented by the loggia, which overlooks a small balcony that seems almost set against the backdrop of the monastery courtyard.
The rows of arches that line the rectangular courtyard seem to embrace the whole building. In the middle you can still see the emblem of the Platamone family, which represents a mountain with three shells and a lily on top. Today the Palace of Culture is used as a venue for important cultural events, exhibitions and concerts.
Behind Palazzo Platamone (to the south) stands Palazzo Biscari, built by will of the Paternò Castello family, the princes of Biscari.
The construction started in the late 17th century, but the 1693 earthquake destroyed the first building and the new palace was built directly against the city walls (Charles V's walls), which had partially withstood the earthquake.
The palace went through alternations and add-ons, finished in 1763 and inaugurated with big celebrations. The palace is accessed through a large portal facing via Museo Biscari, leading to the inner courtyard, which features a large double staircase. In the interior stands out the "Feasts Hall", in Roccoco style, with a complex decoration of mirrors, stuccoes and frescos painted by Matteo Desiderato and Sebastiano Lo Monaco. The small dome, destined to the orchestra, has a fresco depicting the glories of the Paternò Castello di Biscari family. It is accessed through a staircase decorated in stucco within the gallery facing the sea.
Teatro Massimo Bellini.
The only late-medieval testimony of the Palazzo Platamone is represented by the loggia, which overlooks a small balcony that seems almost set against the backdrop of the monastery courtyard (on the right of the picture).
Palazzo Biscari, the side facing the sea.
Palazzo Biscari. Exterior decorative detail.
Two blocks north from Palazzo Platamone, stands the Teatro Massimo Bellini, the opera house of Catania, named after the local-born composer Vincenzo Bellini. The theater was inaugurated on the 31st of May 1890 with a performance of the composer's masterwork, Norma.
The exterior of the house matches the distinctive Sicilian Baroque style of the neighboring buildings of the late seventeenth century.
Teatro Massimo Bellini. Details of the facade.
Maria Callas as Norma in Teatro Massimo Bellini (left). On the right, the theater in the 50s.
Throughout its history, the opera house has performed almost all of Bellini’s work. From its beginnings, a wide variety of operas have been performed by some highly renowned singers. In 1951, to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bellini, Maria Callas sang Norma, repeating her success in 1952 and 1953.
The theater faces the circular Piazza Vincenzo Bellini, surrounded by typical Catanese buildings.
From Piazza Bellini take Via Landolina back to Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
Its marble foyer, the “Ridotto”, is ornate and a statue of Bellini is located between the central arches. The beautiful red-plush interior includes the main floor seating and four tiers of boxes. Surrounding them, on the upper level, are unusual arched arcades. The painted ceiling by Ernesto Bellandi depicts scenes from four of Bellini’s most well-known operas.
Piazza Vincenzo Bellini.
Continue eastwards. On Via Bonajuto, on the lower floors of a building stands the Bonajuto chapel, a byzantine church dated from the 6th-9th century.
Further east, opposite Piazza Cutelli, stands the Cutelli boarding school (Convitto Nazionale Mario Cutelli), designed by Francesco Battaglia and Gian Battista Vaccarini commissioned by Mario Cutelli, another example of great eighteenth-century architecture (1761). These two architects, in 1776, designed also the monumental Palazzo Reburdone, now home (together with Palazzo Pedagaggi) of the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Catania, located to the end of Via Vittorio Emanuele II, just before Piazza Martiri della Libertà by the train tracks and the sea.
Piazza Martiri della Libertà, at the east end of Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
South of the eastern part of Via Vittorio Emanuele II and all the way to the arches of the elevated train tracks (archi della Marina), there is one of city's oldest neighborhoods: a labyrinth of roads with beautiful houses and palazzi, alas in a very deteriorating condition.
It is really worth walking around these narrow streets with the charm of the old. At the center of the neighborhood stands Largo XVII Agosto, a square that was born from a bomb and was given the name of that date: August the 17th 1943.
Around Largo XVII Agosto.
The neighborhood north of the port, around Largo XVII Agosto.
As this has been for decades the most neglected and infamous part of Catania, the city decided to put the neighborhood back into the map. In 2008 the renovations were completed in this pulsating heart of the city: mainly of the XVII Agosto square and of the neighboring streets like via Vadalà and via Billotta. The works consisted of the total repaving, the installation of new lighting, the fitting of benches and trees.
In 2010, Italian and international artists invited to give life and color to the gray façades of the buildings facing the square: works by Bo130 and Microbo among others.
Alas, after only a short period, degradation and negligence gave way to the decoration and elegance of simple and pleasant solutions.
Today, the Archi della Marina support the train tracks and separate the city from the modern port. Where the tracks stand today used to be the seafront back in the time the city of Catania built after the big earthquake.
If you have the time cross under the train tracks (archi della Marina) to the recently renovated Vecchia Dogana building on the port.
The building has been advertised and praised a lot as “the place to be”. It houses many restaurants and bars, but really it has no interest for the tourist at all.
The Vecchia Dogana building.
The Catania port.
VIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II -WEST
Via Vittorio Emanuele II - looking towards the west.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II walk - West of Duomo.
Piazza San Francesco d'Assisi with the church of St. Francis of Assisi to the Immaculate and the statue of Cardinal Dusmet.
Start the second part of your walk on Via Vittorio Emanuele II from Piazza Duomo. A couple of blocks to the west stands the spectacular Piazza San Francesco d'Assisi with the church of St. Francis of Assisi to the Immaculate (Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata) and the statue of Cardinal Dusmet.
Opposite the church, across the square, is the elegant Palazzo Gravina Cruyllas, where Vincenzo Bellini lived. The Belliniano Civic Museum and the Emilio Greco Museum are housed here. In the rooms dedicated to Emilio Greco there are 159 works, including lithographs and etchings, made between 1955 and 1992.
The other noble residence on Piazza San Francesco is the imposing Palazzo Platania (19th century), which occluded to the east the view of the external façade of the Teatro Antico.
Inside the church of St. Francis of Assisi to the Immaculate (left). Palazzo Platania (top right). Detail of the exterior of the church (bottom right).
The San Francesco d'Assisi square marks the beginning of the historic Via dei Crociferi, the street that is considered the finest example of the Sicilian Baroque. The street, surrounded by churches, monasteries and a few civilian houses, is an example of the unity of Baroque architecture.
In the short length of about 200 meters there are four churches. The first is the church of San Benedetto connected to the convent of the Benedictine nuns (Monastero delle Benedettine). The monastery is consisted of two parts: badia grande and badia piccola. The two parts are connected over the road by the 1704 San Benedetto arch. Since 2013, badia piccola houses the MacS (Museo Arte Contemporanea Sicilia). The church of San Benedetto is accessed by a small staircase and is surrounded by a wrought iron gate.
Continuing north we find the second church, the church of San Francesco Borgia, which is accessed via two staircases.
The San Benedetto arch and the beginning of Via dei Crociferi.
Chiesa di San Giuliano (left). Via San Benedetto separates the two churches of San Francesco Borgia and San Benedetto (middle). The painted dome of San Francesco Borgia (right).
The staircase of San Guliano and the Drogheria Artistica Vladivostock next door. At the background one can see the top of San Benedetto and the arch.
The two churches are separated by the small Via San Benedetto that leads to the Asmundo Francica-Nava Palace, jutting out onto Piazza Asmundo di Gisira.
In front of the church of San Francesco Borgia the street is wider forming an open space, something like a piazza. Here, one can enjoy his cafe or drink integrated into this unique "baroque theatrical stage". When I visited, during a bright winter day, I sat outside Drogheria Artistica Vladivostock enjoying my drink and absorbing as much as possible of this magical atmosphere.
Enjoying my coffee at Drogheria Artistica Vladivostock.
The entrance to the Villa Cerami at the background, and the stairs at the end of Via dei Crociferi leading down to Via Etnea (via Via Penninello).
Back to Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
Continue further west (up the hill) and you come across two witnesses of Roman Catania: the Roman Theater (Teatro Romano di Catania) and the smaller Odeon.
This is the area of the ancient Greek Catania (Katane). The road rising up to the hill is already an indication that you are on the way to the former Greek Acropolis.
The Greek theater (Teatro Greco) was once located on the southern slope of the Acropolis, the same theater in which Alcibiades spoke to the inhabitants of Catania during the Peloponnese war.
Following is the Jesuit college, the old seat of the Art Institute, with its beautiful cloister.
Opposite the college is the church of San Giuliano considered one of the most beautiful examples of the Baroque of Catania. The building, attributed to the architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini, has a convex prospect and clean and elegant lines.
Continuing and crossing the Via Antonino di San Giuliano, you can admire the uphill perspective of this street and then the church of San Camillo.
At the end of the street there is Villa Cerami, which is the seat of the Faculty of Law of the University of Catania.
Teatro Romano. The church seen at the back, outside the theater, is Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata.
Teatro Romano details.
The Orchestra of the Teatro Romano.
The Greek theater was later rebuilt by the Romans into a complex of a large theater and a smaller Odeon, which are the buildings we see today. The auditorium of the Roman theater with its two walkways has a diameter of 100 metres and was probably designed for approximately 7,000 spectators. The seats, steps and the orchestra are made of black lava rock, except the front seat rows which are dressed in white marble. The Odeon, which is directly connected west of the Teatro Romano, is also built of lava rock and is slightly higher than the theater.
The Odeon seen from the north-west (corner of Via Teatro Greco & Via Sant'Agostino).
Since the Roman theater was later partially obscured by baroque buildings, it is difficult to discern from the outside. The entrance to the archeological site is at Via Emanuele 266. Admission fee: 6.00 €.
Exit from the theater complex on Via Vittorio Emanuele II and after some meters turn righ at the second street (Via Sant'Agostino) till you see on your right hand the excavations of Terme della Rotonda.
This is a big monumental complex of Roman thermal baths, dated to the 1st-2nd century AD, part of which was transformed into a church (in the Byzantine era) dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The entrance is from Via della Mecca. Admission hours: The 1st and the 3rd Monday of the month from 9.00 to 13.00. The remaining days by reservation. Free entrance, if you ever manage to find it open!
Terme della Rotonda and the Virgin Mary chapel.
Terme della Rotonda (top left). An industrial building opposite the Virgin Mary church (top right). Houses in Via Gesuiti (bottom left), which leads to the Monastero di San Nicolò l'Arena (bottom right).
At Via Gesuiti (at the top of the Terme) turn left and continue to Piazza Dante.
Here, on the top of the hill, stands the great monastic complex of the Benedictines (Monastero di San Nicolò l'Arena), an impressive complex with a monumental eighteenth-century church. The church of San Nicolò l'Arena is one of the biggest churches in Sicily (even larger than the Cathedral of Sant'Agata).
Today, the monastery, this "jewel of the late Sicilian baroque", is the headquarters of the DISUM - Department of Humanistic Sciences of the University of Catania.
The facade of the church of San Nicolò l'Arena.
Inside the courtyard of Monastero di San Nicolò l'Arena.
The impressive exterior of the church of the monastery (San Nicolò l'Arena) is unfinished. Four pairs of severed columns and the incomplete facade can be seen.
Monastero di San Nicolò l'Arena. The entrance (top left). Inside the courtyard (top right). The church on Piazza Dante and Etna smoking at the background (middle left). The interior of the church (middle right). The Balneum Romano excavations with the monastery at the background (bottom left). Looking down Via Quartarone towards Chiesa SS. Trinità (bottom right).
From Piazza Dante continue downhill, pass by the Balneum Romano excavations and at the corner of Via Vittorio Emmanuelle II stands Chiesa SS. Trinità, the church of the Holy Trinity Monastery. Today the monastery is the seat of the Scientific High School E. Boggio Lera (Liceo Scientifico Statale "E. Boggio Lera").
Via Castello Ursino. The Etna eruption of December 2018.
Take Via Vittorio Emmanuelle II back towards the Teatro Romano complex, and just before its entrance turn right to Via Sant'Anna. Walk along the street and then continue on Via Castello Ursino uphill towards Castello Ursino. The street accommodates several funeral houses, but at the top "Trattoria da Antonio" will certainly satisfy your culinary needs. The trattoria has a both outside and inside seating areas and the food is delicious.
Lunch at Trattoria da Antonio, Castello Ursino. (clockwise from top left): Bresaola carpaccio with rucola and cheese; handmade pasta with almonds and pistachio; pork in marsala wine sauce and pasta Norma.
Castello Ursino, also known as Castello Svevo di Catania, was built in the 13th century as a royal castle of the Kingdom of Sicily, and is mostly known for its role in the Sicilian Vespers, when it became the seat of the Sicilian Parliament.
The castle is in good condition today, and it is open to the public as a museum. It is located on Piazza Federico di Svevia, on the top of a hill overlooking the city.
Streets around Castello Ursino and Piazza Federico di Svevia (right).
The big north-western tower of Ursino and smoke coming from Etna in the background.
The castle is one of the few buildings in Catania to have survived the earthquake of 1693. When the castle was first built, it was on a cliff looking out to sea, however as the result of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, it is now a kilometer inland. The former moat was filled with lava from the 1669 eruption of Mount Etna. Actually, it was the walls and moat that protected the city from the lava flow and directed it towards the sea. Its present location, surrounded by streets and shops in a typical Sicilian piazza, may strike some visitors as unusual.
Catania is not a very big city, but there are so many things to do and see in and around the city. A week is the optimum period to visit most of the attractions of the city, but if one has only a couple of days available (usually, Catania is part of a bigger Sicilian tour) then the best thing to do is walk up and down the city, admire the baroque architecture and watch people passing by sitting at an open air café drinking your coffee or eating your granita. Do not get stressed to see everything!