The overwhelming beauty of the city obviously offers the sight of some magnificent architectural works. There are the Piazza del Duomo, with the famous Fontana dell’elefante, or the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, the patron saint of the city. But the soul of the city lies in its colorful, lively and chaotic markets, which well represent Catania. Not to be forgotten, however, is the Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini, which with a guided tour, offers tourists the opportunity to admire its majesty and its frescoes.
Between one walk and another it is impossible not to find yourself in Via Etnea which, with its exquisite Baroque taste, is the main shopping street for both the people of Catania, both for tourists and, between one shop window and another, you can stop by and taste some of the most famous delights of the city: from cassate to cannoli and from Iris to arancino. And for those who want to enjoy a relaxing day by the sea or on the beach, the city is equipped with a famous and particular coastline, which thanks to the presence of Etna, is characterized by volcanic black cliffs.
Moreover, for those passing by Catania, it is a must to make an excursion by jeep, on foot or with the Circumetnea Railway on the volcano to closely admire its majesty.
Among the main attractions of the city we find:
the cathedral of Sant’Agata: the current church was designed by Girolamo Palazzotto and built in 1711,. The sumptuous façade in three orders by Giovan Battista Vaccarini is composed by white Carrara marble and decorated with columns and statues. Noteworthy are the central portal, with 32 finely carved wooden panels, and the three apses in lava stone of Etna, legacy of the previous cathedral of the Norman era..
The interior is divided into three naves; the frescoes stand out, in particular the one in the central apse, depicting the Coronation of Saint Agatha, made by the Roman Giovan Battista Corradini. In the right aisle, however, is the funeral monument of the musician Vincenzo Bellini. The right apse houses the magnificent chapel of Sant’Agata which houses the sacellum with precious relics. The temple also houses the tombs of numerous Norman, Swabian and Aragonese royalty.
Roman amphitheater of Catania: The Roman amphitheater of Catania, of which it is visible today a small section in Piazza Stesicoro, was probably built in the second century on the northern edge of the ancient city, close to the hill Montevergine that housed the main core of the town. The area where it stands, which is today part of the historic center of the city, was formerly used as a necropolis. The amphitheatre of Catania is structurally the most complex of the Sicilian amphitheatres and the largest in Sicily. It belongs to the group of large buildings such as the Colosseum, the amphitheater of Capua, the Arena of Verona.
The building had an elliptical plan, the arena presented a diameter longer than 70 m and smaller than about 50 m. The external diameters were 125 x 105 m, while the outer circumference was 309 meters and the circumference of the Arena 192 meters. Some studies have certified the capacity of 15,000 seated spectators and of about twice of it standing, with the addition of wooden scaffolding. Furthermore, a cover of large sheets was probably supposed to shelter it from the strong sun or rain. According to an uncertain and unevidenced tradition, it is also believed that there were naumachias, real naval battles with ships and fighters, created after filling it with water through the ancient aqueduct.
Fontana dell’Elefante: it is a famous monument located in the center of the Piazza del Duomo in Catania. The work was carried out by the architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini between 1735 and 1737 and represents the three cultures: the Punic one, because the elephant is the symbol of the defeat of the Carthaginians; The Egyptian one, due to the presence of the obelisk brought to Catania at the time of the Crusades; and the Christian one, represented by the presence of a cross installed on the obelisk.
On the marble base, formed by a pedestal located in the center of a basin, two sculptures reproduce the two rivers of Catania: the Simeto and the Amenano; above is the statue of the elephant, whose trunk faces the cathedral of Sant’Agata.
The monument symbol of Catania is supposed to represent the union of the elements of nature: the land irrigated by rivers and the lava that is at the same time a source of destruction and construction. In the memory of the people of Catania, the elephant is also linked to the figure of Eliodorus, a legendary magician who lived in the eighth century and who transformed men into beasts. It is said that he managed to escape on the back of his elephant in Constantinople. Later he was exorcised by the bishop of Catania, Leone, and was burned to ashes in front of the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda. His memory remained alive in the memory of the people of Catania who began to call the elephant of Piazza Duomo by his name.
Ursino Castle: The Ursino Castle, dating back to the thirteenth century, is attributed to Frederick II of Swabia, although there is no scientific evidence that can confirm it.
The oldest evidences of occupation found on the site where it stands, date back to the times of the ancient Greek polis of Katané. It was probably part of a complex defense system extended on the coast that included, among others, the castle of Maniace di Siracusa and that of Augusta. It played an important role during the period of the “Sicilian Vespers”: in 1295 the Sicilian parliament met inside of it and deposed James II, by electing Frederick III as king of Sicily.
It was reconquered by Robert of Anjou and then again conquered by the Aragonese with Frederick who made it the seat of his court, as well as his successors. In the sixteenth century it was incorporated into the walls commissioned by Charles V to protect the city from the threat of the Turks with the construction of the bastion of San Giorgio. The introduction of gunpowder in the military weakened the role of the castle, that became the residence of the viceroys and partly used as a prison until the lava flow of 1669, that reached the walls of the castle, erasing all traces of the bastion of San Giorgio.
The first restorations date back to the 18th century. It housed the Piedmontese and then the Bourbon military garrisons, and remained a prison until 1838. In 1932 it was acquired by the Municipality of Catania, which started some long restoration works that ended only in 2009 and transformed it into a civic museum, which is the function that still covers today.
The veneration of Saint Agatha: The feast of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of the city of Catania. It takes place every year from the 3rd to the 5th of February and in August the 27th, in honor of the Patron Saint of the city.
The dates of the month of February coincide with martyrdom, while the date of August recalls the return to Catania of his remains, after they had been stolen and brought to Constantinople by the Byzantine general George Maniace. Agata was part of a noble family of Catania, and she devoted her life to the Christian religion from a young age. She was noticed by the Roman governor Quinziano, who decided he wanted her for himself.
When she refused, the consul had her martyred on the afternoon of February the 5th, 251. From that day on, the cult of the Saint developed in Catania, and also spread outside the borders of Sicily. The festival today takes place in four days: the day of February the 3rd opens with a procession for the wax’s offer in which are present, as well as citizens and tourists, even the highest religious and civil offices in the city. The procession closes in the evening, in Piazza Duomo, with the characteristic fireworks display.
The real religious festival, however, begins on the morning of the 4th, with the Aurora’s function, which inaugurates the beginning of the processions of the bust-reliquary of Saint Agatha; on this occasion, the bust is taken out of the omonymous chapel that keeps it, and ‘delivered’ to the devotees who will take it in procession along a path outside the city, which will end with the return to the Cathedral Basilica late at night. On the morning of the 5th of February, at the Cathedral Basilica, the Pontificale’s function takes place presided over by the highest local religious offices.
Throughout the day the bust-reliquary of Saint Agatha remains exposed, and finally, in the afternoon, it is again entrusted to the devotees for a one last procession along a route inside the city, that ends in the late morning of the 6th.
The festivity that takes place on August the 17th is perhaps the oldest, as it refers to the spontaneous celebrations that occurred on the night of August the17th in the year 1126, when the remains of the Holy martyr returned to Catania from Constantinople, thanks the soldiers Gisliberto and Goselmo.
Compared to the grandiose celebrations of February, the celebration is smaller, but it attracts anyway in the historic center thousands of believers, tourists and curious people. In addition to the liturgical mass, in the late afternoon there is a short procession around the Cathedral with the casket that contains the relics and the half-obusto reliquary,. The relics then go back to the Church, passing through Via Vittorio Emanuel and welcomed by extraordinary fireworks.
The casket that contains the relics of Sant’Agata is a silver case made in Gothic style by the Catanese artist Angelo Novara, around the end of the fifteenth century,. The devotees who lead the fercolo dress in a white cotton habit called “Saccu”. The sacred clothing is also completed with a black velvet headdress called “scuzzetta”, a white monastic cord that is to be tied around the waist, white gloves and a white handkerchief, which is shaken to the cry of «All devoted all, citizens viva sant’Aita».
The origin and meaning of this white habit has been debated for a long time and still is today. It is thought that the “Saccu” had to represent the night dress, since the news of the return of the remains of Saint Agatha occurred on a night of 1126. But this version would not seem to take into account the fact that the invention of the nightgown appears to be subsequent to the return to the city of the relics, and others claim instead that the habit derives from the cult of Ceres present ab origine. Probably none of these hypotheses are true.
September 24, 2021