Any walking tour of Catania has to start in the central square, Piazza Duomo. This is where you’ll find the cathedral and the Fontana dell’Elefante, a statue of a smiling elephant that has become a symbol of the city.
Made of lava rock, it’s thought that the elephant was carved during the Byzantine era and brought to Catania by Benedictine monks in 1200 AD. It was incorporated into the present statue in 1735.
Legend has it that when Catania was first founded, all the fierce and dangerous animals were put to flight by an elephant and the statue, known as Liotru, is still considered to be a protector of the city. There are many stories and legends associated with the elephant.
On the southern side of the square is the beautiful Fontana dell’Amenano which is at the top of the stairs leading down to La Pescheria fish market (see earlier post).
The fountain, sculpted in 1867 from beautiful Carrara marble by the Neapolitan Tito Angelini, represents the Amenano River (which flows under the square) as a young man holding a cornucopia (horn of plenty) standing over a tub from which the water pours.
Two mermen flank him on either side.
On the eastern side of the square is the Catedrale di Sant’Agata. Originally constructed in 1078-1093, on the ruins of the ancient Roman Baths, it has been destroyed several times by earthquakes.
It was reduced to ruins in the 1693 earthquake and rebuilt in Baroque style. The Baroque façade was added in 1711.
On the northern side of the square is the Palazzo degli Elefanti, the current town hall, which was also built after the 1693 earthquake. In the courtyard there is another amusing representation of Liotru the happy elephant, but on a much smaller scale.
From Piazza Duomo you could head south to La Pescheria fish market (essential, see previous post) and then south west to the castle (mildly interesting, see coming post) or north for the Roman theatres (boring) or east to Palalazzo Biscari (essential, see coming post) for some more Baroque…