So many churches and the friendly people of Catania - a great day!

Catania Travel Blog

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Today was all about seeing Catania.  We got up and had a leisurely breakfast and talked with Claudia (the owner of the guesthouse) for a while.  We discussed options for going to Mt Etna tomorrow.  She contacted a company she uses and they offered a special rate on their grand tour.  It starts at 8:30 and ends at 18:30.  We will be doing some really cool stuff. We had told her the story of our treturius drive from Messina to Catania. She had the morning's newspapers and the flooding, wind, and landslides were on the front page. We had a relaxing breakfast with Claudia and then showered and headed out to the city. 


We began by going through the Mercato della Percheria (fish market).

The area looks like someplace that you wouldn’t want to be at night. Rob was in heaven and hell at the same time.  He saw all of the wonderful fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, chickens, and fish and wanted to cook.  The colors and the smells were intoxicating and fascinating at the same time. The prices were very reasonable and the quality was amazing.  Rob was snapping many pictures as we made our way through. I bought some peaches that looked and smelled wonderful.  As we passed the meat we noticed that the animals still had their heads on the many their liver still attached. They were literally cut in half down the middle. The chicken legs still had the feet on them too. This was really creepy. In the fish market there was squid, octopus, and many fresh fish.  The most notable was the sword fish.  A couple of vendors had the heads with the long sword shaped nose prominently displayed where it had been cut off or it was still attached to the fish where they were cutting off in sections. Different vendors were yelling out their specials of the day as you walked through.  They also had taken great pains to display there goods in a creative and attractive way.
We have a market at home in Amsterdam, but this one is some much better.  You can actually get around this one easily and have room to shop and see things because the lanes are so wide. The variety and presentation is fantastic.


After the market we started walking down Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.  We both needed caffeine so we stopped at a small market for a fix.  A very nice old man usher Rob in and was telling the man behind the counter to help him.  After we left the store he smiled and said goodbye.  He noticed that an open doorway and courtyard had caught Rob’s eye.  The old man escorted us in and encouraged us to enjoy.  It was a beautifully weathered courtyard with tons of storybook Italian charm.  As we were leaving the old man was waving and saying “Caio”.

  What a friendly man. It started to drizzle as we made our way towards Piazza Palestro to see the Garibaldi Gate. It was built in 1768 as a celebration of the marriage of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon with Caroline of Austria.  It a magnificent structure made of alternating basalt and carrara with expressive Baroque style still very grand. Through the arch you are able to see in a distance, the Duomo.  It needs a little cleaning and care right now, but the neighborhood where it is located is in rough condition, too. The area is called u Futtinu in memory of a fort built by the Duke of Ligne after the volcanic eruption of 1669 that hit the city over the western side, avoiding medieval defenses.
Advanced the fortifications which stood just south of
Piazza Palestro, now gone, it remains just a door on Sacchero street .  After enjoying a study of it’s amazing details and taking a few photos. The Porta has the same alternating stones as a few of the 1000 year old churches of North Central Sardegna. While there was a break in the rain, it was on to another spot. 


We headed down the Via Vittorio Emanuele II.

  There were a couple of churches I wanted to photograph that have some unique features. They are sandwiched in between other buildings and can easily be walked passed without noticing but, if you look up, you will see what you’ve been missing. We found them and had to maneuver with the umbrella as the rain was coming down steadily.


At one point I noticed a post office and we got more stamps as we had misplaced the extra ones we purchased before.  Rob said if we found them he would mail another post card to his parents so his Dad would get a different stamp. 


From the post office we turned onto the Via S.S. Trinita and progressed to the Piazza Dante as we munched on apples.  The first thing we saw was top of the San Nicilo all’ Arena.  The thing that really stands out is the medieval looking towers in the front center.

  The church was built on the site of a Benedictine monastery damaged in the eruption of 1669.  It now houses the faculty of letters of the University of Catania. 


We started exploring by looking in the courtyard of the monastery building.  The details the structure were a stunning example of Neo-Classic, renovation.  Around the entry way has been excavated and you can see the old foundations and structures from Roman times and before, that still exist.  We really wanted to go inside, but decided against it.  We left the courtyard and headed over to the church.  It was right at 13:00 so we could not get inside.  It looked like it would be great from what little we could see.

  We went out into Piazza Dante to get some pictures of the front of the church.  Rob noticed a garden area to one side and we went over to it.  We were able to get in and saw where they are working on the structure.  At some point they have installed a very modern and white walkway through the ancient looking stone ruins.  We passed a couple of libraries as we made out exploration. 


Form here we headed back out to look for a place Claudia had recommended we go into behind the monastery.  Apparently they had grown the herbs for the original form of Viagra for the monks’ use.  They even have it documented.  Rob concluded that there is a side entrance that would take us in behind the main monastery building.  He suggested we might be able to get there by cutting through the building, in the front and out the back.


We casually walked up and into the building.  The detailing in the entry hall was stunning.  We strolled through the corridor to where we could see a courtyard.  There wasn’t way out but we saw a colorfully tiled gazebo with eastern style tile work.  It was beautiful.  We couldn’t get into the courtyard so I did the best I could to get photos.  We wondered around the entire building soaking in the details of the place while students and faculty milled around.  They had done a great job of repurposing this building for a modern purpose and maintaining a lot of its character at the same time.


At this point we were starting to get hungry so we headed to a restaurant Claudia recommended.

  We had a fantastic lunch at Bar Quindici at 15 Via G. Clements. It’s a tiny place with just a few tables crammed together. The food is simple and cheap but tasty and the staff was very friendly. We took a picture of them before we left. They seemed really happy to be asked. While we were eating and discussing things I pulled out a guidebook and found the missing stamps.


After eating we continued down the Via G. Clements a couple of doors down found a church with a beautiful Madonna in the front.  We continued on and turned onto the Via Crockiferi where I hit the jackpot with four churches, including San Giuliano, San Benedetto and San Francesco Borgia, in a half block area.  They were all fabulous.  Rob used the tiny tripod and timer to get a couple of pictures of us.  From here we passed through Arch of San Benedetto to the Piazza San Francesco d'Assisi.  It has a large monument and Chiesa San Francesco d'Assisi all'Immacolata (St.

Francis of Assisi nigh The Immaculate).  This is such an amazing area showcasing religious grandeur even if in a currently fading appearance.


We turned down the Via Vittorio Emanuele to go to the Roman Amphitheater.  Unfortunately the section we were at was closed for an event.  We could see it though a window and they had temporary safety rails and other things set-up.  We moved on down the street and took a left onto Via Santa Chiara.  One this street we found a Cappelle which had a classic picture of the Madonna in it.  Down the street two old tailors were sitting outside working on suits.  We enter the Piazza Mazzini and I found another amazing church.  From here we turn towards the Norman Castle.  Across the Piazza from Castle Ursino is surprise, a church, Saint Sebastian.

The local police were giving some local youth, up to no good, the once-over.


Castle Ursino was built between 1239 ��" 1250 during the fortification campaign led by Frederick II of Swabia in eastern Sicily.  The location was perfectly adequate for it the future function of the castle as a fortress.  The castle had to combine the military function and a symbolic value as an emblem of the reduction of the Bishop’s power due to imperial power.  The initial design, as best represented by the front wall, was bare and rigorous with tall bare walls only interrupted by loopholes.  The only ornamental element is a niche with an eagle, the symbol of imperial power.


There was an art exhibition in the castle which was really nice, and free.

  We also were able to use the toilet and buy 0.40 euro bottles of water.  We wondered through the castle admiring the structure, the restoration and the art. There were many fascinating works of modern art on display along side ancient pieces of tile, pottery and bronze from the Roman period. After we finished inside we walked around the exterior.  In the back we noticed that there has been some erosion and collapse of some of the outer walkways and they are working to repair and conserve it. 


After the castle we headed back toward the Piazza Duomo.  On the way I noticed a gate that looked cool at the top of the hill.  We headed up the Via Giusuppe Zurria to investigate.  On the way we walked by an old woman and she was just looking out the window watching the world go by. I said to Rob that she reminded me of an aunt of mine and I wish that we could take her picture.

He went back and asked and she opened the window and was happy to have her picture taken.  When we got to the great gate it turned out to be a fortress structure that was now used as a large community sports center.  As we went back by later she waved and said “Ciao”.  Down the hill we went.  Now, we continued on the mission to return to the Piazza Duomo.  On the way we passed the Catania Hard Rock Café.  Apparently it didn’t last as it was locked up and the neon sigh covered.  We also stopped on the way and picked up postcards and browsed through souvenirs. 


Once we reached the Piazza Duomo we walked down the Via Etna to see my favorite church in Catania, The Colligiata.  It is one of most important late Baroque works in the city.

Originally a tabernacle dedicated to Madonna of the Alms was built.  The church grew in importance as the Aragonese kings and their courts began to patronize it.  In 1396 it was entitled as a ‘Royal chapel’.  After the earthquake in 1693 the church was rebuilt.  They took the opportunity to reorient the church entrance to the new Via Mt Etnea, the broadest and most important street in the new Catania.  Rob indulged me as I took tons of pictures and captured many details.


After the church we continued up the Via Etna.  In the distance the clouds had cleared enough to see the mountain some.  We stopped in a couple of stores to try to find a light jacket for Rob as it was recommended for our trip tomorrow. 


We made to the Piazza Stesicoro where there is a huge monument to Bellini.

  Behind the monument flanking the Corso Sicilia was a sad sight.  On one side was beautiful of baroque building while on the opposite side a horrible 60’s or 70’s building.  Across the street from the piazza is a section of the Roman Amphitheater with Stanta Agata al Carcere behind it. 


As a surprise, we were able to down into the ruins which are a portion of the subterranean labyrinth.  It was huge and covered many city blocks when it was originally built.  The underground section was in the style of the gladiator style.  There were a few cats hanging out and they looked healthy.  Rob had to take a few minutes and try to chat with them, with no luck. We were so lucky as when I was last here, the ruins were closed to visitors.


Next we continued further down the Via Etna.

  Rob suggested gelato and I agreed.  We had some delicious gelato form Café Europa.  After that we tried a couple of more stores for a jacket and had no luck.  We were far enough down to head over to Villa Bellini now.  We passed though a nice park on the way and then walked around the barrier erected around the park of Villa Bellini. As the light was fading and we were unsure where the grounds were from our location, we gave up.


We decided to go back to Via Etna but then thought we had found a different approach it.  When we got to where it should be visible, we could not find Villa Bellini at all.  We did find a grocery store.  We decided to eat in tonight and have an easy meal.  We bought fresh tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, and a few other items.

  When we were checking out the vegetable had not been weighted and the line behind us was getting long.  Rob had to go back and figure out the machine under pressure.  But we got through it and were on out way back to the guest house. 


Our best route was down the Via Etna.  On the way we stopped in a couple of more shops and finally found a long sleeved shirt for Rob.  That task completed we passed through the Piazza Duomo.  A couple of quick pictures of the square which was all lit up for the night,  stop at the cash machine and we were set for the evening.


Once we were back at the guesthouse, Rob fixed dinner and we settled in for a quiet evening.

  We relaxed, worked on the blog and uploaded a few pictures.  It had been another great day.  We are praying the weather works in our favor for the rest of the trip.

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