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Catania is located in the shadow of Europe's most active volcano, Mount Etna. That is in turn the biggest attraction of this city in Sicily and a visit to the volcano crater is a must. Etna has also brought calamity upon Catania. There was a major volcano eruption in 1669 and the city was buried under lava. Less than thirty years later Catania was destroyed again, this time by an earthquake. But the people have rebuilt their town again and Catania is now a fine example of Baroque architecture from the 18th century.
The majority of the original cathedral of Catania was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. Only the apse (made of lava) dates back from before the earthquake. A statue of the Virgin Mary from the 15th century and a richly decorated Roman sarcophagus were also preserved. A fresco in the Cappella di Sant'Agata depicts Etna's eruption in 1669.
Standing on the Piazza Duomo is the iconic image of the city, the Fontana dell'Elefante. The elephant statue is made of lava and the elephant carries an Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphs on his back. It represents the resilience of Catania: a city that picks itself up again after each setback and even makes art of the material that destroyed the city.
In the north of Catania lies a beautiful park - Villa Bellini - spread over several hills. It's nice to escape the heat of the city here, with a panoramic view on the Etna. The fig tree in the park is the largest in the world, according to the Catenians.
The Castello Ursino was built in the 13th century directly at sea, but after several eruptions of Etna this is no longer the case. This castle is one of the few buildings that withstood the earthquake of 1693. The fortress with four towers now houses the municipal museum of Catania. You can see archaeological finds here, but also 19th century paintings.
In the Museo Emilio Greco you can see works of this famous Sicilian painter. Through the same entrance you will arrive at the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini, who composed mainly operas.
Next to these museums stands a Roman amphitheater on Via Vittorio Emanuele. You can visit the tunnels where gladiators prepared for their (often bloody) battles. In the 17th century a road was constructed straight through this amphitheater and you can still see the remains of it. In the fifties it was decided to remove that road to restore the theater in all its glory, albeit not entirely successful.
There are several cafés, bars and nightclubs in Catania. Most can be found in the area around the cathedral. Hotels are concentrated mostly in this area too. Catania has a good range of accommodation, but in the summer months it is advisable to book your hotel room well in advance.
The biggest attraction of Catania is the Etna volcano. With its top reaching over 3300 meters of height this is Europe's highest volcano. A train goes around the mountain, it departs from Via Caronda in Catania. With a car you can reach Mount Etna using the eastern ring road (Tangenziale Ovest), exit Gravina. If you then continue further north you'll end up in Rifugio Sapienza, where you can rent a jeep with a guide to get to the top. You can also walk to the top, but it's a difficult climb. So don't ever attempt without a guide. The guides are well informed of the updated circumstances and if Etna shows signs of activity the guide tours will be canceled.
At the foot of Mount Etna lies the village of Acireale, which was also rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. Like in Catania, Baroque architecture is predominant here. The church San Sebastiano is the symbol of the resurrection of the village. The Carnival of Acireale is spectacular. Furthermore there is the nature reserve Timpa, where the typical flora and fauna of Etna is protected.
In Greek antiquity Syracuse, south of Catania, was a major city. There are many relics from that era and during the summer months plays of Greek writers are staged.
The traffic in Catania is not as hectic as in Palermo, but only just. Moreover, many streets are narrow and often a one-way system applies, which makes finding your way difficult. Finding parking place on the street is near impossible. It is therefore inadvisable to drive a car in the center. You can however, park your car at your hotel and use it for trips in the area.
The airport of Catania is located seven kilometers south west of the city. Catania Airport is easily accessible, the airport is right next to the highway A-19 to Palermo.