Catania is the second largest city in Sicily. It lies at the southern foot of Mount Etna, the so-called friendly volcano, which can be seen from all over the city. Catania is an ancient trading centre far away from the formal trading environment of Palermo. At the town market, which is still open every morning except on religious holidays, the farmers from the fertile hinterland would meet with merchants who had sailed in by sea.
The majority of the city was destroyed at the end of the 17th century, and the rebuilding that took place in the 18th century has left its mark on the appearance of the city. The modern city of Catania has around 350,000 inhabitants. It can also boast Italy’s third biggest airport and a dynamic business community, with huge shopping malls south of the centre at Misterbianco.
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If you take a walk around the centre of Catania, it can sometimes seem very chaotic and noisy with action going on everywhere you look. The city centre extends behind the old harbour and has its pulsating heart in Via Etna, which runs from Villa Pacini to Villa Bellini. The city centre has undergone thorough renovation in recent years, and all the monuments and large mansion houses are in tip-top condition. If you are on a short visit, it is worth visiting the cathedral, the town hall and the Elephant Fountain (the elephant is Catania’s emblem), which are all situated on the square. Villa Bellini and its gardens make a great place to relax after taking in Via Etna and its many shops.
Should you choose to stay in the city, we recommend you walk through the city streets and try some of the many small cafés and restaurants. Many of the older houses are built from Etna’s black lava, and don’t have the pompous facades which decorate the mansion houses. Catania also boasts the Massimo Bellini Theatre - Bellini being the city’s most famous composer. The theatre regularly performs operas, not least Bellini’s ‘Norma’. There was even a new pasta dish concocted in honour of the premiere of Bellini’s Norma: the now-famous ’Penne alla Norma’ (containing aubergines, tomato sauce and baked ricotta cheese). You can find Penne alla Norma on the menus of practically all the restaurants in town.