Note: This travelogue is based on a trip I took to Sicily in 1995, so the pictures and information are rather dated and may not accurately reflect the modern appearance. I welcome updates and corrections.
Catania is a sprawling city built on the gentler slopes of the eastern seaboard of Sicily (as opposed to, say, the cliff-edge town of Taormina). At one level, it is just another grand Italian city, with its beautiful fountains, churches, and markets. At another level, it is a historical wonder, laden with artifacts and archaeological finds of Sicily's multi-imperial past.
As a major economic center, Catania bustles with activity. Much of Sicily's industry is nearby, as is the hub of her rail and road systems. But the center of the city is old, classic Italian -- filled with great, authentic Sicilian food (which is different than what is considered Sicilian in the states) and tremendous atmosphere.
The first photo is of the Cathedral in Catania... visible evidence that back in the bad ol' days of the mid-90s, I hadn't a clue how to handle a camera. Certainly compared with the marvelous architectural wonders of the Duomos in Milan or Florence, this cathedral is fairly simple. However, it is beautifully decorated on the inside, and as you can see from the number of cars crowded around it, it is the center of a lot of activity. I recall many a time when I could hear the church launching fireworks, celebrating the patron saint of the day (just a single bottle rocket, not a full fourth-of-July-esque display).
The marketplace, shown in the next photo, is massive. It fills the church square over a couple blocks. This section had the vegetables, other sections had seafood, housewares, and clothing. I was definitely impressed with the seafood -- nearly everything was available from fish to shellfish. I would caution against the clothing, however -- I purchased a couple collared shirts in Catania but they lasted only two washings in a standard American washer. The shirts do much better in the gentler cycles of European washers (well, that's my excuse, maybe my heat setting was set for American permanent press... I don't remember, that was seven years ago).
One of the dangers of living in such a proud, old city is that the occasional and badly needed public works project sometimes can get disrupted permanently by an accidental historical find. Such was the case in the street block shown in this photo. This is an ancient amphitheater that was unearthed when the Sicilian government tried to expand the overly congested highway running through town. The punch line to this is that a full city block wound up having to be cleared out, and the amphitheater dug up completely, forcing traffic to be rerouted on even less roadspace than before. Well, that's the price of history, one might say.
You will see a number of proud artifacts -- I recall a bridge or rail line having been built on the foundation of an old aquaduct. Small ruins lay throughout the city, all protected as historical sites.
Catania is a great place to stay because it is in the center of a number of other attractions. To the north is the cliffside city of Taormina. To the south, only an hour's drive away, are the Roman ruins of Agrigento. And of course, Mt. Etna looms high, high above the city. Getting around Catania is not hard, and access to the island's major highways is pretty simple. Catania's airport is just as large as Palermo to the west, and has plenty of regular flights going to/from Rome, so it's very convenient.
So... what are you waiting for? Come to Catania, and enjoy Sicily!
Trip taken 28 August - 9 September 1995 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin