Friday 21 August 2015

Catania, Sicily

Summer time is here and it’s holiday season! So I decided to book a week’s trip to Sicily to enjoy the sunshine and see some sights. I booked a GAdventures tour (‘Best of Sicily’).

I started in Catania – Sicily’s second largest city. Catania sits at the base of the biggest active volcano in Europe (Mount Etna) and has felt the effects of this – the most recent ‘activity’ had been only 2 months before I was there. In 1669 lava covered the city and then in 1693 an earthquake destroyed it. Most of the old town was then rebuilt (using lava!). In total the city has been buried by lava 17 times! However these seismic explosions also produce volcanic ash which results in fertile soil – especially for vines.

Whilst sometimes described as rather dull and grey, I found the city had a good atmosphere and was easy to wander around. The key sights are:

The ‘heart’ of the city is the Piazza del Duomo, a Sicilian baroque square rebuilt in 1700 on the site of the medieval equivalent. It is the main meeting point of locals and tourists and home to some of the most impressive elements of the city.

The Cathedral (“Basilica Cattedrale Sant'Agata”), dedicated to St. Agata (the city’s patron saint)

The Municipio (Town Hall) and Diocesan Museum

And the city’s symbol – the lava elephant fountain (“Fontana dell'Elefante”). 

 This fountain was built in 1736 but the elephant dates back to Roman times. The ancient Eygptian obelisk on its back, decorated with hieroglyphics. Legend says that a Byzantine magician (Eliodor) rode an elephant into the city and the elephant is now named after him (“Liotru”).

This is also the one place where the city’s subterranean river (“Amenano”) surfaces.

From this city square, I decided to take a small train around the city to orientate myself (only 5€ for a 45mins trip) and taking a shady break from the 37’c heat.

The main shopping street ‘Via Etnea’.

The Bellini Garden (“Giardino Bellini”) – the oldest urban park in Catania

In layers under the present day city are the Roman city from beforehand and the Greek city from before then.  Different ancient remains can be seen in the city centre, including the roman amphitheatre at Piazza Stesicoro

Churches and other historic buildings are everywhere, as well as shady little lanes to explore...


‘Teatro Massimo’ – a 19th century opera house

After the train ride I found myself in Catania’s bustling markets – fish, food and clothes…

Although 'after hours' they don't look so good:

There is meant to be a great fish market (“La Pescheria”) just off Piazza del Duomo but it only runs Monday-Saturday mornings so I missed it, but Rick Stein said it’s the best fish market in the world!

There seemed to always be people celebrating weddings around the city too..

The city also has good food.

A local delicacy is horse meat which I had at a rustic restaurant ‘Taverna dei Conti

It’s served as a thin steak – almost like a beef minute-steak and you’d never know!

Accompanied by a delicious seafood carpaccio (pickled fish: salmon, prawns & octopus)...

...and various tapas veggies

…and of course some lovely Italian wine.

One night my sister popped over from nearby Taormina.  After drinks and a catch-up, we went on the hunt for food.

Another local food is Pasta alla Norma (fried aubergine pieces, a rich tomato sauce and salty ricotta cheese on top of pasta) which we tried to eat at ‘Trattoria di de Fiore’ one night, but unfortunately we were on a time deadline and service was incredibly slow so we had to leave.

Instead headed to the nearby ‘StreetFood’ place.

I would definitely recommend this place – we appeared and explained we had less than 1 hour and highlighted some key foodie favs and the staff rallied around and brought us a delicious feast…

There are lots of little cafes and restaurants lining the small streets of the city – perfect for a catch up over wine…

…or a refreshing iced coffee.

For drinks on our last night, we headed to Heaven, a bar in ‘Teatro Massimo’ where we sampled a random selection of cocktails.

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