What to see in the historic centre.
To make an exhaustive list of the things to see in Catania would be to undermine the city's artistic and cultural greatness, as this would risk excluding places that are worthy of the traveller's attention. For this reason, we would like to outline a route that touches on some of the landmarks of the city's historic centre, starting from its heart: Piazza del Duomo.
Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Catania
This is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. In the centre stands the Fountain of the Elephant, the city's symbol, an 18th-century work by architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini. The lava stone elephant, surmounted by an obelisk decorated in Egyptian style, dates back to Roman times. Around this statue revolve curious legends linked to Heliodorus, a nobleman of the city who lived in the 8th century AD and was accused of being a "necromancer and idol smith" and, for this very reason, sentenced to death by Bishop Leo II the Thaumaturge. The term Liotru, with which the Catanese refer to the fountain, is said to be a mispronunciation of the name Heliodorus, who, according to the popular rumours of the time, flew around on an elephant's back!
The pachyderm's trunk indicates the spectacular Cathedral of St Agatha, built in 1,094, during Norman rule, on the Roman site of the Achillian Baths (2nd century AD). Over the centuries, the building has undergone numerous reconstructions but has retained traces of each phase of its history. Its majestic Baroque façade, also designed by Vaccarini, immediately catches the visitor's eye. The three-nave interior is also admirable; the tomb of the great Catanese composer Vincenzo Bellini is located here. After visiting the cathedral, you can take the famous Via Etnea from Piazza del Duomo.
Via Etnea, the main artery of Catania's social life
Elegant and full of life, Via Etnea is Catania's most famous street. Travellers are always fascinated by this partly pedestrian-only avenue, which is lined with historic buildings and beautiful churches, as well as shops and all sorts of places. The lava stone paving enhances the beauty of the Baroque buildings. After a shopping trip, those wishing to take a break from the bustle of Via Etnea can escape to Villa Bellini for a pleasant stroll through this well-kept city garden; nature lovers will also be pleased to visit the nearby Botanical Garden, founded in 1858 by Benedictine monk Francesco Tornabene (October to March, open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm; Saturday until 1pm. From April to September, open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm; Saturday until 1 pm).
Moving on from natural treasures to archaeological ones, still on Via Etnea is the Roman Amphitheatre from the 2nd century AD, in Piazza Stesicoro. But the star of ancient Catania, as we all know, is the Roman Theatre.
The Roman Theatre, the treasure of ancient Catania
The Roman Theatre of Catania is reached by taking Via Vittorio Emanuele II from Piazza del Duomo. Five minutes on foot and the visitor will be in front of the entrance. The structure, apparently built on a pre-existing Greek theatre, could seat as many as 7,000 people. Today you can see the cavea with the tiers for spectators, the orchestra and the stage.
The theatre is open every day, Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 17:00; Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm. Full tickets cost €6.00, reduced tickets €3.00. On the first Sunday of the month the entrance is free and the closing time is at 5 pm.
Our walk through the historical centre of Catania ends here... but the wonders with which the city of Etna conquers travellers do not end here.