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While Palermo is often called the aristocratic city of Sicily, Catania has a more local, authentic feel. Here you experience the real Sicily – at the bustling colourful markets, among the baroque palaces and the Greek and Roman ruins. Catania has a tangible soul; this is the warmest city in Italy, not only literally but also figuratively.
Catania lies on Sicily’s east coast. It is wedged between the intense blue waters of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna, which towers 3,330 metres above the city. This panoramic setting lends Catania a unique charm, which is further enhanced by the city’s wealth of cultural-historic treasures. A visit to every monument in this historic seaport would take much more than a weekend.
Catania is blessed with a large number of churches (more than 90), and most were built after the disastrous year of 1693 when the city was rocked by a devastating earthquake. The almost 2,000-year-old city centre was rebuilt, piece by piece. That is why many palaces, theatres and avenues date back to the 17th and 18th century. Among the monumental baroque architecture we still find some Greek-Roman ruins that attest to Catania’s long history. Remnants of Byzantine, Arab and Norman architecture reveal that Sicily has always been an important crossroads for seagoing civilizations.
The Piazza del Duomo is the vibrant heart of the city. In the centre of this lively square stands a fountain with a small black elephant. Legend says it was petrified by the lava stream from Mount Etna. The square is also known for Catania’s most famous monument: the cathedral, or Duomo di Sant’Agata. An elegant 18th-century cathedral, the façade is built in white and grey stone, an elegant contrast against the blue Sicilian sky. The cathedral was built in memory of St. Agatha, a well-known catholic martyr who was born in Catania.
The heart of this seaside town beats in the magnificent ’A Piscaria, the popular fish market near the Piazza del Duomo. The many stalls are packed with glistening sardines, swordfish and shellfish, including scampi and vongole (clams), which can be found in many of the delicious local pasta dishes. Kilo prices are loudly announced in Catania’s characteristic sing-song accent; this is the place where market visitors can get a fantastic look into the local routine. Around the fish market you will also find stalls displaying other goodies, such as olives, cheese, fruit and vegetables.
The long Via Etnea stretches from the Piazza del Duomo to the foot of Mount Etna. Framed by 18th-century mansions, this is the city’s best known avenue. It’s not only the biggest shopping street in Catania, lined with many famous Italian fashion brands, it’s one of the best spots to enjoy a spectacular view of the volcano. No matter where you are, the impressive silhouette always looms in the distance. A leisurely stroll along the Via Etnea leads to some lovely city parks, such as the Giardino Bellini, and monumental squares where you can pause over an espresso.