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Catania

  • Description
  • What to See
  • What to Do
  • What to Taste

Etna dominates the landscape and is ever-present in the inhabitants' lives here, even so far as to shape the tastes of the land. This active volcano and Catania itself - a bustling marvel of a city on Sicily's eastern coast - are closely linked.

The coastal strip that is the Province of Catania looks out over the Ionian Sea, a natural boundary for the Province. 

Catania lies cradled amidst the splendid greenery of its surroundings, yet at the same time opens out to the sea, welcoming us with its grand piazzas, wide roads, and architecture in lavic rock. The city is full of attractions, offering historic and artistic wonders for everyone. 

Remnants of history prove that the various cultures that have left their mark; the people have absorbed the influences of their many rulers, as seen in the architectonic lines of the buildings, churches and monuments. 

Nature is by turns generous and benevolent, by turns biting and harsh.
Etna is its icon. 
High, impressive and silent, a self-made mount with its peak forming a great crater of fire, it looms and waits over the scene. 

Gardens and the bright colors of orange and lemon groves and vineyards interrupt (and benefit from) the lavic grey of the dark, fertile soil. 

Chestnut trees, nuts and oaks, pine trees and beeches make up the thick woods covering the mountain mid-way to its peak, like a curtain opening out to the oasis of colors that lies beyond. 
Once at the top, what awaits is an extraordinary view that extends to the horizon as far as the eye can see. 

Cobalt and crystalline blues, and other undescribable hues are the tones of the sea of Catania's coast. 

Pebbly but pleasant beaches, small bays alternating with dark tracts of black tuff, high cliffs a sheer drop to the sea, and endless golden coastlines seem to conspire to offer an array of sensations. 

But wherever one chooses to go, the sensation evoked by the gorgeous limpid sea is one not easy to forget. 

The 17th Century was a destructive one, whereas the 1800s were a rebirth. The onset of an eruption, then an earthquake, brought Catania to its knees. Resurrected from the rubble and ashes of devastation, it eventually triumphed with the beauty of its Baroque architecture, which can still be admired today.
 
Its Duomo is a magnificent example. Reconstructed with the use of materials recovered from Roman-era buildings - such as the marble columns that decorate its courtyards - it looks out onto the piazza carrying its name (which after the earthquake was designed to leave ample space between buildings in the event of another destructive earthquake). It is dedicated to the city’s Patron, St. Agata, whose statue surmounts the main façade designed by Giovan Battista Vaccarini.
 
Besides the church, the splendid Piazza Duomo is surrounded by the Palazzo Senatorio and elegant noble buildings arranged around the Fontana dell’Elefante, the symbol of the city. 
The monument, also the work of Vaccarini, is a kind of historical stratification: the base (the elephant) recalls Carthaginian civilization, the obelisk recalls that Egyptian, and the cross, palms and globe refer to Christianity. 
The artist also designed the Church of Badìa di Sant'Agata, very striking for the ornamentation on its façade, and the perspective of its portal, set further back in respect to the two lateral bodies. 

Piazza dell'Università
 is dominated by the grand façade of the University, the construction of which was authorized by Alfonso V of Aragon; it was reconstructed after the earthquake, with a design by the ear's great architects. 
Vaccarini built two floors of the internal courtyard, the colonnade and the dual-colored flooring. 

The Collegiata or Regia Chapel is another magnificent example of the architectonic splendor that came about during the century of reconstruction (the interior was decorated by Giuseppe Sciuti). 
Colossal, even if unfinished, is the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò, with interventions by Battaglia, Vaccarini and Amato. 
The Ursino Castle, commissioned by Frederick II, survived the catastrophic events of the 17th Century. 
It was originally located on the coastal stretch, but a volcanic eruption modified its structure; thus, the castle is now set further back compared to its initial position. 

The entire Noto Valley was reconstructed in the 18th Century; today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site precisely because of its stylistic features, the beautiful result of a tragic earthquake. 
One of the Valley's eight cities, Caltagirone is famous for its ancient ceramic art that supplied the décor for many of the churches and buildings in its center. The highest expression of its baroque soul is Santa Maria del Monte with an impressive stairway decorated with polychromatic majolica. 

Militello in Val di Catania
 is also part of the UNESCO network. Its center recalls in its structure and style the features of the reconstruction period. 

Etna, one of the biggest active volcanoes in Europe, lies just north of Catania. 
This mountain lives, breathes and transforms itself and each time it awakes, red fiery flowing lava is deposited in its craters and, at the same time, overlaps with ancient flows, changing the mountain’s profile each time. 
The landscape changes greatly as one ascends higher. 

Pinewoods are divided into sections by fascinating fuming black lava and gaping craters. Fruit orchards, orange and lemon groves, oaks and majestic chestnut trees, luxuriant vineyards and expanses of beech trees also thrive from the volcano's fertile soil. All contribute to the mountain's diverse and incomparably-beautiful ambiences. 

Nothing survives up at the peak, only the lavic desert, a widespread blackness surrounding the volcano's intriguing open mouth. 

This panorama that goes from mountains to sea changes before one's very eyes. Do not miss the Riviera dei Ciclopi, a slew of enormous, mythology-bound boulders emerging from the sea. 

Catania Province's parks and natural reserves offer an infinite number of ways to enjoy your time and learn about this area's uncommon characteristics.

Trekking and horseback riding itineraries are ideal for discovering the trails that spread out over the slopes of Etna, through the thick vegetation where many species of animals live. 
It is also the perfect place to engage in birdwatching
Sparrows, buzzards, pilgrim peregrines and golden eagles fly high in the sky above the volcano, while ducks and other aquatic birds live on the waters of Lake Gurrida, the park’s only water basin. 
The Simeto Delta is another excellent birdwatching spot. Here coots, storks, sea crows, falcons and herons build their nests to pass the winter. 

A very attractive sightseeing excursion awaits in the 200 grottoes of Etna Park, once built by man as a refuge and burial place. The most renowned are the Lamponi, Tre Livelli, Gelo and Palombe Grottoes.
 
The ravines of the Gole dell’Alcantara seep through the cracks of the lavic mass. 
Narrow trails run along high rock walls with the most incredible shapes, along which the clearest rivers run to form one of the most exciting and enjoyable sights nature can offer.
 
A land kissed by sunlight and lapped by crystal-clear waters is a dream-come-true for those who prefer seaside holidays
The innumerable localities of the Province are all well-equipped to offer a comfortable and relaxing stay. To crown it all, nightlife abounds! 

Activities range from scuba-diving in the areas between the land and the faraglioni (or sea stacks). Seawatching and snorkeling are better for those who would rather bypass the oxygen bottles and wetsuits. All the wind sports are possible, from surfing and windsurfing to sailing

This land’s mild climate guarantees a pleasant vacation all year-round. 
If you wish to put on your skis, come in the winter when Etna is covered with snow. You will not believe what you see. The skiing facilities ensure a sportive, enjoyable “white” holiday. Skiing with your gaze on the blueness of the sea below is an experience that only the Province of Catania can offer!  

The cuisine of Catania is one of the tastiest in Sicily. 
With the sea nearby, fish dishes are the most traditional. A salad of frutti di mare (seafood) may be one with octopus and shrimp, marinated masculini (sea anchovies), salt-preserved anchovies in typical terra-cotta jars (cugnetto), peppered raw sea mollusks and shells seasoned only with a sprinkling of fresh lemon.
 
Mullets, needlefish, scallops and anchovies are the best ingredients for fried seafood, whereas the bream, sargo and dentex are served baked. 
Tasty and very typical dishes are the sparacanaci, fish fries of newborn mullets, accompanied by onions from Calabria, and the u muccu fries of small newborn fish. 

Agriculture is well-developed further inland, where one can taste excellent beef, equine meat and pork grilled with vegetables and genuine cheeses.
 
The most typical feature of the Catanese cuisine are the roasts, and the well-known arancini made of stuffed, fried rice balls. You have to taste the “Sicilian,” a thin crust stuffed with tuma and anchovies, then fried, and the pancakes filled with cottage cheese and anchovies.
 
And what about pastries? Taste them just once and expect immediate and eternal addiction. As the saying goes, “the eye needs its share,” and preparing cakes for Sicilians is a true and proper art. A triumph of shapes and colors fill the dessert tray: cannoli stuffed with ricotta and decorated with drops of dark chocolate, pieces of candied fruit or finely-chopped pistachios; the Sicilian cassata; fruit in the martorana style based on almond pastemonaca cookies; nougat torroncini and Santa Agata raisins.
 
Gelato and shaved ice (granita) are the other high points of Catania's - and the entire Region's - dessert traditions. Flavors like almond, lemon, orange, chocolate, mulberry, peach, and coffee are all spectacular, especially if accompanied with two servings of cream.