Mount Etna is the largest volcano in Europe. It is situated on the east coast of Sicily. At the base of Mount Etna is the beautiful city of Catania, Italy. It is a major transportation center. Catania is also the second-largest city in Sicily with nearly 1 million residents in the metropolitan area. This city has an abundance of Sicilian Baroque.
Additionally, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also booming with a young vibrant population, a lively downtown, and an animated nightlife. Here are 11 things to do for backpackers while visiting Catania, Italy.
A masterpiece of Norman and Baroque architecture is found at the Catania Cathedral, located in the center of the old town. It was built in 1078, above the ruins of a Roman Bathhouse. This cathedral has also been restored several times from earthquakes and eruptions from Mount Etna. It is situated on the Piazza del Duomo’s main square where you can find a famous “fountain of the elephant” stature in the center.
This statue is a symbol of the city. The front features a series of statues resembling religious figures. A domed basilica sits toward the back of the main aisle. The inside is filled with decorative artwork and paintings with exceptional detail, along with a tomb of the famous opera composer Vincenzo Bellini.
Mount Etna is considered the tallest active volcano in Europe and makes for an easy day trip from Catania, Italy. You can choose to hike, cycle, or ride in a Jeep to explore the volcano. There is a private train line called Circumetnea which picks you up from the city and takes you to Rifugio Sapienza where you can start your ascent.
On the way up the volcano, you’ll be able to see an old crater and lava flow caves. Gorgeous views of the mountain and surrounding landscape are especially recommended at sunset. Also, the scenery at the top of the volcano offers fantastic views of Sicily in all directions. On the way back, you’ll have the option to stop by a farm to taste local products like honey and wine.
Monastero dei Benedettini
Found in the heart of Catania, Italy’s old district is one of the largest monasteries in Europe, now part of the University of Catania. It is a unique place that hosts the Department of Humanities. It also tells about historic events of the city from ancient times to the present.
People can admire decorative fountains and colonnades along with the painted frescoes in the main hall. The library contains nearly 270,000 volumes of books, scrolls, and manuscripts which includes a bookstore with plenty of Sicilian crafts to take home. It includes a rooftop garden offering a stunning view of the town.
It also makes for an excellent place to read. The monasteries are free to visit with the option of buying guided tours. They are open 7 days a week.
The Ursino Castle is one of the several beautiful castles in Sicily. It’s built in the 13th century as a royal castle known for its role in the Sicilian Vespers. It was built under the rule of Frederick II. This castle demonstrates his multicultural style of governance with blended styles from both eastern and western design.
The castle walls surround a square with large towers, while smaller turrets built into walls themselves. It remains in fantastic condition with its walls. Furthermore, its original towers stand without damage. During volcanic eruptions, the castle walls were unpenetrated as lava flow was contained in the mote and channeled to the sea.
In 1837, work was carried out in order to make Ursino Castle suitable for military purposes. Then it was used as a barracks some years later. Finally, in the 1930s, the castle was restored and converted into a museum.
San Giovanni Li Cuti
San Giovanni Li Cuti is known as one of the small and quaint villages of Catania, Italy. It’s located about a 30-minute walk from the city center to the seaside. The beach contains unique black volcanic sand and rocks where lava from the volcano meets the water. In the summer, the beach is filled with people of Catania escaping the summer heat. The area is full of restaurants where you can taste fresh fish and traditional Sicilian dishes.
Walking along the port is highly recommended because you’ll get views of typical wooden boats used by local fisherman. At night, the village lights are dimmed, creating a calm seaside area for dining.
Roman Amphitheatre Of Catania
An imposing structure built in the Roman Imperial period is the Roman Amphitheatre of Catania. It was established around the 2nd century on the northern edge of the ancient city. It is second in size only to the Colosseum. However, it’s the largest amphitheater in Sicily with an outer circumference of 300 meters.
Additionally, parts of the amphitheater remains are visible in the Piazza Stesicoro center. Nearly 15,000 spectators can be seated within the theater. This number nearly doubles when additional wooden bleachers for standing spectators are included. It was intended that naumachiae staged sea battles take place in the amphitheater using the ancient aqueduct, filling the arena with water. The theater is free to visit. It also offers many photo opportunities.
Greek Theatre Of Taormina
Taormina is a town about a 40-minute drive from Catania, which holds the beautiful Greek Theatre of Taormina. The ancient theatre offers a gorgeous natural backdrop of the Calabrian coast. Not only that but the magnificent cone of Etna. Initially, the theater held dramatic performances and musicals, but it was transformed during the Roman times to make room for games and gladiator battles.
Also, the theater was built by the Greeks around the 3rd century at the time of Hiero II. More than 100,000 cubic meters of rock had to be carried over the mountain during the construction. It was later renovated. In fact, it was expanded by the Romans who added columns, statues, and ingenious covers.
Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena
Part of the Monastero dei Benedettini is the Chiesa di San Nicolò I’Arena. Moreover, it’s the second-largest Benedictine monastery in Europe. Also, it’s the largest church in Sicily. In 1669, the church was merely destroyed by a volcanic eruption and had to be reconstructed in 1693. As the front façade was never finished in the reconstruction, it gives a somewhat demolished appearance as it sits over the site of a Greek Acropolis.
Additionally, the Greek columns do not blend much with the design, giving a somewhat mismatched appearance. However, on the inside, the church is well designed and filled with a myriad of columns, arches, and religious decorations. A sign sits in front of the church, indicating people should gather in case of an earthquake or in the event of Etna’s eruption.
One of the most remarkable structures in Catania, Italy is the Porta Garibaldi. Porta Garibaldi is a monumental gate created in 1768. It was designed by Francesco Battaglia and Stefano Ittar, built out of alternating layers of white limestone and black lava rock. The arch is named after Guiseppe Garibaldi, who was a key member of the unification of Italy during the 1800s.
Along with various stone and marble statues that are perched at the top of the arch, the arch stands out from other buildings with white and black stripes running along the walls. The gate stands promptly in the middle of the road and crowned with a large clock and an eagle. The gate bears a Latin inscription, “Mellor de cinere surgo,” which means, “flourishing, I rise from the ashes again.”
Just 10 miles north of Catania, along the coast is the quaint village of Aci Castello. The village was initially constructed around the castle, which lies on the rock outcrop facing the sea. It was built in 1076 during the Norman conquests of Sicily. In other words, it’s an iconic landmark for Italy. You can explore the grounds of the castle.
Therefore, you can climb the walls for incredible views out to the sea and the surrounding countryside. The castle also plays an important role in the region during the Middle Ages, being subject to Roger of Lauria during the War of the Sicilian Vespers. It is currently a museum, which can be explored for less than $3. All the money goes toward preserving the castle.
Via dei Crociferi
Via dei Crociferi is a historic path built in the 18th century, which takes you through a variety of churches and other historic buildings from this period. The road serves as a prime example of Baroque Sicilian. It begins at St. Francis of Assisi and goes through the arch of St. Benedict.
Walking through the archway, you’ll see to the left the Baroque façade of the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’ Immacolata. On the right, you’ll find the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini. The street offers a great compliment on a day seeing the Roman Theatre.
Catania, Italy offers a variety of guided walking tours. They request a small donation along with information on self-guided walking tours.