Catania was built right on the foot of Etna volcano, which played a major role in the history of the city. After the eruption of Etna in 1669 the city was covered in ash and lava. Catania was eventually rebuilt back to life, but in no ordinary way. The architects used volcanic rock for construction, giving the new buildings their royal black color tone. The buildings were rebuilt in a baroque style with many elegant and cozy tangled streets and sophisticated cathedrals. In fact, tour guides estimate there to be around 200 sights and landmarks in Catania, and not only in the city center. And of course, there’s an eternal rivalry between Catania and Palermo in a tourist field 🙂
What to see in Catania
Start your city walk from the central square – piazza del Duomo, the crossroad of three main streets – Vittorio Emmanuele II, Giuseppe Garibaldi and via Etnea. The Duomo itself is a tall baroque cathedral, dedicated to Saint Agatha, the patroness of Catania. The cathedral is a wonderful turquoise color that changes its shade depending on the sunlight. The center of the square is marked by the Elephant fountain – the symbol of Catania. It’s surrounded with beautiful palazzos, one prettier than other, with one of the exits leading to quite a large food market. Take the time to spoil yourself with the variety of fresh cheeses and olives!
Catania is perfect for walking tours, as most of its landmarks are located a short distance from one another. From the main square, you can quickly get to the Teatro Massimo Bellini, Palazzo Reburdone, the church Badia di Sant’Agata, Fontana Amenano, Castello Ursino and many other historic and cultural sights.
From the Ursini castle, crossing the street of Giuseppe Garibaldi and following Vittorio Emmanuele II, you will arrive to the piazza San Francesco d’Assisi. Relatively small, it is highlighted with a monument of Cardinal Dumet – the big church figure of the Italian south, which had been canonized in the 1990’s. From there don’t miss the church San Franceso d’Assisi all’Immacolata (18th Century), and via Crocifieri, one of the most beautiful streets of Catania, leading to the church and a convent of San Benedetto – the elegant baroque ensemble, where you can clearly see the colorful volcanic rock used in the construction. Odeon and the Roman theatre are just few steps away, down via Teatro Greco. Walking few minutes up the streets, in the direction to Piazza Dante, you’ll see an outstanding church of San Nicolo l’Arena, which is completely different from Catanian barocco. The church was built in 19th Century by a German aristocrat – Von Valterschausen. From there, if you are willing to walk down back to the central square, take the via Antonio di Sangiuliano, the picturesque street which will bring you to the via Etnea, where you can do some shopping and hold your breath seeing the Queen Etna in the horizon.
Fortunately or not, Etna is not in the walking distance from the city, but you can dedicate a day to visit it with one of the many tour buses available at local travel agents. Public transport can only bring you to the funicular that goes up, but we wouldn’t recommend you going up to Etna without an experienced guide. If you are visiting Catania in the middle of summer, please remember that it gets quite cold up there, so you do need a good pair of comfortable closed trekking shoes and warm hiking clothes.
However, Etna is difficult to miss entirely as it dominates the landscape and gives Catania this mysterious and unique vibe, making you want to seize everyday!