One of the southern Italy’s most vibrant cities, Catania is a bustling town with a wonderful atmosphere. Don’t make the mistake of many visitors by bypassing this Baroque jewel in your rush to get to Taormina, as Catania deserves at least two full days to appreciate its art treasures, church museums, Roman ruins, liveliness, and wonderful food.
Visit the Duomo
Start your exploration of Catania at the Duomo
, which is dedicated to the memory of the martyred St. Agatha. Rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, its most enduring architectural feature is Giovan Battista Vaccarini’s facade, whose granite columns the architect "borrowed" from the city's Roman amphitheater. Only the beautifully carved medieval apses, made from lava, survived the earthquake. Opera buffs can pay their respects at Bellini's tomb, to the right of the Duomo’s right door. It’s guarded by a life-size angel. Possibly the most impressive section lies beneath the Duomo. The Terme Achillane is an Imperial Roman thermal spa discovered after the 1693 earthquake. A rectangular hall with four pillars supporting vaulted ceilings, it features stuccoed decorations such as animals and grape bunches, as well as an original marble bath.
Explore the Piazza Duomo
Outside the Duomo, in the elegantly Baroque Piazza Duomo, you’ll find the Fontana dell'Elefante, hewn from black lava
disgorged by Mount Etna. Nearby are the Fontana dell'Amenano and the facades of Palazzo degli Elefanti (today the city hall) and Palazzo Senatorio. Next to the Duomo is the Badia di Sant'Agata, a fantastic example of Vaccarini's trademark baroque elegance and one of seven Catania churches dedicated to its patron saint. East of Piazza Duomo is the opulent Teatro Massimo
(or Bellini), one of the grandest and richest in Europe.
Savia at Via Etnea 302 is a renowned pasticceria (pastry shop) where lunchtime hordes throng for arancini (deep-fried rice balls). These Sicilian staples include a Catanese, flavoured with cheese, aubergine, diced ham and basil. If you are able, follow up with a cannolo, pastry filled with creamy ricotta cheese, either here or next door at Pasticceria Spinella. For dinner, Osteria Antica Marina at Via Pardo serves excellent seafood in a genial trattoria setting. Or try the Catania trademark dish of pasta alla Norma (named after Bellini’s opera) at the Nuova Trattoria del Forestiero at Via Coppola
View Roman Remains
Uphill from Piazza Duomo you’ll find the entrance to the Teatro Greco Romano
, a Roman theatre built on the site of an even earlier Greek one, where gladiators fought wild beasts shipped from nearby Africa. At its peak, the theatre housed 7,000 spectators. At the rear of the theater is a similar but smaller Odeon, dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, where concerts are sometimes staged.
Relax at Villa Bellini
Lounge in the shade of Catania’s main park, situated north of Via Etnea. Spread out over several hills and teeming with exotic plants including Brazilian araucarias, this is one of Sicily’s most attractive public parks and features what is believed to be the world’s largest fig tree. A distinctive feature is the floral clock and calendar. Clamber to the top of any hill for unobstructed views of the iconic Mount Etna.
View More Roman Remains
Roman history buffs should head to the Piazza Stesicoro at Via Vittorio Emanuele, where the ruins of an amphitheater
dating from the 2nd century AD have been found. The ruins lie below street level, but the evocative gladiator tunnels remain visible. Once one of the largest of all Roman amphitheaters (some 17,000 spectators are believed to have crammed in here for grisly games), only a tiny section remains, because the Ostrogoth used it as a quarry for churches and public monuments.