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Catania, Italy 2018
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When I first began to plan my latest trip to Sicily, I read quite a few disparaging reviews of Catania. The picture painted by these negative comments seemed to indicate that Catania was just a gritty transport hub with few redeeming features.

All I can say is that you shouldn't believe all you read on the Internet. I found Catania to be a lively and interesting city, with lots to offer the intrepid tourist.

Indeed, as it IS an important rail and bus hub (with an airport thrown in), it is also a good place to stay and do day trips to various places close by.

Apart from the usual violence in Catania's history caused by humans, the city has been almost destroyed a few times by the forces of nature.

Mt Etna (a still active volcano) is close by, and last erupted violently in 1669 AD. Many of the Ancient Roman structures were built with the black lava stone which emanated from Etna. On one occasion, only the city walls protected Catania and they diverted the lava flow around the city and into the old harbour.

Major earthquakes devastated Catania in 1169 and 1693 AD. Two thirds of Catania's population were killed in the earthquake and tsunami of 1693.

On the positive side, Mt Etna has also contributed to the fertility of the land around the city.

The arch in this photo is part of a viaduct which carries the trains to the Central Railway station close by, towards the left. On the other side of the viaduct is a park which is a lively place full of stalls selling all sorts of things.
This is the Castello Ursino (Bear Castle) which was built by Frederick II (1194 - 1250).

Frederick II started out merely as the King of Sicily, but finally ended up as the Holy Roman Emperor. It was in Frederick's reign that the Holy Roman Empire reached its territorial peak.

He was even proclaimed as the King of Jerusalem in the final years of his life. Not a bad career for a Royal.

The Castello Ursino was one of the few buildings in Catania which survived the major earthquake of 1693.

What is astonishing is that when the castle was first built, it was on a cliff at the seashore. Lava flows from Mt Etna and regular earthquakes created new land, and now the Castello is some way inland (see map below).

Lava even flowed into the Western section of the moat which once surrounded the castle.

According to Google Earth, the Castello Ursino (marked in red above) is now about 400 metres from the closest point of the harbour, whereas it was first built on a cliff at the seashore.
In a niche in the external wall of the Castello Ursino, a pigeon sits proudly on the head of an Imperial Eagle.
These are part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman Amphitheatre in the centre of Catania.

You can see that the Romans were happy to use the black lava stones so kindly provided by Mt Etna.

Another view of the Roman Amphitheatre.
This was a Roman Thermal Bath. It is quite close to the Castello Ursino.
This is a shot of Mt Etna, which so generously donated the black lava stones for the Ancient Roman builders. There was still snow at its peak in the beginning of May, 2018. On a cloudless day, you can see smoke emanating from its volcanic chimneys.
This is the park where I took the photo of Mt Etna. The park was named after the musical composer, Vincenzo Bellini, who was born in Catania.

The Giardino Bellini Park is adjacent to the Via Aetna, which became the most fashionable street in Catania, after the city was completely rebuilt in the Baroque style, following the devastating earthquake of 1693.

Another view of the Giardino Bellini.
The Chiesa Parrocchiale Sant'Agata al Borgo faces the Piazza Cavour, which is adjacent to Via Aetna. Saint Agatha is the Patron Saint of Catania.
I presume that it is Saint Agatha being crowned in Heaven by Jesus. This is in the Apse of the Chiesa Parrocchiale Sant'Agata al Borgo.
This is a list of Churches in Catania, taken from Wikipedia. As you can see, there is no shortage of Religious Culture in Catania.
At the end of the Via Pacini we see the Basilica Santuario Del Carmine. It is on the Piazza Carlo Alberto di Savoia, which is a lively market place.
The Baroque facade of the Basilica Santuario Del Carmine.
The Nave and Apse of the Basilica Santuario Del Carmine.
Market stalls in the Piazza Carlo Alberto.
This old building with its internal courtyard is on the Via Aetna.
A balloon seller plies his trade on the Via Aetna, close to the Giardino Bellini. Two women are walking briskly for fitness, while one is multi-tasking and checking her mobile.
These ornamental mandarin trees on a side street had a sign asking passer-bys not to pinch the fruit. It seemed to be effective!
On the left is the Basilica di Maria SS. dell'Elemosina, also known as the Collegiate Church.

Its facade was designed by Stefano Ittar, who originally hailed from the town of Volynska which is now in the Ukraine. It was then part of the Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Confederation. It seems that rich and cultured Catania was a magnet for talented people form all over Europe.

The white carpet running up the stairs to the Basilica is for an impending wedding.

The interior of the Basilica di Maria SS. dell'Elemosina.

Note that the organ is surpisingly in the Apse behind the altar. This may have happened because when the Church was reconstructed after the 1693 earthquake, it was turned 180 degrees around so that the new entrance faced onto the fashionable Via Aetna.

Ceiling frescoes in the Collegiate Church.
All ready for the new Bride and Groom.
The dome of the Collegiate Church.
This is La Candelora in the Collegiate Church.

Once a year, on the 2nd of February, there is an outdoor religious festival in Catania when groups of men carry such large and heavy items from various churches. They sometimes compete with each other to see who can be the most vigorous and enduring team, holding up these heavy objects.

These festivals are known in the English-speaking world as Candlemas.

This is the Palazzo dell'Universita.

The University was founded in 1434 by Alfonso the Magnanimous, the King of Sicily and Aragon. The current building was erected after the 1693 earthquake.

The inner courtyard of the University.
This is the Piazza del Duomo looking South towards the very end of Via Aetna.
In the Piazza del Duomo stands a large column which sits upon an elephant sculpted out of black lava stone.
The Fontana dell'Elefante is a fountain and a symbol of the city of Catania.
As is to be expected, the Cathedral of Catania sits in its own Piazza del Duomo.
The Nave and Apse of the Cathedral of Catania.
These mattresses on the floor of the Aisle of the Cathedral are for the homeless in Catania.
The Cathedral organ.
An elaborate Baroque side chapel in the Cathedral.
In the Piazza del Duomo, this Arch marks the very end of the Via Aetna. If we were to walk through the Arch we would come to the railway viaduct which featured in the very first photo at the top of this page.
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