About Catania

Historical Informations

Katane was founded by the Calcidesi people in 729 B.C. in a fertile plain at the foot of Etna. In 476 B.C. the city was conquered by Gerone, the fierce Siracusa tyrant who threw out the inhabitants replacing them with people from Siracusa, and it was renamed Aitna. The Calcidesi reclaimed the city after the tyrant was defeated, and gave it back its original name. However, this period of autonomy was short-lived: in 403 B.C. another Siracusa tyrant conquered Katane and sold the city’s inhabitants as slaves. The city remained under Siracusa rule until the beginning of the 3rd century. Rome took over from Siracusa in 263 B.C. During the first Punic war, they invaded the city and stayed there for about seven centuries, a period in which Katane developed its culture and economy greatly.

After the fall of the Empire, the ex-Roman colony was conquered by Belisarius (535 A.D.) and was ruled by the Byzantine Empire for about three centuries.
The Arabs landed in Sicily in 827 A.D., and later the Normans took over from them in 1071 and entered the city of Catania guided by Count Ruggero. The city lost its autonomy under the Normans, that in part it had managed to keep in spite of the continuous changes in rulers, and it became a feudal city to all effects.

In 1169, the city was destroyed by a terrible earthquake that struck the whole of Eastern Sicily. Thirty years later, while the city was still working on reconstruction, Catania supported the Altavilla against Henry VI, the son of Barbarossa: the imperial reaction was very violent, culminating in a fire that destroyed part of the city, including the Cathedral.
Under Frederick II (1240), Catania was finally freed from its feudal condition: it was recognized as a Borough and became quite independent. There is little remaining evidence of this medieval period, however.
The Spanish were extremely important for the economic, cultural and demographic growth of Catania. Frederick III of Aragon was crowned King of Sicily and set up some important political seats in Catania.
The cultural growth that took place in the city is symbolized by the founding of the University (1434), the first in Sicily.

The second half of 1600 was an extremely tragic period in Catania’s history: in 1669 there was a violent eruption of Etna and it covered everything with lava. Less than thirty years later (1693), when the city was still nursing its wounds, an earthquake destroyed anything that was still left.
Catania managed to react to these natural calamities, and started a huge building project that foresaw wide use of black lava and light-colored limestone. The city was one huge, busy building site for decades and slowly the Baroque aspect that still characterizes the city began to form.

During the Risorgimento period, Catania rebelled against the Bourbons in 1837 and in 1848, freeing itself permanently in 1860, when the Thousand conquered Palermo. Catania was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
The town and industrial growth of the city of Catania continued at a fast rate, only slowing down during the Second World War. In the last few decades, Catania has become a center for the technology sector, earning itself the name of European Silicon Valley

Art and culture

From the Roman period, only the Basilica of San Lorenzo and sixteen Corinthian columns from a third-century building remain. Inscriptions, sculptures, architectural fragments and mosaics are conserved in the Archaeological Museum. The Middle Ages was a period marked by fervent construction, which shows Milan's important role at the time, along with Rome, Ravenna and Naples. Evidence of that period is seen in the basilicas of Sant' Ambrogio and Sant' Eustorgio and the palace of La Ragione. The paintings of this period are mostly documented in miniatures such as the codicils in Sant' Ambrogio and in the Ambrosian Library.
During the Renaissance, due mostly to the influence of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Francesco Sforza and Ludovico the Moor, the major monuments of the city were built: the Duomo, the Maggiore Hospital, the Sforza Castle, Santa Maria delle Grazie and San Satiro. Bramante and Leonardo were only two of the great artists at work at the time.

In the Baroque period the two most important masters were Fabio Mangone (the Ambrosian Palace and the Senate) and Francesco Maria Richini (San Giuseppe Church, many palaces, the courtyard of the Brera Palace).
The most important paintings were the frescoes of Tiepolo in the Clerici and Archinti palaces and the canvasses of A. Magnasco. During the Neoclassical period, the architecture gave the city its characteristic outline: in this period the Villa Reale of Monza, La Scala Theater and the Belgioioso Palace, all by Giuseppe Piermarini, were built, as well as the Peace Arch by L. Cagnola and the Arena by L. Canonica. In the present period, we are witnessing a complete renovation of the architectural image of the city.
Rapid industrial development and increasing demands of traffic have brought about a radical transformation in urban construction. 

 

Shops and Markets

In Via Reitano, near to Castel Ursino there is a craft shop belonging to the Napoli family, the historical Catania puppet-making family that has made the famous Sicilian “pupi” for centuries and that has given shows at the Theater Opera dei Pupi. The famous Catania “pupi” are made differently from the Palermo ones: they are 135 centimeters tall and can weigh from 15 to 30 kilograms!
The craft objects made from lava stone following traditional techniques and the famous painted pottery mostly made in nearby Caltagirone, but which can be found in any souvenir shop in Catania, are extremely characteristic.
Another typical craft product that you can find in Catania are candelabras: unique pieces often in Baroque style that are made by hand, mostly in wood, and are carved, decorated and then painted.
If you want to dedicate yourself to food and drink produce shopping, travelplan.it recommends you go to one of the markets in Catania, so that you can experience the true atmosphere of everyday Catania life. The ideal place for such an experience is the picturesque Pescheria, the historical market that spreads out around Piazza Pardo (near the Cathedral). There are fresh fish stalls (though fish is a little difficult to take home as a souvenir, no matter how good it is), and also dried fruit, bottles of extra virgin olive oil and red wine made on the foothills of Mount Etna, bags of dried pulses for tasty, local recipe soups and lots more too.
For those of you interested in shopping for famous names, Corso Italia is full of all the boutiques of the most famous Italian and international designers.

Historical buildings and monuments

Botanic gardens
These beautiful gardens spread over a surface area of 16,000 square meters where there are also some neoclassical buildings. Inside these buildings that are used as greenhouses, there are many rare, exotic, aquatic and Sicilian plants.

Bellini Gardens
This is the Catania inhabitants’ famous place for relaxing, going for a walk and admiring the wonderful view that spreads from the city to Mount Etna. The Villa Bellini Gardens spread over about 70,000 square meters where there are avenues, squares, bridges, borders and fountains. There are statues representing the seven arts at the main entrance to the gardens.

Via dei Crociferi
This Avenue is a true triumph of eighteenth-century Baroque style, one of the most charming in Catania, where there is a never-ending, opulent line of religious buildings such as the Church of San Benedetto, the Church of the Jesuits and the Church of San Giuliano.

Piazza Duomo
This is the heart of Catania, with the city’s symbol monument: the fountain with the Elephant. The city’s cathedral with the Chapel of Sant’Agata looks out onto this square, where precious treasures are kept. There is also Palazzo degli Elefanti which is the City Hall. One of Catania’s most interesting roads starts from Piazza Duomo - Via Etnea, where there are splendid Baroque buildings with lava dust façades and a multitude of shops and confectioners.

The Elephant
The Elephant, symbol of the city of Catania since 1200, is located in the center of Piazza Duomo. This is a lava-stone statue that dates back to the Roman era, mounted on a more modern structure by Vaccarini from the eighteenth century. Legend goes that this animal became the city symbol because in ancient times pigmy elephants lived in this place, that protected the city’s inhabitants by chasing away fierce animals.

Castel Ursino
This fortress is the only medieval building that survived the destruction that nature wreaked upon the city and is still almost intact today. It was built around 1240 to protect the city from the sea, and was used as a royal residence and as a prison. It has been the home of the Civic Museum since 1934 and it houses paintings, sculptures, bronzes and ceramics from various eras.

Bellini Theater
This impressive theater was opened in 1890 with the staging of Bellini’s famous opera the “Norma”. The Theater style reminds one of the Opera House in Paris: there is a lot of wrought iron in the portico, a large theater with four tiers and a gallery, corridors, and frescoed ceilings.

Eating and drinking

The tasty Catania cuisine offers a range of typical local delicacies that are often found throughout Sicily. Our journey can begin by discovering the Catania tastes with a famous dish: Pasta alla Norma. This is a pasta first course, usually with tomato sauce, fried eggplant, basil and lots of salty ricotta cheese. The name given to this recipe was in honor of the composer Vincenzo Bellini, who came from Catania and who wrote the opera “Norma”, which opened the Massimo Bellini Theater in 1890.
There are also arancini di riso, (rice balls) one of the most common recipes used in delicatessens, fried food shops and food shops that offer them in a thousand varieties, mostly enriched with minced meat, and sometimes with mushrooms and pistachio nuts. Catania’s “arancini” are different to the ones made in other Sicilian cities as they are long, cone-shaped and not round.
Another snack that you can always find in the fried food shops, and also in many restaurants in Catania, are crespelle: soft fritters full of ricotta cheese or anchovies.
“Scacciate” are another local recipe. These are bread-dough pies, filled with local cheeses such as “tuma”, anchovies and different type of vegetables.
The kiosks spread out around the city offer special local drinks such as lemon seltzer, made with squeezed lemon, seltzer and salt, and tamarind with lemon and bicarbonate of soda, that is a real aid for the digestion.
Fish-based recipes include marinated “mascolini”, fresh anchovies marinated for at least 24 hours in extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and “pasta con i mascolini”, pasta with fried anchovies, onion, peas and wild fennel.
Cakes and desserts, one of the strong points of Sicilian cuisine are also a high point in Catania, where you can find the best cannoli di ricotta, made with crunchy pastry filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate flakes or candied fruit.
Olivette di Sant’Agata, cakes with green almond paste made for the traditional festival of Sant’Agata are another Catania delicacy. These little cakes are linked to an ancient legend that tells the story of the city’s patron saint, pursued by Roman soldiers, who stopped running to tie her shoe and just at that moment, a huge wild olive tree grew in front of her that hid her from her pursuers, and offered her olives to eat. There are also the famous granitas in Catania, crushed ice drinks flavored with almonds, lemon, coffee, or chocolate, and served with hand-whipped cream.
Local wines include the DOC red wines that come from the foot of Mount Etna.

 

Events

 

If you intend to organize a holiday in Catania in when one of these events takes place, especially during the Festival of Sant’Agata, we recommend you book your hotel in Catania well in advance.

  • Festival of Sant’Agata - 5th February
    Catania celebrates Sant’Agata, the city’s patron saint, each year with three days of festivities: 3, 4 and 5 February. The first day is dedicated to the offering of candles, each confraternity offers a huge “candelora” that is carried in the procession with difficulty due to its weight: some “candelore weigh up to 1200 kilograms each! This first day ends with a fireworks display in Piazza del Duomo. On the second day, Catania’s inhabitants wear long white tunics to remember the historical night of 1126 when the Catania people of the time left their houses in their nightshirts to meet two citizens who had come back from Constantinople with the Saint’s relics. The festival continues with a procession carrying the statue of Sant'Agata, decorated with all the wonderful treasures that are kept in the Chapel that carries the saint's name. The procession lasts all days and passes by all the places in the city that are linked to the saint's martyrdom. It ends late at night, when the procession statue (called the fercolo) returns to the Cathedral. On the last day, white carnations replace the red ones used on the previous day, that symbolize the Saint’s martyrdom. The most emotion-filled moment is when the procession passes along Via di San Giuliano: this steep road is considered to be a trial of courage for the Saint’s followers. Once this procession has finished and the “fercolo” is returned to the Cathedral, the festival ends with a fireworks display, that leaves the Catania people exhausted but happy for having celebrated their patron saint.

Theaters
The Catania theater tradition has ancient roots and is part and parcel of the city’s culture: there are about 25 active theaters in the city, each one specialized in a particular type of show, the puppet theater, the opera, ballet, Greek tragedy, classical theater and experimental theater. The most famous theater is the Bellini Theater, which was opened in 1890 with the famous opera the "Norma" by Bellini. There are also the Metropolitan, the Verga, the Musco, the “Teatro Club”, the “Piccolo Teatro”, the “Nuovo Teatro”, the “Teatro della Città”, the ”Piscator”, the “Teatro degli Specchi”, the “Teatro Stabile dell’Opera dei Pupi” and many other theaters.