sicily home |  sitemap | imprint

Sicily Home >  About Sicily >  Day trips >  Catania

Catania on Sicily

Catania is the island’s second biggest town und is situated at the foot of the Etna, directly at Sicily’s East coast; a town which is pulsating with life. We like to say in advance that Catania, despite there are a lot of sights, is certainly not a typical place for tourists. There is simply too much traffic, and because of the ash rain from the Etna, many buildings are rather dirty.

But somebody who is planning a shopping tour or searching for a vivid nightlife will be satisfied for sure. In the evening, the smaller streets in the centre are blocked by restaurant’s tables so that it is impossible for cars to pass. In the centre you can go from one bar to the next and enjoy night life.

During day time, in the shops situated at the Via Etnea and the Corso Sicilia there are plenty of opportunities to buy beautiful Italian shoes as well as a completely new wardrobe. In between, the thirsty visitor can refresh himself with a so-called Granita, some kind of drinkable sorbet (especially recommendable is almond with coffee) and (next to that) a Brioche. Something you may find difficult to get used to a little is the long lunch break from one till four o’clock, but if one plans this in advance already it is no problem. Time is flying away while visiting the dome or one of the other sights.

Traffic connection and general info

Catania has an airport named Fontanarossa which is approximately 5 km south of the town; from here there are direct flights to Rome, Milan, Stuttgart, Munich etc. The train connections lead to all bigger towns of the island and also further away: Palermo, Syrakus, Messina as well as Rome and Milan. At the station, there is also the starting point of the Etna Round train, with which you can make a trip round the Etna. Motorways lead to Messina (A18) and in the direction of Palermo (A19). Catania is the capital of the province and has about 400.000 inhabitants.


About 4 km south of the city there is the bathing beach, Lido Playa. In summer, also a lot of residents go there during lunch break for enjoying refreshment.


Centre of the town is the Piazza del Duomo with the Elephant well. The cathedral San Ágata is worth a visit in any case. The Castello Ursino, a dark castle built out of lava stones in the year 1239, is dated from the time of the Stauffer. There is also the Museo Civico with local findings, for example Roman sculptures, porcelain ware and a collection of weapons.

left: A Park in Catania. A little Oasis to relax.
Abb. rechts: The Elephant is a symbol of the city.

Catania’s history

The foundation of the town goes back to the Ionian Greeks, who in 739 BC founded the city of Katane; here it should be mentioned that also the Siculians had settled at this place. It was an offshoot of the first Greek town in Sicily, Naxos, and was built up at the same time as Lentini, which is situated more in the south and was called Lentinoi at that time. A few years earlier, the Greeks of Dorian origin had founded the town Syracus further in the south, and for more than 300 years there was a tug of war about the supremacy of this region between the Dorian Greeks from the south and Ionians from Naxos. Because Catania was situated directly in between of the two towns, it was in the middle of the conflict. So in the 5th century BC, under the dominion of the tyrant Hieron I of Syracus, all inhabitants of Katane were resettled in Lentinoi and in Katane 10.000 settlers found a new home. After Hieron’s death, the new residents were expelled and the old inhabitants of the town turned back. 425 BC the town became victim of another powerful neighbour, the Etna. Streams of Lava poured into the town and devastated Katane.
Under the Romans, which invaded in the town 263 BC, Catania developed to one of the leading commercial centres on Sicily. The port of Catania served as a reloading point for the whole Mediterranean area, which of course was a huge advantage for the town and brought money to Catania, so that it experienced a boom which can be witnessed still today by several Roman buildings. During the Arabians´ power, Catania experienced a further flowering time, as they developed the cultivation of citrus fruits. The fruitful plain south of Catania and the slopes of the Etna were the perfect fertile soil for the lemon and orange trees. But, during the time the Arabians were on Sicily, Catania was always in the shadow of Palermo, which represented the real centre of Arabian power on the island. After the Arabians, the Normans came here and developed Catania further on as a centre of commerce and seafaring. The Normans were followed by the Stauffer, the castle Ursino was built up during the reign of Friedrich II. After his death, the Stauffer’s power on Sicily split up and the pope set in the French Count of Anjou as a sovereign. His reign lasted only for a few decades and was ended with the Sicilian vespers. This period was followed by the Spanish Aragonese who promoted Catania furtheron and built up a university in 1434.
1669 it there was a real disaster; big parts of Catania were buried under huge amounts of Lava of the Etna. The lava poured into town and destroyed the surrounding land, the harvest stayed away and many people died from starvation and epidemics. Even worse, only 24 years later, in 1693 an earthquake hit Catania. It destroyed the town, which was already struggling, completely. When the town was rebuilt, the architects Giovani Vaccarini and Stefano Ittar were told to develop a map of the town which would prevent worse in case future eruptions and catastrophes. The architects developed a screen of streets which you can still see today. It has a lot of places and streets of various widths, which in case of further eruptions of the volcano would allow better ways to escape and more protection against the streams of Lava. The reconstruction was done in baroque stile which predominated at that time and is still putting its stamp on the townscape today; as a building material the cold lava was used. In the course of time, many buildings decayed and the fronts crumbled, many of the marvellous buildings are in a bad condition and the dark stone of the lava give the town a gloomy look. In the 19th century Catania became capital of the province.

In the new Millennium, massive restoration works are done, and many buildings shine with brightness. The places which were formerly shook by traffic, for example the marvellous Piazza del Duomo with its fabulous Elephant well, were freed from cars, more and more green parks are cultivated and some of the main roads in the centre, for example the Via Etnea, are partly changed into pedestrian zones. This development is going on every year, and in case it will be kept on, Catania will turn into one of the most attractive towns on the island which is already now worth a visit.

sicily back sicily home sicily top sicily  next