Glaming Catania!

history, art, culture and daily life!

The “gleaming Catania” is the lyric of a song by Carmen Consoli, a Catania native! Here is some information about our city.

Catania is the main economic and industrial hub in Sicily and the city is famous for its entrepreneurial attitude.

The metropolitan area of Catania includes the comune of Catania (with about 350,000 inhabitants) and 26 surrounding comuni   around the urban belt with a total population of over 800,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area.

Catania is an old historic town. It was originally founded in the 8th century BC by the Chalcidian Greeks

The history of the city followed the history of Sicily and there are many traces of the different dominations who came to Sicily to be found such as a Greek Theatre, a Roman Amphitheater, three Roman baths and a castle from the Middle Ages (Castello Ursino) built by Frederick II.

The old town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the Sicilian Baroque style, due to the rebuilding of the city by the Spanish after the 1693 earthquake.

After World War II, the town expanded into a much larger industrial and commercial area.

The symbols of the city: the Rosso-Azzurro and the elephant

The colors rosso-azzurro (red and azure) are the colors that represent Catania and refer to the nature that characterizes the city after the red lava from Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe and today also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In contrast with the red, there is the azure of the blue sky (with 346 hours of sunshine per month on average) and the sea. The city has a beautiful, long sandy beach stretching southward of the harbor, and a lava stone rocky beach north of the harbor.

The symbol of the city is a lava stone elephant placed in the middle of Piazza Duomo, the main square and heart of Catania. The stone sculpture is most likely a prehistoric sculpture that was reforged during the Byzantine era, prized as a protective talisman against enemies, both human, natural and geological. Around the 10th century when Catania was part of the emirate of Sicily, it was known in Arabic as Madīnat al-fīl (مدينة الفيل), meaning ‘the city of the elephant’.

The presence of an elephant in the history of Catania is undoubtedly connected to both zooarchaeology and popular creeds. In fact, the prehistoric fauna of Sicily from the Upper Paleolithic included dwarf elephants. The Catania Museum of Mineralogy, Paleontology and Vulcanology hosts the integral unburied skeleton of an Elephas falconeri in an excellent state of conservation. The first inhabitants of Etna molded such lavic artifacts to idolize the mythical proboscidean.

What to see in town?

Among the many places, you cannot miss:

    • The Cathedral and Piazza Duomo, the city’s beautiful main square dominated by ‘O Liotru’, the lava elephant which is the symbol of the city
    • Via Etnea, the main historical street which spans 3km
    • Pescheria di Catania, the noisy daily fish market 
    • Ursino Castle, founded by Frederick II
    • The Greek Theatre, nestled among the city’s Baroque palazzi
    • The Roman Amphitheater, the remains of the Black Colosseum’ 
    • Via dei Crociferi, the apotheosis of the Baroque style in town 
    • Palazzo Biscari, an old palace in Sicilian Baroque style 
    • The Teatro dell’Opera, named after Vincenzo Bellini, the famous composer of the operas Norma and Puritani, also known  as the ‘swan’ of Catania! 
    • Villa Bellini, the oldest park in town 
    • A stroll along La Scogliera, the seafront with its lava stone rocky coastline and beach 
    • A walk at La Playa, the long sandy beach where all local ‘Catanesi’ spend their summers 
    • The nearby towns of Acitrezza and Acicastello, picturesque fishing villages and home of legends, mythology, literature and cinema
    • Mount Etna, you cannot leave Catania without a visit to see the volcano.

Educational institutions

Established in 1434, the University of Catania is the oldest university in Sicily.

Its academic nicknames are Siculorum Gymnasium and Siciliae Studium Generale. It hosts 17 academic departments and over 62,000 students, offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. 

Catania hosts the Scuola Superiore di Catania which are linked to the University of Catania and aim at excellence in education, offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programs for teachers. 

Catania is home to the prestigious Istituto Musicale Vincenzo Bellini an institute of musical studies (Conservatory) and the Accademia di Belle Arti an institute of artistic studies. Both institutions offer programs at university level for musical and artistic education. 

Cinema and theatre

There is a long love story between Catania and the cinema. In the early decades of the 20th century, between 1913 and 1916, not only were big silent movies shot in Catania, but several film companies such as Etna Film, Katana Film, Sicula Film and Jonio Film were also founded. Moreover, Catania hosted some of the most famous movie stars in the history of Italian Cinema.

The Catanese Ugo Saitta was the creator of Italy’s first animated short film Teste di Legno (Wooden Heads) in 1939, renamed Pisicchio and Melisenda, which was presented at the 7th International Venice Film Festival in 1939.

Nowadays, there are 18 cinemas in town with a total of 57 screens.

Catania is also the city with the highest theatre density in Sicily with about 8 theatres

The city’s most important theatre is the Opera Theatre Vincenzo Bellini, inaugurated in 1890. It is a traditional opera house with its own symphony orchestra and choir, and is home to an opera and concert season. Teatro Stabile, Teatro Metropolitan, Piccolo Teatro and Ambasciatori are also very active theatres.

Museums and public libraries

Catania is home to numerous museums, seven of which are permanent establishments:

  • the Ursino Castle Civic Museum
  • the Regional Antiquarium of the Roman Theatre
  • the Emilio Greco Museum
  • the Diocesan Museum
  • the Botanical Gardens Museum
  • the Museum of Zoology
  • the Bellini Civic Museum (at the home of Vincenzo Bellini)
  • and the Giovanni Verga House Museum

There are also three private museums:

  • the Federiciana Academy Palaeontological Museum
    the Valenziano Santangelo Museum
    the Museo Arte Contemporanea Sicilia (MACS)

At the Le Ciminiere Exhibition Centre, a completely renovated disused industrial area, regular events and exhibitions are held. Two new museums have been created within Le Ciminiere:

  • the Historical Museum of the Landing in Sicily in 1943 which also contains a large collection of objects and uniforms, weapons of the time and a virtual reconstructions of the landing.
  • the Cinema Museum contains many relics and reconstructions of famous film scenes, with a section entirely dedicated to Catania as a film set.

Since 2015, the City of Science museum has been active, albeit on an experimental basis. It is the only one in Italy after a fire destroyed the City of Science in Naples.

The historical libraries in Catania are:

  • the Ventimiliana Library, opened to the public in 1755
  • the library of the Gioenia Academy of Natural Sciences;
  • the library of the Catania section of the Deputazione di Storia Patria per la Sicilia;
  • the combined Civic and A. Ursino Recupero libraries (1931);
  • the Agatina library (1572) of the Archiepiscopal Seminary of the Clerics;
  • the library of the University Palace (since 1875) it has held the collection of Bishop Salvatore Ventimiglia).

These have been joined over time by various other libraries, such as the ‘Vincenzo Bellini’ central library (1950), the Library of the Metropolitan City of Catania (2004) and the numerous school and university libraries

Culture

The opera composer Vincenzo Bellini (known as ‘the swan’) is probably the most well-known Catanese. He was born in Palazzo Gravina-Cruyllas in the city center and the building now houses a museum about his life. The Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini, which opened in 1890, presents a variety of works throughout the season which runs from December to May, including the works of its namesake. 

Catania has been a source of inspiration for numerous writers and poets over the centuries. This vibrant city has seen the birth of a multitude of talented authors from Catania, each of whom has enriched Italian culture and literature with their own unique voice. There have been many uniquely talented writers, and Sicily’s literary tradition shows no signs of waning. From classical authors such as Giovanni Verga and Vincenzo Consolo to contemporaries, every Catanese novelist has left an indelible mark on Italian literature.

Giovanni Verga was born in Catania in 1840 and became the greatest writer of Verismo, an Italian literary movement akin to Naturalism. Many other Catanesi writers have also enriched Italian culture and literature including Luigi Capuana, Vitaliano Brancati, Vincenzo Consolo, Nino Martoglio, Domenico Tempio, Ettore Patti and the contemporary writers Pippo Fava and Elvira Seminara.

Catania hosts many concerts in its theatre and music halls in winter and in its open spaces like the Bellini Gardens and Piazza Duomo in summer.

Catania also hosts Etna Comics, a very popular comic book convention and the Catania Book Festival, a still young but growing literary festival with various events and book presentations.

The city is also home to the Catania Jazz Festival, which typically runs for several winter months with concerts in different locations. 

In the late 1980s and during the 1990s Catania had an energetic and unique popular music scene. Indie pop and indie rock bands, local radio stations and dynamic independent music record labels sprung up as a result. In those years the city experienced a vital and effervescent cultural period. Artists like Franco Battiato, Carmen Consoli and Mario Venuti became popular and internationally known indie rock bands like Uzeda, Fleurs du Mal and Boppin’ Kids came out of this cultural milieu. The city center bars and clubs still host new and emerging bands, contributing to the city’s energetic nightlife.

The Feast of Saint Agatha

Every year from the 3rd to the 5th February, Catania holds a great celebration for Saint Agatha, the city’s patron saint. This religious celebration attracts tens of thousands of believers and tourists from all over the world. 

A silver ferculum known as ‘a vara’, with a bust containing the saint’s relics, is tirelessly followed in procession by hundreds of ‘devoti’ (devout citizens) dressed in the traditional uniform of a ‘sacco‘ (a white tunic tightened around the waist by a cord), a black cap, a handkerchief and white gloves. They cling to two cords of over 100 meters and the “vara” is followed by eleven “cerei” or “cannaloriwhich are tall wooden columns representing the city’s arts and crafts guilds. Together there is the unanimous cry of devotion “Cittadini, cittadini, semu tutti devoti tutti?”, “Sì, sì, sì!!!” (“Citizens, citizen, are we all devouted?”, “Yes, yes, yes!”)

The Feast of Saint Agatha is certainly something unique and an event not to be missed! 

Food

Food is an important part of Catania’s culture and way of life.

Local cuisine highlights several traits of Sicilian cuisine whilst developing some of its own character. 

Trying ‘street food’ (rosticceria or tavola calda in Italian) is one of the best ways to experience traditional dishes. Arancini (stuffed rice balls coated in bread-crumbs and deep fried) are probably the city’s most iconic snack. In Catania they are shaped like a cone, just like Mount Etna

Other typical specialties from the city include cipollina (puff pastry with an onion, tomato and ham filling), bolognese (a small pizza topped with tomato, mozzarella, ham and a boiled egg, and covered in puff pastry), crispelle (deep fried dough balls with a ricotta cheese or anchovy filling). 

Apart from street food, there are several traditional dishes from Catania. Pasta alla Norma (pasta with fried aubergine, tomato sauce and salted ricotta cheese on top) is named after the famous opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, pasta cco niuru (pasta with squid ink), maccu (fava bean purée), bastaddi affucati or brocculi affucati (stewed cauliflower or broccoli), caponata (sautéed vegetables) and scacciata (a pie filled with tuma cheese) which is traditional during Christmas time. 

Catania is also famous for its pasticceria (pastries and cakes) and the pastries vary according to the time of the year and to seasonal events. During the Feast of Saint Agatha, patron saint of the city, there are cassatelle (small round cakes) and olivette (olive shaped almond paste). 

At Eastertime there are aceddi ccu l’ovu (boiled eggs covered in biscuit). In summer, you cannot miss a nice bowl of granite (flavoured ice). During the Festa dei morti in November (traditional celebrations to honour the dead) there are biscuits called ossa di mortu, rame di Napoli and nsuddi

There are drink kiosks everywhere in town serving soft drinks, beer and coffee. Traditional soft drinks are made by mixing fruit syrups with soda and other flavors such as aniseed, mandarin syrup, lemon and salt etc.

Sports

Catania is home to many sports clubs covering a wide range of disciplines. 

The most famous club is the Calcio Catania football team with approximately half a million supporters.

Another big sports club is Orizzonte Catania, the leading women’s water polo club in Italy with 23 National Championship titles (15 in a row from 1992 to 2006) and in Europe with 8 European Champions Cup titles.

From 1960 to 2011 Catania held an International event named Trofeo Sant’Agata, a road running competition which took place in the streets of the city center annually on the 3rd of February (the day the Festival of Saint Agatha begins).

Transportation

Catania has a commercial seaport, an international airport, several railway stations (Catania Centrale is the main one) and it is the main node of the Sicilian motorway system. 

The motorways serving Catania are the A18 Messina-Catania and the A19 Palermo-Catania as well as the continuation of the A18 which goes from Catania to Syracuse and to Gela. 

The Circumetnea is a narrow-gauge railway that runs for 110km (68 miles) from Catania around the base of Mount Etna. It attains an elevation of 976m (3,202.10 feet) above sea level before descending to rejoin the coast. 

In the late 1990s, the first line of an underground railway (Metropolitana di Catania) was built. The underground service started in 1999 and is currently active on a route of 8.8km (5.5 miles). There are plans to extend the line from the satellite town of Paternò to Fontanarossa Airport in the future.

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