Learning Italian in Catania, Sicily

10 good reasons to study in Catania, Sicily

The Mediterranean soul

Catania is a city with a strong Mediterranean imprint. The Mediterranean soul flows and is felt in the streets through the creative chaos, street theatre, the habit of teasing, the bonds of friendship, the strong smells, the art of making do, sincerity and infamy, kindness and brutality all mixed together and represented by the coexistence of the fire of Etna and the water of the sea. Catania is the result of millennia of invasions, cultural influences and stratifications.

The Mediterranean is present in every corner of the city all the time, so if the Mediterranean soul does not attract you, perhaps Catania is not the place for you. If you are looking for neatness and perfection, Catania is certainly not for you! But if you want to immerse yourself in an authentic city, off the typical mass tourism path, then Catania will attract you because in this city you will experience all the vibes that the Mediterranean can offer!

From the volcano to the beach all in the same day!

Catania is the city located at the foot of Mount Etna, on the coast which has two distinctively different types of beach. The sandy beach to the south is known as the ‘Playa’ and the rocky coastline to the north is called the ‘Scogliera’. This is the city built out of black lava stone, the red city of lava, and the blue city because of its sky and sea. Catania is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage volcano and it is no coincidence that its main street is called Via Etnea. This road begins at the harbor in Catania and goes upwards towards the volcano.

The people of Catania have lived for thousands of years with the whims of the volcano (also known as ‘a Muntagna’ in Sicilian) witnessing its spectacular eruptions and its nocturnal mutterings. The Catanese have Etna under their skin because they themselves are also volcanic by nature, with their natural verve, entrepreneurial enterprise, and irreverent sense of humor.

When you stay in Catania you can have the unique experience of being at the beach in the morning and in the mountains in the afternoon, or vice versa. In wintertime you can even ski on the volcano in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon. What an amazing experience!

The Baroque City

Catania and the whole of south-eastern Sicily experienced a violent earthquake in 1693 which destroyed much of the city. ‘Melior de Cinere Surgo’ was inscribed on the Porta Ferdinandea at the end of its reconstruction. The city was rebuilt with tenacity and great beauty by the Spanish Viceroys in the popular architecture at that time which was the Baroque style, known as ‘Sicilian Baroque’ by UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The streets and buildings of the city are mainly built with dark lava stone which makes it unique and different from other Baroque towns in Sicily. While the streets of Syracuse are made of a bright, yellow-colored sandstone, Catania’s streets are made of dark-colored basalt as are its cultural attractions such as the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre and the palazzi in the historical centre.


The Catanese people are lively like the volcano and so is the city nightlife. There are dozens of places to eat and drink and clubs where you can listen to live music. In the past this city was known as the ‘Seattle of Italy’ because of its music production scene so in the evening you will be spoilt for choice with the many options to try. 

Catania is also a vibrant university city and, as you know, university students never sleep! 

Cinemas and theatres

The Catanese are known for being very sociable. They love to joke, eat and drink together and enjoy life. Catania is like a real-life theatre and perhaps that is why the city has the most theatres in Sicily! This might also be the reason for the city’s many great novelists, from Giovanni Verga to Vitaliano Brancati, Micio Tempio to Nino Martoglio and Federico De Roberto to Pippo Fava.

In addition to the theatres, there are also numerous cinemas. In summer when the heat keeps people away from indoor cinemas, Catania opens its ‘arenas’ which are veritable open-air evening cinemas where you can enjoy one of the films you missed during the year, munching on one of Catania’s street food delicacies under the stars.

Cinema and literature

Not only is Catania passionate about cinema but the cinema is also passionate about Catania! Some of the most important movies in the history of Italian cinema have been filmed in this city such as ‘L’arte di arrangiarsi’ (based on a novel by Vitaliano Brancati) with Alberto Sordi, ‘Il Bell’Antonio’ (based on a novel by the same author) with Marcello Mastroianni, ‘Divorzio all’italiana’ by Pietro Germi with Marcello Mastroianni and Stefania Sandrelli, Mimì Metallurgico ferito nell’onore by Lina Wertmuller, starring Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato, Johnny Stecchino by and starring Roberto Benigni, Storia di una Capinera by Franco Zeffirelli (based on a novel by Giovanni Verga), I Viceré based on the novel by Federico De Roberto, an antagonist novel to Il Gattopardo. Also not to be forgotten are ‘La terra trema’, a neo-realist masterpiece by Luchino Visconti, based on the novel ‘I Malavoglia’ by Giovanni Verga’ and filmed in nearby Acitrezza or ‘Il Vangelo secondo Matteo’ by Pierpaolo Pasolini, filmed on Mount Etna like many other films.

Music and concerts

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, people said that Catania was the ‘Seattle of Italy’ because of its music production scene and upcoming bands and singers in the city. Franco Battiato, Carmen Consoli, Mario Venuti and Mario Biondi are now all big names on the contemporary Italian music scene but took their first steps in the music world in Catania.

The city is not just a contemporary music phenomenon however, Catania is also the birthplace of ‘Il Cigno’, Vincenzo Bellini, a world-famous composer and author of ten operas in total, including the famous ‘La Sonnambula’, ‘Norma’ and ‘I Puritani’. 

The opera house which is named after him hosts numerous concerts and symphonic productions every year. Lovers of classical and symphonic music and opera will find Teatro Massimo Bellini to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in Italy.


For those who like to fill their study abroad stay with culture, Catania offers a variety of museums:

– the Museum of the Benedictine Monastery
– the Ursino Castle civic museum
– the Museum of Archaeology of the University of Catania
– Palazzo Biscari
– The Contemporary Art Museum
– The Emilio Greco Museum
– The Bellini Civic Museum
– The home-museum of Giovanni Verga
– The Cinema Museum
The museum and theatre of Sicilian puppets
– The Historical Museum of the Sicily Landings
– The multimedia tactile centre
– The Diocesan Museum
– Manganelli Palace
– The Astrophysics Observatory
– The Marella Ferrara fashion-museum

There are also many other smaller museums where you can learn more about local places, the history and culture.

Tradition, myth and folklore

Witnessing the Saint Agatha procession on the 5th of February for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The procession of the city’s patron saint attracts almost a million people every year, both religious followers and curious tourists. The procession commemorates the life, martyrdom and death of the young virgin Agatha, a Christian who was imprisoned and martyred by the Romans because of her faith. 

According to legend, a veil was used by a woman to cover the saint during her martyrdom with burning coals. Several times after that, starting from 252 onwards, that same veil was worn by the bishop as various lava flows threatened to enter and destroy Catania. As a result of this gesture, the lava stopped and the veil saved the city.

During the procession, thousands of devotees walk through the streets dressed in a white tunic and a black hat, evoking the night when the saint’s relics were returned to Catania having been stolen in Constantinople by the Byzantine George Maniace in 1040. To celebrate Agatha’s return, people went out in the middle of the night dressed in their pyjamas which, at that time, was a long white tunic.

Catania and its surrounding area is full of myths and legends, for example:

  • Etna, home of the god Vulcan, forger of weapons for Zeus,
  • the Cyclops Polyphemus, who lived on Etna and hurled his boulders at the ships of the brave and enterprising Ulysses who was in flight, boulders that (legend has it!) surfaced in the sea as the Faraglioni of Acitrezza
  • the legend of Aci and Galatea
  • the myth of Gammazzita, the young Catanese girl who rebelled against the Angevin domination, preferring to throw herself into a well instead of yielding to the snares of a French soldier, with clear reference to the harassment perpetrated by the French rulers on the oppressed Sicilians, one of the causes of the outbreak of the Sicilian Vespers on the 30th March, 1282

Regarding local traditions, we also have to mention the tradition of the ‘Pupi Siciliani’, puppets that narrate the deeds of Orlando and Rinaldo and the Knights of Charlemagne during the Christian war against the Moors (the Muslims) in Spain. The theatre of the Pupi Siciliani is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Catania and for centuries was one of the few opportunities for entertainment along with the tradition of the Cantastorie (storytellers) before the advent of cinema, television and nowadays the internet.

The fish market and gastronomic traditions

They say that you travel ‘with your panza’ (belly) and that is true! A gastronomic trip to Catania is a real treat for all appetites.

From Pasta alla Norma (dedicated to Vincenzo Bellini’s opera) made with tomato sauce, fried aubergines and salted ricotta cheese, to pasta with sea urchins. From Caponata to Parmigiana, from Etna sausage to horse meatballs, from fresh fish of all kinds to seafood, from arancini to cipolline,  from desserts like cannoli to the ‘Minni di Sant’Aita’. People’s taste buds go pleasantly crazy in Catania due to all the different local dishes and flavors to try.

The centre of all of this is ‘A Piscarìa’, the daily fish market, just a few steps away from Piazza Duomo and Via Etnea. In this lively, colorful and picturesque area you can find some of the best restaurants in town as well as all the ingredients you need for your daily shop. An experience not to be missed! 

You might also be interested in:

foreign students learning the Italian language at the IH Catania school


An Italian student learns to cook in an extra course at the IH Catania Italian school


An ancient Greek statue in front of the temples. The Grantour of Sicily route organized by the IH Catania school


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