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Catania is a city located on the eastern coast of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna, the biggest volcano in Europe. It is the second largest city in Sicily with the metropolitan area reaching one million inhabitants, a major transport hub, economic centre and a university city where you will enjoy a busy downtown and an active nightlife. Catania is also well known for its particular baroque architecture and urban design (the downtown area is a World Heritage Site, along with all the Val di Noto), consequences of the great earthquake of 1693 after which the city had to be rebuilt, like most of eastern Sicily.
The city has a history dating back 2700 years, dominated by several different cultures (Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, etc.) and was a rich commercial centre, mainly due to its port. Again, since the 70's, the city economy is growing as the urban area and the suburbs, making Catania a large metropolitan centre, mainly between the volcano and the sea. Today, even if you can find there most of the biggest commercial centers in Europe (especially Etnapolis); the old 17th century downtown area is still the center of the day-to-day life.
Catania is situated under the biggest active volcano in Europe and has been destroyed many times in the past. As a result, Catania is a city where you can find a great variety of landscape and architecture, a lot of dirty buildings and also a lot of abandoned houses, especially in the mountains. However, since the city is a World Heritage Site, a lot of renovations have been made.
Today, you will feel in Catania a mix of nostalgia and "joie de vivre", especially at night or during festivals.
The major feature of this city is its architecture, which is predominantly baroque. The major characteristic of Baroque architectural is its theatricality. This style dominated Europe in the 17th century as a result of the reformation/counter-reformation where the statement given was one of grandeur. The preceding style was Renaissance, while the succeeding was Neoclassicism. The three major features are a near excessive amount of detail (statues, lots of gold, columns and pilasters, garlands and wreaths etc), facades which are taller than the nave (to fool the viewer about the size) and frescoes often featuring trompe-l'œil. Baroque from Catania has several unique features such as use of dark lava stone (basalt), the Bell in the facade itself and grotesque masks and putti.
How to talk
Sicilian used to be the common language here for centuries, as the Sicilian culture is isolated on an island. Even in Catania, you will notice Italian and Sicilian (like Palermo, Catania has its own dialect) in some neighborhoods, especially in inner areas, while most people speak mainly Italian in the city center.
What to see in Catania
The baroque Piazza del Duomo is attractive, lively and contains the Elephant Fountain - the symbol of the city and the entrance to the elegant via Etnea, the main shopping street.
The adjacent Norman Cathedral (Duomo) is imposing and worth a visit
The food and fish markets just below the Piazza del Duomo are a lively and colourful place to visit. This fish market is the busiest and most exotic of all over Sicily and has been described by the British TV chef Rick Stein as the best fish market in the world. Monday to Saturday morning only.
Via Etnea - the main shopping avenue, running North from the Piazza del Duomo has most of the city's imposing building and is busy throughout the day and evening. Lots of churches. This road is the equivalent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, so in the evenings the local people put on their Sunday clothes and walk at a relaxed pace along this avenue.
Piazza Stesicoro, the original centre containing ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre. It is also the entrance to the main market (Mercato de la Fiera) which is worth a visit. Additionally it is one of the main bus hubs.
Teatro Massimo, a 19th century opera house in Piazza Teatro, which is the main meeting for the local young people. So its neighbourhood is very lively and busy by night.
Taormina, a world famous city, being both beautiful and the quintessential medieval town on a mountain top.
What to do
St. Agata Festival 3 day long religious festival dedicated to St. Agata (Patron Saint of Catania) always the 1st week of February. Expect huge crowds (100,000+), never-ending firework displays, parades, street food and more. Book well in advance if you wanna see this incredible event. A lot of the locals leave the city but that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it at least once.
Take a tour to Mt. Etna. There are many different tour companies around the city with all about the same rates and routes. Most hotels/hostels can help you book a good one that will usually pick you up from your accommodations.
Visit the La Plaja the cities long, sandy beach just outside of town. Take bus D-EST and get of at "La Plaja" You ill have to pay to get into the different beach areas but it will include a Chair and Umbrella. The are plenty of beach bars serving food and drinks up and down the beach.