Catania is Sicily’s second largest city after Palermo, and bear a turbulent and eventful history. It lies in the shadow of Mount Etna. This means it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times courtesy of the various eruptions. Nevertheless, the Catanians also benefit from the incredibly arable and fertile land that surrounds this volcano. Unfortunately, Catania has also been very susceptible to earthquakes. Many of these have been completely destructive, for instance that of 1169 and the more recent 1693. Catania, along with its home Sicily, has seen many different rulers. It belonged to the Greeks for a long time, and has also had Arab, Roman and Byzantine rulers amongst others.
Despite such an unpredictable and changeable environment, Catania has an extremely rich culture. For example, it is the home of the first Sicilian university. This arose in the 1300s, and is a symbol of Catania’s importance in Sicily’s intellectual history. The city is also famous for its street food culture. The markets here are brilliant, the seafood variety being particularly popular. Some of the great foods you will find here include chiacchiere (fried crispy dough covered in fine sugar), arancini (fried rice balls with ragù, cheese and other fillings).
A particularly traditional way of serving meat here is the arrusti e mangia method, which translates as “grill and eat”. This is usually done with horse or donkey meat, and is a very popular form of street food. For something more refreshing, it is definitely worth finding some pistachio gelato. This nut is grown everywhere in Sicily, and the flavors seem to be more intense as a result!
The historical center of Catania is where you will find most of its attractions. Perhaps the most important of these is the Piazza Duomo. This is home to Catania’s baroque cathedral, as well as the famous elephant monument. The latter consists of an elephant perched atop a fountain, and mounted by an obelisk. The elephant is sad to bring good luck to the city, and ward off intruders, dangers and natural disasters. Catania is also home to such historical remains as the Castello Ursino and its Roman amphitheater. The former was built by Federico II of Sicily in the 13th Century.
In the evenings Catania offers many lively bars and restaurants in which to enjoy the warm ambiance. A traditional dish served almost everywhere in the city is the pasta alla Norma. This is named after Bellini’s opera, and consists of aubergine, tomato and ricotta pasta.
You can easily reach this city by train from most places in Sicily. The nearest airport is the Catania-Fontanarossa airport which lies just outside of the city.