Katane (the city’s ancient name), or Catania, was founded by the Greek Chalcidians in 729 B.C. Her history is like most of Sicily’s in that she was occupied by various forces including the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish. The entire city is overshadowed by the powerful volcano of Mt. Etna. In 1669, Mt. Etna erupted, killing 12, 000 people and destroying the entire city. An earthquake followed in 1693, further devastating the land. The following year Catania was reconstructed with Baroque style construction, breathing new life into the city.
The lava stone from Mt. Etna was utilized as a building material for many of the new buildings’ exteriors, imparting on her a unique and rich visual mixture of what I like to call “Catanian Chiaroscuro.”
I have read that you either love Catania immensely or hate it and want to leave as quickly as possible. I was one of the people who pretty much fell in love and found nothing but beauty in her grimy opulence.
At 7:30am we were on board the train from Siracusa to Catania in order to make it in time to witness the big event of La Pescheria, the famous Catania Fish Market.
We entered the market through the Porta Uzeda and had no idea what to expect upon entering the belly of the beast.
Our first looks at La Pescheria
To witness La Pescheria is to witness a total event in itself! There is so much energy flying about – vendors yelling out prices, trying to outsell each other and enticing people to buy from them, and customers bargaining to “fare buoni affari” (get good deals) on the numerous sea creatures, fresh vegetables, fruit and cheese on parade.
And into the belly…
Not being big fish eaters, we ended up fishless, but I did purchase 200 grams of ricotta al forno, or baked ricotta, from the lunch meat and cheese truck for an afternoon snack.
We headed back through the Porta Uzeda, which divides the city from the port, into the main square of Catania, Piazza del Duomo. The 11th century Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of St. Agata, is absolutely the most beautiful that I have ever seen! The impressive façade, with its grey lava wash, contains two columns taken from the site of the ancient Roman Amphitheater. The exterior also boasts many baroque style sculptures, adding to the “chiaroscuro” effect that I mentioned above.
St. Agata is the patron saint of Catania. In 250 AD, she was horrifically mutilated (her breasts were hacked off and she was rolled in hot coals) because she refused the advances of Quintian, a Roman prefect. She was martyred after her death and the cathedral was dedicated to her as protectress of the city.
Also in Piazza del Duomo is la Fontana dell’Elefante, or Fountain of the Elephant. Constructed in 1736 from the lava stone of Mt. Etna, the Liotru (as it is known by the locals) dates back to the Roman period and supports an Egyptian obelisk. Its original owner was Eliodorus, a magician who made his living by turning people into animals. And thus, the Liotru became the prized symbol of the city because it is believed to have magical powers that calm the activity of Mt. Etna.
On our walk back to the rail station, I witnessed a totally unexpected gem – a huge fountain depicting the Rape of Persephone. A very, very short summary of this myth: Pluto, god of the Underworld kidnaps Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter) against her will to reign with him in the Underworld. For a much more detailed version of this story, click the link above.
Holding up to my promise of trying a cannolo in every city we visit, we purchased the best cannoli we’ve had up date at Caffe del Duomo, right in the square. We took it portare via or “to go” and ate those bad boys while we were sitting at the rail station, awaiting our train back to Siracusa.
It was 7pm when we got back to Siracusa. As tired as we were, we managed to cook dinner. Hey, I never said red wine didn’t give me a second wind