Things to Do in Catania
The city’s most memorable architectural and navigational landmark, Piazza Duomo is the buzzing center of downtown Catania and a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. The UNESCO-listed square is encircled with grand buildings, the creative vision of local architect Vaccarini and a prime example of the acclaimed Sicilian Baroque style.
Dominating the northern edge of the piazza is the ornate Palazzo Degli Elefanti, now housing the City Hall, while the palatial Cathedral of Sant’Agata looms to the east, flanked by the elegant Bishop’s Palace and the arched walkway of the Porta Uzeda. At the center of the square is Duomo’s star attraction - Giovanni Battista’s Fontana dell'Elefante, a monumental fountain crowned by the city’s emblem - a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk, sculpted from volcanic rock and dating back to 1736.
Despite being ravaged by eruptions of the neighboring Mt Etna volcano at least 17 times since its founding, traces of Catania’s long Greek and Roman history still remain, most notably the Roman theaters of the Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania. Dating back as early as the 2nd century AD, the remarkably preserved ruins can be found right at the center of the modern city, in striking contrast to the medieval Castello Ursino and the elegant Baroque masterpieces that stand nearby.
The Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania is home to three main structures, most notably the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater), once an opulent 7,000-seat theater constructed with a blend of marble and black lava stones, and the ancient amphitheater, once the largest of its kind in Sicily and seating up to 15,000. Additional highlights include a series of Roman baths and the smaller, but none-the-less impressive Odeon theater.
The most impressive vestige of medieval Catania is the formidable Castle Ursino (Castello Ursino), built by Emperor Frederick II in the early 13th century and now home to the Museo Civico (Civic Museum). Originally built high on the sea cliffs to guard the Sicilian coast, the castle was encircled by lava after the 17th century eruptions of the Mt Etna volcano and now stands 500 meters inland on the cusp of the modern city center.
Today, the landlocked castle houses an impressive array of artwork and artifacts, many taken from the personal collections of Prince of Biscari and including a series of Sicilian school paintings, a Hellenistic statue of Polyphemus, a Roman ‘Gladiators’ relief and sizable exhibitions of weaponry, sculptures and porcelain.
From a road winding through the Sicilian countryside, family owned Gambino Winery appears atop a hillside in the Etna wine region. The unique climate and soil of the area produces some of Italy’s tastiest wines, both white and red. Most wines are derived from either Nerello mascalese or Nerello cappuccio grapes, many of which are given DOC designation. Innovative winemakers in this region are making some of Sicily’s best wines, and while not all are available to taste Gambino Winery allows you to sample quite a few.
Mount Etna being an ancient volcano (the largest in Europe,) views from the winery are scenic and the surrounding landscape is beautiful to take in. There’s nothing like drinking a glass of wine right in the place in which it was produced, and there’s no shortage of great wine or views at Gambino. The winery also serves delicious food, cheeses, and local olive oils.
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