Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italy and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of about 250,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 650,000 in the province. It is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just opposite Villa San Giovanni on the mainland.
Founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, Messina was originally called Zancle, from the Greek: ζάγκλον meaning "scythe" because of the shape of its natural harbour (though a legend attributes the name to King Zanclus). A comune of its province, located at the southern entrance of the Strait of Messina, is to this day called 'Scaletta Zanclea'. In the early 5th century BC, Anaxilas of Rhegium renamed it Messene in honour of the Greek city of the same name. The city was sacked in 397 BC by the Carthaginians and then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively ruled by Goths from 476, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I, ("The Lionheart") stopped at Messina en route to the Holy Land and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William the Good, King of Sicily
Messina was most likely the harbour at which the Black Death entered Europe: the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Caffa in the Crimea.
The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XIV, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the university, the senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants and Messina decayed steadily. In 1743, 48,000 died of plague in Messina. In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle the cultural life of Messina.
The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern and rational plan. It incurred further damage from the massive Allied air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousands of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.
Despite its somewhat explosive history, Messina is a thriving town with characteristic annual festivals and celebrations of its long history. On the 13th and 14th of every August the Ride of the Giants takes place, with two enormous statues, one black and one white, known as Grifone and Mata are paraded through the city on horseback in celebration of the mythical founder of the city. The following day, a feast is held in which are placed large wagon withPapier Mache figures, and driven by more than a thousand people. In more recent times this festival has been given a more religious aspect, but originally it was simply a celebration of the origins of the city.
Caponata is a tasty salad made with eggplant (aubergines), olives, capers and celery, it makes a great appetizer. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish, though you're less likely to find it in most restaurants. Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and (sometimes) anchovies. Prepared on a thick bread and more likely found in a bakery than in a pizzeria, sfincione is good as a snack or appetizer. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean. Crocché(croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Arancine are fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese.
Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish is popular. Smaller fish, especially snapper, is sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finnochio con sarde (fennel with sardines). Meat dishes are always popular. Many are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Best known outside Sicily is vitello alla marsala (veal marsala), one of many regional meat specialties. Chicken "alla marsala" can be prepared using a similar recipe and method. Milza (veal spleen) sandwiches are a bit "native" for most tastes, and loaded with cholesterol, but delicious anyway.
Sicilian desserts are superlative. Cannoli are tubular crusts with creamy ricotta and sugar filling. If they taste a little different from the ones you've had outside Italy, that's because the ricotta here is made from sheep's milk. Cassata is a rich, sugary cake filled with the same delicious filling. Frutta di Martorana (or pasta reale) are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is excellent. In fact, it is possible that ice cream was invented in Sicily during Roman times, when a relay of runners would bring snow down from Mount Etna to be flavored and served to wealthy patricians. You'll find flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese). Granita is sweetened crushed ice made in Summer and flavored with lemons or strawberries.
Many visitors to Messina use the city as a base to explore the larger area. Taormina is a medieval village perched alongside the steep terrain jutting out of the ocean and is the main attraction in the greater Messina area. While it has kept its Medieval character, it is now a shopper's paradise. The main pedestrian shopping street is loaded with shops, boutiques and specialty stores selling everything under the sun. Near the top of Taormina Village is a wonderfully preserved Roman Theater. This pretty much sums up Taormina's charm. There is something for everyone. Great shopping, wonderful restaurants, Roman Ruins, Medieval pedestrian streets and even stairs to a great beach. What more could anyone want? Plus it is all connected by one simple street and stairway.
Likewise, Mt. Etna the most active volcano in Europe is close by. How active? It has erupted almost every year for the past ten years. A tour of Mt. Etna is an interesting look at how current volcanic action affects today's European culture.
Messina shopping is an opportunity to learn more about the city's art, culture, and historic legacy. Among the best souvenirs you can get here, local pottery and ceramics are the main highlights. Art comes in second, followed by leather goods, fresh produce from the farmer's market (including vegetables, fish and olive oils), as well as fashion inspired by traditional costumes. Sicily may be a small island, but it's still Italy, so you can shop for international fashion brands if local genuine artifacts are not for you.
- Messina Cathedral (originally 12th century), containing the remains of king Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. The building had to be almost entirely rebuilt in 1919-1920, following the devastating 1908 earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be recognised in the apsidal area. The façade has three late Gothic portals, the central of which probably dates back to the early 15th century. The architrave is decorated with a sculpture of Christ Among the Evangelists and various representations of men, animals and plants. Some decorative elements belong the original building, whereas the mosaics in the apse are reconstructions. Tombs of illustrious men besides Conrad IV, include those of Archbishops Palmer (died in 1195), Guidotto de Abbiate (14th century) and Antonio La Legname (16th century). The bell tower holds one of the largest astronomical clocks in the world, built in 1933 by the Ungerer Company of Strasbourg. The belfry mechanically animated statues, which illustrate events from the civil and religious history of the city every day at noon, are a popular touristic attraction.
- Monte di Pieta. The work of Natale Masuccio, Monte di Pieta is an impressive construction dating back from 1616. During the 18th century, extensive reconstruction works included the first floor, the bell tower and the staircase. What remains today from the original building is the beautiful facade, a large balcony and baroque style windows. It is used now for exhibitions and theater performances.
- Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II. Built in the late 19th century by the order of Ferdinand II of Bourbon, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II is a neoclassical project of architect Pietro Valente. Damaged in 1908, the theatre was subject of an extensive restoration project, being almost rebuilt from ground up. The theatre was expanded considerably and the belated reopening in 1985 was marked by a performance of Aida, which was also the last show before the damaging events eight decades earlier.
- Palazzo Zanca. The City Hall of Messina was severely damaged by the earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 and was rebuilt son after the 1908 events under the supervision of Antonia Zanca. With a beautiful neoclassical style, the city hall covers more than 12,000 square meters, with the facade dedicated to statues and tombstones that recreate the troublesome history of the city.
- San Ranieri lighthouse. Built in 1555, The lighthouse is situated on the southern tip of the peninsula at Porto di Messina. The light can be seen for more than 21 miles.
Monte Di Pieta