Set in the shadow of Mount Etna, the ancient port city and second largest in Sicily is steeped in natural and historical wonders. Nicknamed the ‘grey city’ due to the signature colour of the lava rocks used in many of the buildings, Catania is far from colourless, being rich in historic sites, beautiful Baroque buildings, volcanic landscapes and lava fields.
Why cruise Catania
Given its cultural importance, history and amazing weather, it’s not hard to understand why Catania is a popular port of call on Italy and Western Mediterranean cruises. The heart of the city is home to elegant piazzas complete with Baroque domes, opulent cathedrals and historic convents. Once you’ve got your fill of the city’s architecture and historic sites, it’s time to savour its gastronomic heritage and Sicilian delicacies. And of course, you cannot leave Catania without visiting Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, hike through the lush landscape, discovering craters, lava pit stops and the vineyards that have planted in the volcanic soil.
What to see and do in Catania
If you don’t have long in Catania, make a beeline for its bustling square, where many of the city’s main sites can be found. These include Catania Cathedral, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times due to repeated eruptions and earthquakes in the region. The cathedral is dedicated to St Agatha, who is the patron saint of Catania and who is commemorated each February in the city with a major festival. In the centre of the square lies the Elephant Fountain, which bears an elephant carved from basalt, now a symbol of the city. The square is also home to the 18th century Baroque Palazzo dei Chierici and another fountain dedicated to Amenano, the subterranean river which runs through Catania.
Built in the 13th century as a royal castle of the Kingdom of Sicily, Castello Ursino was one of the few buildings in Catania to survive the earthquake of 1693, even when its moat was filled with lava from the eruption of Mount Etna. The castle is today home to a museum, which exhibits archaeological finds from the city's Roman theatre, along with statues, artefacts and artwork dating from the classical era of Ancient Greece and Rome. The museum also houses artwork from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Ampitheatre of Catania
The amphitheatre of Catania is considered the most complicated and largest of all the amphitheatres in Sicily. Dating back to the second century AD, only a small structure of the Greek-Roman amphitheatre is visible, below ground level to the north of Piazza Stesicoro, but it is still most certainly worth a visit.
This private palace was built after the devastations of the 1693 earthquake by will of the Paternò Castello family, the princes of Biscari. The palace is accessed through a large portal facing via Museo Biscari, leading to the inner courtyard, which features a large double staircase. A testimony of the Sicilian baroque era, the frescoed halls and richly decorated reception rooms are today used as a splendid setting for concerts, receptions, gala evenings and fashion shows.
One of the most famous and historic fish markets in the world, Catania’s fish market is located in the heart of the city, a hop, skip and a jump away from the Piazza Duomo. Open seven days a week from 7.30am to 12pm, the vivacious market is arguably the best place in Italy to pick up the freshest, locally-sourced catch. Local delicacies include sea urchin and bottarga, a salt-cured tuna roe.
Need to know when travelling to Catania
Getting around in Catania
The port of Catania is located an easy 15-minute walk from the centre of town. Taxis are also available should you prefer at the port entrance.
When to go to Catania
The best time to visit Sicily is from May to June or September to October when temperatures are warm but not uncomfortable for sightseeing.
The currency of Sicily is the euro.
Citizens of the UK don't need a visa to enter Italy, but they must carry a valid passport.
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