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Catania, Province of Catania, Sicilia

Catania is the second largest city with the second highest population density in Sicily and is the capital of its province, a busy commercial seaport with an international airport to the south.

Catania is located on the east coast of Sicily, half way between Messina and Syracuse, at the foot of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Today, the tops of the huge Greek and Roman amphitheatres are at street level and in several places the adventurous traveler can descend into the many, often uncharted tunnels under the city, although the perils of finding pockets of poisonous gas make this highly unadvisable. Under the city runs the river Amenano, visible in just one point, on the south side of Piazza Duomo.

Info

  • Altitude: 7 m a.s.l
  • Population: about 300,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 95100
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 095
  • Patron Saint: St. Agata, celebrated on 5 February
  • Frazioni & Localities: the only frazione is San Giovanni Galermo. In 1971 Catania was subdivided into 10 municipalities: I- Centro; II- Ognina-Picanello; III- Borgo-Sanzio; IV- Barriera-Canalicchio; V- San Giovanni Galermo; VI- Trappeto-Cibali; VII- Monte Po-Nesima; VIII- San Leone-Rapisardi; IX- San Giorgio-Librino; X- San Giuseppe La Rena-Zia Lisa.

History

It was founded in the 8th century BC by Greek colonizers from Calcide in Eubea led by Evarco, used to be called Ætna, after the volcano, c. 480-461 BC and was also known as Katane. It was extensively destroyed by earthquakes in 1169 and 1693 and by lava flows which ran over and around it into the sea.

The first Sicilian University was founded there in 1434. The city has been buried by lava a total of seven times in recorded history, and in layers under the present day city are the Roman city that existed before it, and the Greek city before that.

What to see

  • The Ursino Castle, erected by Federico II of Swabia around 1250, with a square plan, with round towers at the corners and half-cylinder towers in the middle of the sides, surrounded by a ditch. Today the castle hosts the Civic Museum, which spans over 3000 years showing all the history of Sicily, with archaeological findings dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman ages, mosaics, coins, Christian and Byzantine items, Renaissance and Middle-Age sculptures, canvas of Sicilian painters of the baroque period.
  • The Fontana dell'Elefante, in the central Piazza del Duomo, the symbol of the contradictory souls, designed by architect G.B. Vaccarini in 1736, contains a lava-stone elephant of the Roman period and the Syene granite Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphs of Isis' cult; the elephant keeps on its marble trappings the obelisk, culminating with a ball and Saint Agata's insignia.
  • The Roman theatre erected against the hill of the ancient acropolis, possibly on a pevious Greek structure, could host 7000 spectators; a large part of the structure is still being excavated.
  • Mount Etna (or Aetna, also known locally as Mongibello), the largest of the four active volcanos in Italy and one of the most active volcanoes in the world, being in an almost constant state of eruption. It is the largest volcano in Europe, standing about 3,320 m (10,900 ft) high with a basal circumference of 140 km, making it the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Although it can occasionally be very destructive, it is not generally regarded as being particularly dangerous, though there is evidence that about 2000 BC it may have caused a huege landslide into the sea and a catastrophic tsunami that reached the coasts of Greece and Asia Minor. A tour of Mount Etna can be made taking the Circumetnea railway which runs for 110km from Catania round the base of Mount Etna, attaining the height of 976m above sea level before descending to rejoin the coast at Giarre-Riposto to the North.

Where to stay