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Discovering the city of Etna: Catania

Catania Island

Catania is the second largest Sicilian city after Palermo; it counts about 400.000 inhabitants. The city lies on the sloped of the volcano Mount Etna.

As the city was entirely built in the marvellous Sicilian Baroque style, UNESCO declared Catania Heritage of Humanity in 2002.

Must see in Catania

Today we want to tell you about the things you must see in this jewel of the Sicilian island. Here is our guide full of tips!

Catania Cathedral

Catania Cathedral
The Cathedral of Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: DaLiu/Shutterstock

The Cathedral is located in the homonymus Square and it is dedicated to Saint Agatha, patron Saint of the city. The façade (Vaccarini’s work) is made of Carrara marble while the columns come from the city’s ancient Roman theatre. The Sicilian Baroque style is used not only on the outside but also inside, where the Chapel dedicated to St Agatha with her relics and the tomb of Vincenzo Bellini – a famous composer from Catania – are located. The building was constructed over the Achillian baths, which can still be visited today.

Ursino Castle

Catania Ursino Castle
Ursino Castle in Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: trabantos/Shutterstock

Ursino Castle is of Norman origin: it was built by King Frederick II of Swabia in the 13th century and it is one of the most important buildings in the city, as well as one of the symbols of Catania. Today, the Castle houses the Civic Museum, where archaeological works and paintings are kept; among them there is apparently a nail used during the Crucifixion of Jesus.

“Pescheria”: the fish market

Catania fish market
Pescheria: the fish market of Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: Antonio Agostini/Shutterstock

A visit to the fish market is definitely one of the things to do here. It has been held for more than 200 years and it takes place every morning except Sunday. This is Catania’s most typical, chaotic, colourful and authentic market: a true 360-degree experience. In addition to fresh fish, you can also find meat, vegetables, cold cuts, cheese and other products.

Roman Theatre and Odeon

Catania Roman Theatre and Odeon
The Roman Theatre and Odeon in Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: essevu/Shutterstock

Almost hidden among the modern buildings there are the Roman Theatre and the Odeon: two historical remains built in the 2nd century A.C. in lava rock. Unfortunately, only the orchestra, the cavea and parts of the stage can be admired today.

Catania Roman Amphitheatre

Catania Roman Amphitheatre
A view of the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre in Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: Andrei Nekrassov/Shutterstock

Catania’s Roman Amphitheatre was one of the greatest in ancient time, second only to the Colosseum in Rome. It dates back to the 2nd century A.C. and it is built only with lava stone from Etna, covered with marble. Today, however, only a small section remains in Piazza Stesicoro, visible and open to visitors.

Botanic Garden in Catania

Catania Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden in Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: Daniel Mendes Domingues/Shutterstock

The Botanical Garden of Catania was created in 1858 by the Benedictine monk Francesco Tornabene Roccaforte. Covering 16,000 square metres, it now houses thousands of plant species and it is divided into two sections: Orto Siculo and Orto Generale. What’s special about it is that there is a fantastic neoclassical building inside.

Top secret tip: Rotonda Thermae

Catania Rotanda Thermae
The Roman Rotonda Thermae in Catania, Sicily Island, Italy. Credits to: luigi nifosi/Shutterstock

This is a little-known, almost top secret, place to see in Catania. The Rotonda Thermae are Roman baths, dating back to the first century A.C. They were later enclosed with a dome by the Byzantines, who transformed them into a small church; in fact, Latin inscriptions and traces of frescoes can still be seen today.

5 original things to do in Catania

If you are not a person who is satisfied with the classic things to do in a city, TravelingItaly suggests you 5 original things to do in Catania.

  1. Take a tour on the Circumetnea Railway. The railway connects Catania with all the villages on the slopes of Etna; from the windows of the train you can admire wonderful glimpses.
  2. Take photos in San Berillo. This district will unleash your creativity: all the walls of the buildings are decorated with street art works.
  3. Photographing the Port Silosn the harbour area there are eight giant silos that have been completely painted as part of a street art project.
  4. Taste seltzer, lemon and salt. It is the refreshing drink, excellence of Catania.
  5. Snorkeling. Snorkelling along the Catania coastline will allow you to admire postcard views such as the legendary Isola dei Ciclopi and its stacks. The morphology of the coastline will provide you with unique landscapes such as basalt lava flows, the Cave of the Doves, Norman-era turrets and unique seabeds.

Time for curiosity: Catalina Island

Catalina Island snorkeling
Someone snorkeling in Catalina Island, California. Credits to: Brent Barnes/Shutterstock

If you a snorkeling enthusiast, the perfect destination for you is Catalina Island, off the coast of South Florida. Despite the great distance between the two places, Catalina Island and the city of Catania (located in Sicily Island) are often confused the one with the other.

The crystal clear waters around Catalina Island are known as great spots for snorkeling. Snorkeling is a great way to explore and to see the undersea wildlife around Catalina Island.

What to see nearby

  • Palazzo Acreide (1 hour and 20 minutes by car)
    Palazzolo Acreide is a village in the Sicilian hinterland. Like other towns in Val di Noto, it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2002. The town is also part of the Italian Touring Club’s association of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”.
  • Militello in Val of Catania (almost 1 hour by car)
    The village of Militello in Val di Catania, thanks to its remarkable Baroque monumental heritage, has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
  • Noto (1 hour and 20 minutes by car)
    The city of Noto is called the pearl of Sicilian Baroque; here the buildings are made of a very special local limestone: sometimes white and sometimes golden.

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