Sicily – Catania – the oldest architecture

Catania was founded in the 8th century BC by Chalcidian Greeks and has since been ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ostrogoths, the Muslims, the Normans, the Hohenstaufen, the Angevins, and the Aragonese. It became a province of the Spanish Empire and later was part of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, before finally being absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Naturally, each of these civilisations left an architectural imprint but most vestiges of the past have been wiped away by earthquakes and volcanic erruptions. In fact I read somewhere that the city has been destroyed fourteen times in its history.

This post collects together my few photos of the really old stuff that still remains. It tends to be chunky Medieval constructions like Castello Ursino in Piazza Federico di Svevia.

My Google map here.

The castle was built between 1239 and 1250 by the famous Swabian King of Sicily, Emperor Frederick II, hence the address.

It now houses collections of Greek and Roman artefacts and medieval artworks. Click on the photo gallery for a better view.

Because of the numerous destructive events, the actual location of the rest of the ancient city defences is disputed. Due to the lack of physical remains, ancient maps have to be relied on, none of which are very accurate.

However there is still the odd fortification to be found, although none of them are particularly exciting. This is the Torre del Vescovo on Via Antico Corso (built perhaps in 1302) and just over the road is the Bastione degli Infetti (Bastion of the Infected) on Via Torre del Vescovo (dating from the 15th century and in the 16th, the location of a plague hospital).

As for the Roman stuff, if you’ve never seen an ancient theatre before then by all means go and check out the Teatro Greco Romano Odeon in Via Teatro Greco. Having been brought up by an archaeologist father, I’ve seen more amphitheatres than most and can reliably inform you they all look remarkably similar. The current remains are Roman with little left of the pre-existing Greek theatre of Katàne.

I opted to spend the €6 entrance fee (in 2019) on food instead but this snap of the underground tunnels of another theatre a few blocks north, the Anfiteatro Romano in Piazza Stesicoro, didn’t cost me anything. Despite it once being one of the largest in the Empire (15,000 spectators on 32 steps) there’s not much else to see as the rest is buried under the other buildings around the square.

I did go to check out the Terme della Rotonda on Via della Mecca but they opened quite late on the day I went (11am?) and I judged it not to be worth waiting for.

Another mildly intriguing place is San Gaetano alle Grotte, a small Baroque church in Piazza Carlo Alberto (the same square as Fera O’ Luni), which has a 4th century hypogeum (underground temple or tomb) in a narrow volcanic cave underneath it. I contented myself with looking at the pictures but if you’d like to visit, look at the noticeboard outside it for opening times.

Personally the most interesting ancient place I visited in Catania was the cellar of Ostello (see this post) in Piazza Curro. If you go through the restaurant and two levels down, you’ll find a grotto that the Romans once used as a bath house.

Please forgive my occasional cynicism, I do find the past fascinating, it’s just that when it comes to architecture I’m much keener on modernity!

A final post on Staying in Catania next…

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