When planning private tours of Sicily for the clients Road to Italy always recommends to visit Catania, the island’s second-largest city after Palermo. It is a real treat for Italy lovers, who want to delve deeper into the country’s past and present.
Catania has lived through the turmoil of invasions, earthquakes and volcano eruptions that have shaped the city. The ever-present Mount Etna looms on the background spitting smoke and ashes now and then. The devastating eruption in the 17th century destroyed Catania and the city was rebuilt in a most splendid manner: magnificent Sicilian Baroque style churches and palaces were erected on large open squares and sweeping avenues.
Today Catania is a vibrant city with a beautiful old center, excellent restaurants and lively street markets. There are plenty of things to do and see. Piazza Duomo, in the heart of the city, is a great place to start exploring Catania. The imposing cathedral of St. Agata with ornate interior and splendid frescoes dominates the central square. On the other side of the square stands another impressive building, the 18th century town hall.
Head south from the piazza to see Catania’s bustling fish market (A’ Piscaria Mercato del Pesce) that has not changed for hundreds years. Here you can bargain, buy fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheap electronics and have a great authentic meal. The traffic-free boulevard Via Etnea is another great location for shopping, where you will also find bars and restaurants.
The three Roman theaters that miraculously survived Catania’s turbulent past bare testimony to the city’s ancient origins. The Amphitheater in Piazza Stesicoro, used to be Sicily’s largest entertainment venue in its glory days that could accommodate around 15,000 spectators.
If you are feeling adventurous, make sure to visit the Mount Etna. From late spring through summer, a cable car can take you up, close to the crater zone. From there admire thrilling panorama of Catania.
The city’s cuisine is one of the greatest tourist attraction. Near the fish market, Osteria Antica Marina serves mouth-watering spaghetti with sea urchins and grilled cuttlefish. To have the best pasta alla Norma, another famous local dish that combines home-made pasta, egg-plant, tomato sauce and ricotta cheese, head to Nuova Trattoria del Forestiero (Via Coppola, 24).
Photos by: Álvaro Moreno Gómez, Fernando García, Caterina Policaro.