The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Chaotic Catania

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The Lava Elephant (U Liotru) – Catania’s symbol
I’ve been pondering and mulling over how best to describe this city for the past couple of days. The truth is that all places have their good and bad points. In a lot of places, the good points far outweigh the bad ones. In other places the negative vibes leave a rather sour reminder of an otherwise interesting city. But in the interest of anybody reading this post, I need to be truthful.
First of all the place is chaotic and I blame this on careless motorists who will run a red light and will not stop at a pedestrian crossing unless you throw yourself into the middle of the road. Then they may decide to stop or swerve around madly so as not to hit you.
Secondly the city is quite dirty – and I am not talking about the natural grimy look that comes from being so close to Europe’s most active volcano and the fact that many buildings are built out of black lava bricks. What annoyed me was the graffiti everywhere and anywhere, without any respect as to a building’s historical or architectural significance. That spoilt things a lot for me.
And finally, the people running the major transport companies were very unhelpful and many times gave us conflicting information. Now I speak Italian so I wonder what it was like for other visitors who were trying to cope in English. Gripe over. Now for the more interesting stuff …
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Catania was founded in the 8th Century B.C. by the Greeks and was later populated by the Romans. This is evidenced by the remains of an amphitheatre (built of blocks of black lava), part of which is still visible in the city today.
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Side by side – Roman and Baroque architecture
Catania’s closeness to Mount Etna has been both a blessing and a curse. The ash spewed by the volcano is very fertile and farmers in the area surrounding Catania makes use of the fertile soil to grow vines. On the other hand, frequent volcanic eruptions have damaged the city a number of times. In 1693 the city was decimated by an earthquake (that was also felt in Malta and which destroyed a number of buildings in Mdina) and was rebuilt in the Baroque style.
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Catania’s main street,  Via Etnea, is a mecca for shoppers, as is its lively open-air market. The street is lined with shops, hotels, palaces and churches and is a wonderful place to take a leisurely stroll and do some people-watching.
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In Piazza del Duomo, sightseeing trains are available to take visitors around the city’s main attractions but most of them can be reached on foot.
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Piazza del Duomo is dominated by an imposing Norman cathedral that was given a new façade by Vaccarini in 1736. The duomo is dedicated to St Agatha, the patron saint of Catania.
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In this same square is a lava elephant (known as U Liotru) carrying an Egyptian obelisk – the symbol of  Catania.
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To the south of Piazza del Duomo is the only point where the underground river Amenano is visible in the city.
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At around the mid-point of Via Etnea, Giardino Bellini (Bellini Garden) provides an oasis of peace and greenery in an otherwise chaotic and rather drab city.
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Other buildings of note include the unfinished church of San Niccolo’ (reputed to be the largest in Italy), Teatro Massimo (a 19th century opera house) and the Odeon.
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Church of San Niccolo’
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Teatro Massimo
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The Odeon
And with that I will end this rather long and rambling post. Hopefully none of you have fallen asleep by now …

11 comments:

  1. I didn't fall asleep at all, looking at those screaming historical and grandeur building! They are absolutely fascinating. Too bad that it's a bit chaos with traffic and graffiti.

    You do take amazing photos, and tell story so well!

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  2. It's a beautiful city in despite of all. So many fantastic looking building, the black lava rocks are so incredible to see, and the river..My goodness, you took amazing photos of those.

    I thoroughly enjoy reading this, and learn all about Catania. Wish I'll have a chance to see it in person.

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  3. A city with ancient sites, historical buildings, and an underground river makes up an interesting post, Loree.

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  4. 'First of all the place is chaotic and I blame this on careless motorists who will run a red light and will not stop at a pedestrian crossing unless you throw yourself into the middle of the road.'

    Yikes.

    I was bragging to my Dad about your blog and how many amazing, unique images you post. Love coming here, Loree!

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  5. The mediterranian cruise we made in 2004 stopped twice in Catania. I agree with you the city looks very much neglected. I don't remember graffitis and unfriendly people, but everything looks as if it would break down in a minute. Peccato !

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  6. Interesting post and very nice photo reportage!
    Sue.

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  7. Falling asleep? No! You see, to us (at least to us in the US) all your scenes are so...well..."european"! And not only that, they are removed from the main continent and that makes it so much more of a mystery as to what the towns and cities look like. My husband and I were talking yesterday about wanting to do a "house swap" with someone. Then, we grimaced and thought...WHO would want to come to Houston, Texas!! But, perhaps to people out of the U.S., it might sound enticing. Wonderful photos..but sorry about the graffiti and grime. I don't understand the quest for youth to destroy either. It is truly disturbing.

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  8. The black lava blocks and elephant are fascinating. For sure, lots of beautiful art and architecture in Catania!

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  9. i find it a fascinating if chaotic, city. but i wouldn't enjoy the dangers of crossing the street!

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  10. Chaotic yes it may be, even when I visited in my teens (many moons ago) I thought it to be so, but the architecture and history is amazing and so are your wonderful pictures. I didn't know St.Agatha was the patron saint of Catania : )
    Thanks for all the pics and info.

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  11. The architecture and history is so beautiful here... thank you for sharing, as always, such charming and inspirational places. xoxo, B

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