World ? Europe ? Italy ? Catania

Catania: Introduction

Often neglected by visitors in their race toward Taormina, the baroque art city of Sicily deserves at least a day or two -- and hopefully more -- of your time. The capital of the eastern part of Sicily and its second-largest city after Palermo, Catania has had a tormented history of conquest and devastation by nature. It's also one of the richest repositories of baroque architecture in Europe, with treasures well worth seeking out.

The city has suffered natural disasters throughout the centuries. Much of the history of Catania is linked to its volcanic neighbor, Mount Etna. It has also been a victim of earthquakes. In 1669, the worst eruption in Catania's history occurred when Etna buried much of the city under lava that literally ran through the streets. Catania had hardly recovered when a massive earthquake leveled much of the city in 1693, creating an economic crisis.

But the people of Catania bounced back, creating an even better city and rebuilding in the harmonious baroque style. Many of the buildings were fashioned from the black lava that had rained down upon it. An aura of the 18th century still lingers over much of the heart of Catania as a direct result of the city's rebuilding program.

Even though much of the city today is in decay, its art treasures, church museums, and Roman ruins make it a rewarding stopover -- that and the chance to meet, argue with, converse with, and dine with the Catanian people.

Of course, looming in the background is that menace of a volcano, Mount Etna. If you didn't take our suggestion and visit Etna from a base in Taormina, you can do so from the southern slopes, with a base in Catania .

This section concludes with our surprise destination: a side trip to Acireale. As Sicilian cities go, Acireale is a mere infant, having been founded in 1326. Built on streams of lava, the little city stands on cliffs above the sea and is filled with wonders, especially around its monumental inner core.

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