Sicily, Italy: Life at the foot of the volcano

Summary: Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) – An amazing experience at the top of Sicily

Good afternoon to all readers of my review! Today I would like to tell you about my trip to the beautiful resort town of Taormina and Volcano Etna. As Goethe wrote: “To see Italy without Sicily is like not seeing it at all. Sicily is the key to everything. I’ve already told you about my winter vacation on the west coast of Sicily and my visits to Trapani, Erice, Salemi and the island of Favignana (you can read about holidays in Trapani here). Well now it’s my turn to visit the east coast))). Those who have read my reviews before, probably remember that I usually visit Italy from a small island state of Malta (and I have reviews about it Vacation in Comino and Christmas in Malta ). And this time nothing out of the ordinary happened – Malta again and then Sicily. One difference – it was summer (not winter, as usual) and as a transport I chose the ferry (although in Malta they call it a catamaran). The ferries from Malta to Sicily leave daily, early in the morning (about 6:00 – 6:30), and return around midnight, a journey of only 1.5 hours. I get seasick easily on seagoing ships and was very worried about it, but it was fine – I didn’t get seasick. Maybe the sea is calmer in the summer, or maybe I was just lucky.

I paid for a sightseeing tour in a local Maltese agency (which are on every corner there), asked for a Russian-speaking guide in Sicily, paid extra for a transfer from the hotel and back – all for 117 euros. I decided that the price is very adequate for me. The only thing is that when I signed the contract, I was not told what to bring.

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

On the way to the port.

And here I was on the ferry, immediately met a tourist from Moscow, she was alone, since her grandson was studying English in a language school in Malta (I have already written about one such school in my review), still better to travel together than alone. Had some breakfast, tea, as we woke up very early and had no time to eat at the hotel. The ferry (or catamaran) is big, with several decks. The lower deck is for cars, the middle deck is for economy class passengers and there is an upper deck for those who pay more. It had a bar and a couple of stores, so if you didn’t bring any food with you, you would not die of hunger, you could always buy something. There are toilets also, how could one go without them? It’s cool inside of the ferry, air conditioners work. And here we are in Sicily. We go ashore and are sorted into buses, according to the language principle: excursion in Italian, English or in Russian for us, Russians. First they take us to the resort town of Taormina. Unfortunately, in summer there are traffic jams and our acquaintance with the city is a bit delayed. But here our wait is rewarded – we saw it, and it turned out to be beautiful. “If anyone should spend only one day in Sicily and ask what is necessary to see, I will answer without a doubt: Taormina!” (Guy de Maupassant)

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Then a break for lunch, taking a business lunch in one of the cafes (to have time to admire the beauty of Taormina some more)

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

We sit in a cafe and enjoy not only the food but also the views of Taormina from above.

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

and off we go again. Now we are on our way to the volcano Etna. The volcano is still active, and almost every year it erupts its lava; in 2011 and 2015, even Catania International Airport was closed due to lava eruptions and volcanic ash emissions. And the last time there was an eruption was just recently, at the end of February 2017. It is the largest active volcano in Italy and is more than 2.5 times larger than its nearest “rival,” Vesuvius. About once every 150 years an eruption destroys some village in Sicily, but this does not stop the locals and they densely inhabit the slopes of the volcano (but do not be frightened, not near the craters). The height of the volcano is about 3300 meters above sea level, but of course we will not reach that height))).

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Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

It was sunny and warm at the foot of the volcano, but the higher we climbed, the cloudier it got. The sky got totally overcast, turned black, and we realized – something is going to happen …

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

If not a volcanic eruption, the heavens would start spewing their water on us. But while we were on the bus, everything was still calm and dry. And as soon as we got off the bus and we went on foot to one of the craters of the volcano (and there are more than 400 of them) it started raining. At first it started to rain, then it got harder and harder, and then hail began, and it was so heavy, that later our feet were bruised from it. But we were persistent in our desires, if we came to see the volcano, we did not give up and still reached the crater.

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

On the way back we were already running in the pouring rain. There were souvenir stores at the site where the tour buses were parked, so we ran in – at least to warm up a little. Most of us were very lightly dressed, we also did not take spare clothes, so some people bought souvenir T-shirts to at least change into dry clothes. We could also buy Etna souvenirs and various Sicilian goodies. But many of them had already bought pieces of dried lava as a keepsake, and for free. On the way back in the bus we tried to dry our clothes and dry off. But as soon as we went down to the foot of the volcano the rain stopped. So my advice is to take some warm clothes, as it is windy here and the air temperature at the altitude is much lower than at the foot (temperature difference may be 10-15 degrees). And it is even better to take some extra clothes in case you get wet. We did not know that, unfortunately, we were all lightly dressed (some had only shorts and T-shirts) and did not take anything warm with us. Then the bus took us straight to the port to catch our ferry.

Volcano Etna (Italy, Sicily) photo

On the ferry we hoped to get warm, but all the way there was air conditioning on full blast. Maybe this is good in the heat, but for us, frozen and damp, it was not the best option. But here we are again in Malta and our trip came to an end. Who wants to go see the active volcano, do not be afraid of bad weather and go ahead – to the tops and everything will work out.

Catania. History and attractions.

Catania

Catania lies at the foot of the volcano Etna in eastern Sicily. It was founded by the ancient Sicilian tribe of the Sicans about the XIII century B.C. The huge village was called Siculo, in 729 B.C. the Greek colony Catane settled there. It was frequently at war with Syracuse. And even in 403 BC. Dionysius of Syracuse sold all the inhabitants of Catane into slavery. In 263 BC. Catania was conquered by the Romans. At this time they built an amphitheater that was second in size only to the Roman Colosseum. It was a period of prosperity and wealth. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the V century, the city fell under the rule of the Visigoths. King Theodoric the Great built a wall around the city, using stones from the Roman amphitheater. In the first half of the ninth century Catania was conquered by the Byzantines. In 827 numerous Arab invasions began and Catania became part of the Emirate of Sicily. The city has preserved little evidence of that period. Power then passed to the Normans. In 1266 Charles I of Anjou became ruler and hard times came, which ended in 1282 with a rebellion called the Vespers of Sicily. The French were expelled from the island, power passed to the Aragonese dynasty, which lasted until the beginning of the fifteenth century. In the fourteenth century Catania became the capital, the city housed the royal residence and was the seat of government. In the following centuries Catania went from independence to Spanish domination, from the power of the Savoy dynasty to the kingdom of the Bourbons, and in 1862 became part of a united Italy.

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The city, located at the foot of the volcano, suffered many eruptions. The historical and architectural turning point was the earthquake of 1693. Catania was completely destroyed only to be reborn from a clean slate in luxurious Baroque style.

Catania

Attractions of Catania

Catania has been destroyed seven times and rebuilt seven times. Despite its difficult fate, the city has preserved numerous historical monuments and sights that will surprise even seasoned travelers.

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza del Duomo is Catania’s central square. It greets visitors with the Elephant Fountain, which is considered the symbol of the Sicilian city. It is made of volcanic stone, but when it was – exactly unknown. A restoration in 1736 added various elements to the elephant, including a marble pedestal, an Egyptian obelisk, white eyes and tusks. Also in the square are Palazzo Elephant (municipality), Palazzo Chierici and the cathedral. Behind the fountain of Amenano, which symbolizes the underground river, begins the fish market.

Cathedral. Catania

St. Agatha’s Cathedral

The cathedral was built on the ruins of ancient Roman thermae. It has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and eruptions of Etna. The first religious building dates back to 1070. The current cathedral was designed by the architect Vaccarini (exterior) and Palazzotto (interior) from 1734 to 1761. The facade is made of Carrara marble. Inside the cathedral is divided into three naves and the chapel of Sant’Agata holds relics. Also in the temple is the tomb of Vincenzo Bellini.

Cathedral. Catania

Popular markets in Catania

All southern Italian cities are famous for their markets, which resemble oriental bazaars. To see the “real” Catania, you must visit one of the city markets. The Piscaria fish market is included in all tourist itineraries, but there is another less famous one, the fera ‘o luni, which unfolds on Piazza Carlo Alberto. Despite the name ((luni means “Monday”), the market is open every day except Sunday, immersing you in the atmosphere of an Arab bazaar. Everything from clothes to vegetables can be found there.

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Fera 'o luni Market

Via Etnea

Via Etnea starts from piazza del Duomo, it is the thoroughfare of Catania and gets its name from the direction of Etna volcano. The street stretches for 3 km. There are stores, boutiques, historical buildings and seven churches along it. The old pastry shop Pasticceria Savia is worth a visit for a taste of Sicilian sweets. Via Etnea ends in Piazza Cavour, from which the Borgo quarter begins.

Via Etnea

Via Crociferi

Via dei Crociferi is one of the shortest in Catania and also one of the most important. It is named after the bearers of the cross in processions, but it is not known where the name came from. The street is 200 meters long, on which are concentrated 4 churches that are masterpieces of the Baroque style. The entrance is crowned by the black arch of St. Benedict, which connects the church of the same name with the monastery. The temple is famous for the Angel’s Staircase, made of marble and decorated with sculptures of angels. Inside, it is decorated with frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict. Nearby is the church of San Francesco Borgia, to which two stairs lead. Further down the street is the College of the Jesuits, which housed an art institute from 1968 to 2009. It is possible to see the beautiful inner courtyard covered with porticoes. Opposite is the church of San Giuliano, one of the most beautiful examples of Sicilian Baroque work by Vaccarini. The street ends with Villa Cerami, which houses the Faculty of Law. Via dei Crociferi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It became the site of numerous film shoots. The picturesque street can be admired in the movies “Hot Paolo”, “Viceroys” and others.

Via Crociferi. Catania

Via Crociferi. Catania.

Ruins of an ancient Roman theater

The theater dates from the II century, in diameter it was about 80 meters. The seats for the audience, orchestra and part of the stage have been preserved. The black theater was built of lava stone, decorated with marble and statues. It seated about 7 thousand spectators. Next to the theater was the Odeon.

Roman Theatre. Catania

The church of San Nicolo l’Arena and the Benedictine monastery

The church of S. Nicolo’ l’Arena was erected in the 19th century by the German baron Wolfgang Sartoruis von Waltershausen, a prominent German topographer who was involved in the exploration of Etna. An older religious structure existed on the site as early as the twelfth century. The temple belonged to a Benedictine monastery, and the monks asked for a meridian similar to those in all the famous abbeys. The work was completed in 1841. The result was a 23-meter long meridian on the floor of the church, decorated with tiles with figures of the signs of the zodiac. At noon, a ray of sunlight falls on the numbers, by which the day and month can be determined.

Church of San Nicolo

The Benedictine monastery complex in Catania is one of the largest in Europe. Nowadays it houses one of the faculties of the University. You can enter the former monastery for free, but you have to buy a ticket (7 euros) to the museum. It is undoubtedly a grandiose complex worth a visit.

Ursino Castle

The Ursino castle was built in 1239-50 by Frederick II. The emperor ordered a complex of defensive structures to be built along the entire eastern coast of Sicily to demonstrate his power and strength. The military architect Riccardo da Lentini designed the fortress: on an impregnable rock jutting into the sea, a fortress was built with only a narrow isthmus connecting it to the mainland. It’s hard to imagine it now. Ursino Castle stands as a massive box among the residential blocks. After the eruption of 1669 lava pushed the sea and the fortress was completely on land. Nature laughed at the “impregnable plans” of men. The castle now houses the City Museum, which, among other things, houses one of the first decks of Tarot cards, called the Tarot cards of the Castle of Ursino. It belonged to Alessandro Sforza. The cards are made of cardboard and various sheets of paper, the pictures are embossed and colored in tempera.

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Ursino Castle. Catania

The Fountain of Proserpina

From the railway station along the sea runs via VI Aprile, where you’ll find the Fountain of Proserpina, built in 1904 by Giulio Moscetti. Proserpine, daughter of the fertility goddess Ceres, was picking flowers when she was seen by Pluto, king of the underworld, who fell in love with the girl and kidnapped her. This particular moment is set in stone, according to legend it happened in Sicily. Ceres was heartbroken and eternal winter descended upon the earth. Then Pluto and Ceres made a deal. Proserpine spends half the year in the underworld of the dead and half the year in the world of the living, then comes the best seasons of spring and summer.

Proserpine Fountain. Catania

Red Light District – San Berillo

San Berillo bore the fame of the largest red-light district in the Mediterranean, where girls of the oldest profession and trannies gathered. In the 1950s, real estate speculation and Merlin’s Law changed the face of the neighborhood, it became desolate and commercial activity curtailed. Now San Berillo has returned to its usual rhythm. Many immigrants live on its street, ethnic stores are open, and girls have returned along with notoriety.

Red light district, San Berillo

University

The University of Catania was founded in 1434. Thanks to the University and the abundance of students, Catania’s nightlife is very vibrant.

University. Catania

University. Catania

University. Catania

The central building is located on Piazza dell’Universit√†. The old building was destroyed in a terrible earthquake in 1693, the restoration work was done by the outstanding architects of the time, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini and Francesco and Antonio Battaglia. After the earthquake of 1818, the University building again needed to be reconstructed. We enter the inner courtyard of the University (open to the public) which resembles a monastery courtyard surrounded by porticoes. As we have written above, the University was founded on October 19, 1434 by Alphonse the Magnificent. Teaching began in 1444, at that time there were only six teachers. In University Square there are four lanterns decorated with legendary characters – Colapesce, the Pius brothers, Gammazita and Uzeta. What are these characters? Colapesce is the legendary swimmer from Messina, half-man-half-fish – Nicholas the fish in the Russian version. The naughty boy didn’t want to get out of the water, his angry mother shouted: “Stay in the sea forever!” After these words, physical changes began to happen to Nicholas, which doomed him to an underwater existence. As the boy grew older, the king hired him for services and led Nicholas to explore the waters of the sea. One day the king challenged Nicholas’ ability to stay underwater for long periods of time and tossed a gold goblet into the sea. The fish-man retrieved the goblet and told the king that Sicily stood on three pillars, one of which was damaged by fire. Then the king asked him to bring fire from the bottom of the sea. But Nicholas dove in and was never seen again. According to legend, the man-fish is still at the bottom and holds the wobbly column. Pia’s brothers, Anfinomo and Anapia, rescue their old parents from the volcanic eruptions, carrying them on their shoulders, at the will of the gods, the fiery river of lava parted and everyone was saved. Gammacita is a young girl with whom a French soldier fell in love, but her heart could not command it, and her civic duty also pressured her and Gammacita chose to jump into a deep well. Uzeta is a character of modern legend dating back to the early 20th century. This humble and quiet fellow becomes a horseman and defeats the Saracen giants Ursini, who gave his name to the castle.

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Ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre

The amphitheater was built in the II century under the emperors Andrian and Antonius Pio. In the 5th century, the King of the Ostgoths, Theodoric, dismantled a part of the amphitheater, using the stones to build a wall around the city. In XI century the amphitheater again served as the material for the construction – the king Roger II of Sicily ordered to use the ancient stones for the construction of the Cathedral. After an earthquake in 1693, new houses and the church of San Biagio (Santa Agata alla Fornace) were built on top. The amphitheater has a diameter of 70 m and holds 15 thousand spectators.

Roman Amphitheater

Church of Santa Agata alla Fornace or San Biagio

The Church of Santa Agata alla Fornace or San Biagio was built on the site where St. Agata was tortured by fire. The church was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1693 and was not rebuilt until the eighteenth century.

Church of Santa Agata alla Fornace or San Biagio. Catania

Church of Santa Agata al Carchere

Go down via Cappuccini. Here we find a small square (Piazza Santo Carcere), on which there is a piece of the wall of Charles V, and from the wall rises the church of Sant’Agata al Carcere.

Church of Santa Agata al Carchere. Catania

The church was built on the site where Agata was imprisoned during the trial and where she died. The current building dates from the 18th century.

Church of Santa Agata al Carchere. Catania

Villa Bellini

Villa Bellini is a city park where locals like to relax and take walks. Its appearance was formed in the 18th century.

Villa Bellini. Catania

Vicenzo Bellini Grand Theater

The Teatro Massimo Vicenzo Bellini was built in 1890 and it is named after the famous native of Catania. The cozy square with a fountain in the center has many cafes.

Bellini Theatre

Palazzo Biscari

The historic palazzo Biscari is one of the most beautiful in Catania. The tour is given by the heir of a noble family absolutely free of charge. You can see a magnificent hall covered with frescoes, several rooms, a terrace and a winding staircase.

Palazzo Biscari

Read also:

Sicilian Baroque Baroque is one of the most expressive, vivid and distinctive architectural styles, which dates back to the Italian Renaissance of the early 17th century, it is characterized by luxurious decoration, dynamically flamboyant forms and a habit of breaking the laws of perspective. The Sicilian Baroque is not a style in its own right, but a particular “deviation” from the Baroque. Sicilian Baroque is characterized by bright decorativeness, theatricality and color and is a symbol of luxury of the island nobility.

Curious facts about Sicily Sicily is one of the most popular destinations, the multi-faceted island attracts with its history, clean coasts, active volcano and delicious cuisine. Many books, articles and notes have been written about Sicily, but we found 12 curious facts about Sicily that not everyone knows.

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