Catania is an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, between Messina and Syracuse. It is the capital of the homonymous province, and is the second-largest city in Sicily and the tenth in Italy.
Catania is known for its seismic history, having been destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1169, another in 1693, and several volcanic eruptions from the neighboring Mount Etna volcano, the most violent of which was in 1669.
It appears to have continued afterwards steadily to maintain its friendly relations with Rome, and though it did not enjoy the advantages of a confederate city (foederata civitas), like its neighbors Tauromenium (modern Taormina) and Messana (modern Messina), it rose to a position of great prosperity under the Roman rule.
Cicero repeatedly mentions it as, in his time, a wealthy and flourishing city; it retained its ancient municipal institutions, its chief magistrate bearing the title of Proagorus; and appears to have been one of the principal ports of Sicily for the export of corn.
One of the most serious eruptions of Mount Etna happened in 121 BC, when great part of Catania was overwhelmed by streams of lava, and the hot ashes fell in such quantities in the city itself, as to break in the roofs of the houses.
The port of Catania also, which was in great part filled up by the eruption of 1669 AD, appears to have been in ancient times much frequented, and was the chief place of export for the corn of the rich neighboring plains. The little river Amenanus, or Amenas, which flowed through the city, was a very small stream, and could never have been navigable.
|Santa Maria dell'Elemosina|
In 1434 King Alfonso V founded here the Siciliae Studium Generale, the oldest university in the island.
In 1669 the city's surroundings suffered great material damage from an eruption of Mount Etna. The city itself was largely saved by its walls that diverted most of the lava into the port. Afterwards in 1693 the city was then completely destroyed by a heavy earthquake and its aftershocks. The city was then rebuilt in the Baroque architecture that nowadays characterizes it.
In 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi's expedition of the Thousand conquered Sicily for Piedmont from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Since the following year Catania was part of the newly unified Italy, whose history it shares since then.
During World War II Catania was repeatedly bombed by the Allies, starting from 5 June 1940, and some 100,000 of its inhabitants were moved to the neighboring villages. It was evacuated by the Germans on 5 August 1943. After the conflict, and the constitution of Italian Republic (1946), the history of Catania was, like the history of other cities of southern Italy, an attempt to catch up with the economic and social development of the richer northern regions in the country and to solve the problems that for historic reasons plague the Mezzogiorno, namely a heavy gap in industrial development and infrastructures, and the threat of the mafia.
This notwithstanding, during the 1960s (and partly during the 1990s) Catania enjoyed a development and an economic, social and cultural effervescence. In the first decade of the 21st century, Catania economic and social development somewhat faltered and the city is again facing economic and social stagnation. This was aggravated by the economical crisis left by the Forza Italia administration of mayor Scapagnini in 2008.
The food and fish markets just below the Piazza del Duomo are a lively and colourful place to visit. This fish market is the busiest and most exotic of all over Sicily and has been described by the British TV chef Rick Stein as the best fish market in the world. Monday to Saturday morning only.
- The Cathedral of Catania, entitled to St. Agatha, has been destroyed and rebuilt several times due earthquakes and eruptions of the nearby volcano 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). In 1169 it was nearly entirely destroyed by an earthquake, leaving only the apse area intact. Further damage was introduced by a fire in 1169, but the most catastrophic event was the 1693 earthquake, which again left it mostly in ruins. It was subsequently rebuilt in Baroque style. 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.
- Castello Ursino was built, circa from 1239 to 1250, as one of the royal castles of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily, closing a chapter on the turbulent time in Sicily that followed the death of his predecessor, William II. Local lords had attempted to assert independence, and in 1220 Frederick II had ordered the destruction of all non-royal castles in Sicily Castle Ursino was built to stress royal power as well as for the defence of the capital, and was considered impregnable at the time. In 1295, during the Sicilian Vespers, the Parliament which declared deposed James II of Aragon as King of Sicily, replacing him with Frederick III, was held here. The following year it was captured by Robert of Anjou but was later again in Aragonese hands. King Frederick III resided in the castle, as well as his successors Peter II, Louis, Frederick IV and Maria. Here the latter was kidnapped by Guglielmo Raimondo III Moncada to avoid her marriage with Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1392). King Martin I held also his court in the castle.
- The Basilica della Collegiata (also known as Santa Maria dell'Elemosina) is a church in Catania. Finished in 1768, it is an example of Sicilian Baroque. The church was built in the early 18th century, after the earthquake of 1693 that had destroyed most of the city. The design of the church is attributed to Angelo Italia, who changed the orientation of the previous edifice destroyed by the earthquake, in order to have it facing the new via Uzeda (current Etnea Street) according to the rebuilding plan of the city. The façade, designed by Stefano Ittar, is one of the most notable examples of Sicilian Baroque in Catania.
- Palazzo degli Elefanti is a historical building which currently houses the city's Town Hall. The palace, located on the northern side of the Cathedral square, was begun in 1696 after the devastating earthquake of 1693, its original designed having been commissioned to Giovan Battista Longobardo. The eastern, southern, and western façades were however designed at a later stage by Giovan Battista Vaccarini, while the northern one was by Carmelo Battaglia. The staircase opening to the inner court with four porticoes was added in the late 18th century by Stefano Ittar. On the second floor are paintings by the Sicilian artist Giuseppe Sciuti.
- u Liotru. The symbol of the city is u Liotru, or the Fontana dell'Elefante, assembled in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. It portrays an ancient lavic stone elephant and is topped by an Egyptian obelisk from Syene. Legend has it that Vaccarini's original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, Vaccarini appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue. The Sicilian name u Liotru is a phonetic change of Heliodorus, a nobleman who, after trying without success to become bishop of the city, became a sorcerer and was therefore condemned to the stake. Legend has it that Heliodorus himself was the sculptor of the lava elephant and that he used to magically ride it in his fantastic travels from Catania to Constantinople. Another legend has it that Heliodorus was able to transform himself into an elephant.