Carol Forster column

Port of Catania.
Port of Catania.
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Known as the ‘Milan of the south’ due to its industrious economic activity and positioned on the Ionian coast, Catania (originally Katane) is Sicily’s second largest city and was founded by the Chalcidians from Greece in 729BC, with later invaders including Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans.

Catania lies in the shadow of smouldering Etna, watching over the city like a stern father, both scolding and providing for the city with its juxtaposed eruptions and fertile soil.

It has survived some appalling disasters.

Having reached a position of great commercial, cultural and artistic success by mid 17th century, it then suffered Etna’s devastating eruption in 1669, which killed 12000 people and a later 1693 earthquake killed another 20000.

However, this tough city regained its strength after architect Giovanni Vaccarini helped rebuild it, with Etna in mind, by designing easy escape routes and shelter, in case the beast should blow again.

The palazzi and churches were constructed in Baroque style and the lava itself was incorporated cleverly into the architecture, thus turning disaster into triumph.

The city’s sights are very interesting.

From its Roman occupation, The ‘Teatro Romano’ was built on the site of a Greek theatre in 2AD and Sicily’s largest amphitheatre, which once held 15000 spectators, is like a smaller Colisseum.

Etna features everywhere. For example, a lava elephant fountain supporting an Egyptian obelisk, is the city’s symbol.

Lava has been so important to this city, as this clearly demonstrates.

Ever enterprising and resilient, Catania’s cathedral , dedicated to Sant Agata, sits on the site of an 11th century church destroyed during the 1669 earthquake.

However, nature ultimately dominates, as the 13th century ‘Castello Ursino’, built for Frederick 11, was ‘relocated’ from a prime cliff-top position by the force of Etna’s lava.

From a later era, you’ll see the baroque ‘Basilica della Collegiata’, and ‘Teatro Massimo Bellini’, the opera house named after locally born composer Vincenzo Bellini.

Finally, you could explore Catania’s fish market - much as it was hundreds of years ago – bearing the freshest fruits of the sea.