Catania – a major port
Catania is a major port located on the eastern coast of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna, the center of the province of the same name. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city is about 300 thousand people – it is the second largest city in Sicily and the tenth in Italy.
Catania was founded by Greek colonists who arrived in Sicily in 729 BC. In the 5th century BC the cruel tyrant from Syracuse Heron I expelled the inhabitants of the city and renamed Catania to Aitna, but he was soon overthrown, and the city regained its name. In 403 BC Catania was once again ruled by Syracuse, and the inhabitants of the city were sold into slavery. A statue of Cora (Persephone) with a torch in hand made during that period has survived to this day.
Up to the beginning of the 3rd century BC Catania was controlled by Syracuse, and only in 263 BC the Romans seized power. They invaded the city during the First Punic War and stayed here for a long seven centuries, during which Catania flourished economically and culturally. And today you can see the then built Roman Forum, circus, theater, odeon and a unique water supply system. After the Romans of Catania, the Byzantine Empire ruled for some time, in the 9th century Arabs appeared here, and at the end of the 11th century, the Normans came to their place.
In 1169, a terrible earthquake occurred in the city, from which they could not recover for almost forty years. At that time, the inhabitants of Catania supported the Otville family in the struggle for power with Henry VI – for which the latter avenged himself with a fierce raid on the city, during which there was a fire that destroyed Catania, which had not yet had time to rise from the ruins.
Only in the middle of the 13th century the city was able to get rid of feudal oppression, and in 1434 the first university in Sicily was opened here, which became a kind of symbol of the revival of Catania. However, the heyday did not last long – in 1669 there was a large eruption of Etna, and the city was covered with a layer of lava and ash. And another quarter century later, in 1693, another earthquake occurred, which destroyed everything that by that time they had only managed to recover. To the credit of the inhabitants of the city, it must be said that the tragic fate did not stop them, and they began with renewed vigor to build a new Catania. For construction, black lava and light limestone were used, which gave the city a unique look.
Having joined the united Italy, Catania continued to develop steadily, “calming down” only during the Second World War. And in recent decades, high technologies have been actively developed here, for which the city today is called the European Silicon Valley. In addition, Catania is one of the main economic, tourist and educational centers of Sicily.
The symbol of Catania is the so-called “u Liotru”, or the Elephant Fountain, created in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. He is a figure of an elephant made of lava and crowned with an Egyptian obelisk from Aswan. They say that the elephant was originally castrated, but the male population of the city considered this an insult to their gender. To reassure them, Vaccarini attached the animal its genital organs.
The Sicilian name of the fountain – u Liotru – is the changed name of Heliodorus, a noble nobleman who, after several unsuccessful attempts to become bishop of Catania, engaged in magic, for which he was sentenced to be burned at the stake. According to legend, it was Heliodor who authored the sculpture of the elephant and used it for his sorcerous journeys from Catania to Constantinople. According to another legend, Heliodor himself could turn into this animal.
By the way, scientists found that once in ancient times dwarf elephants inhabited Sicily – the skeleton of one of them can be seen today in the local Museum of Mineralogy, Paleontology and Volcanology.
As mentioned above, Catania was several times buried under a layer of lava and ash from the eruptions of Etna. Therefore, many monuments of the Greek and Roman eras were not preserved. Nevertheless, some ancient ruins can still be seen today, for example, the Greco-Roman theater of the 2nd century, the odeon of the 3rd century, which accommodated up to 1,500 spectators, an amphitheater, a Roman aqueduct and forum, the first Christian basilicas, tombstones and catacombs . Some Roman baths have also survived to this day – the so-called Baths of Achilles, the baths of Santa Maria Hodegetria, the baths of the Palazzo Asmundo and the Palazzo del Universita and others.
Of particular interest to tourists is the baroque architecture of the center of Catania, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the magnificent buildings of that era, it is worth noting the Cathedral, built in the 11th century, the church of Santo Carchere, also known as Santa Agata al Carchere, with an antique dungeon, in which, according to legend, was laid out St. Agatha, the church of Francis of Assisi with the remains of Queen Eleanor of Sicily and the temple Of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Onina, the main fishing quarter of Catania.