Catania, Sicily – A look around the city

Created on 1st Apr 2016

Standing at Carmelo’s frantoio in eastern Sicily, look upwards you will see (and hear!) the imposing Mount Etna rumbling away, look downwards you will see the sprawling city of Catania gradually drifting into the Ionian Sea. What wonderfully contrasting views Carmelo has – it is certainly a beautiful setting. So, when we at Pomora visited Carmelo and his olive groves, we had a smooch around the city of Catania and journey up the great volcano that is Mount Etna [hard life for some, eh?! –Ed].

Catania is Sicily’s second largest city, behind Palermo, and tenth largest in Italy with a population of over 300k. Wandering through the picturesque streets, alleyways and piazzas today, you would never guess that Catania has such an active past. Over the centuries the city has been fought after with Normans, Greeks, Arabs, Romans and Spaniards – amongst a few others - all having occupation at one time or another. However the locals were most fearful of the large volcano casting its shadow over the city – Mount Etna, Europe’s most active and largest volcano, flattened Catania with an eruption in 1669 and then earthquake in 1693. From those ashes we are presented with the city which we have today, carefully rebuild in such a way as to provide shelter and escape routes should Mount Etna erupt again; this is typified by the varying streets widths and large piazzas.

On first viewing the city can seem quite noisy and a touch scruffy but look closer and you will find some breath taking architecture and details to buildings. It really is a pleasure to casually stroll through the streets, easy to do with Catania’s Mediterranean climate (it has the hottest summers in all of Italy apparently). Many of the churches – note, there are lots – and buildings have been built using the black volcanic rock disbursed from Mount Etna. It is a bittersweet relationship the locals have with the great volcano; on one hand Etna can seem dangerous and a constant threat, on the other hand it’s deposits can be most useful – not only is the rock used for buildings, but the volcanic soil provides perfect conditions for the growth of olive oil (hence why Carmelo always looks so happy!). The Pomora pick of the buildings and monuments were the u Liotru (the symbol of Catania), Teatro Massimo Bellini (the opera house, in main picture), Stesichorus Square and Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square, lovely place to while away an hour or two people watching). Having the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site says all you need to know about the subtle beauty of Catania.

We found there to be a vibrant atmosphere attached to the city. There are hundreds of bars, clubs and eateries, not to mention markets (including the great fish market), so you always find something to entertain you. The large student population may have something to do with this – note, the University buildings are stunning. And of course, you can always go and show your respects to the great volcano that is Etna, lurking in the background... once a month Etna says hello with a gentle rumbling, it just happened that was when we were there!