Sicily – Messina architecture walk #2 – north from the centre

As I mentioned in my previous post, Messina has been subjected to periodic destruction by natural forces every hundred years or so, most devastatingly, by a huge earthquake and tsunami that destroyed all the ancient architecture in 1908. The walk in my previous post covered most of the remaining pre-1908 architecture and some of the most famous local Stile Liberty buildings that replaced it. This post takes in the remaining interesting constructions that I found to the north of the centre, whereas the next one will walk you around the south side of town. The three walking posts are in order of interest, but the buildings in the posts are in geographical order. My map will help you follow the trail (key top left).

Just a couple of minutes from Piazza Duomo where walk #1 finished is Piazza Antonello, aka the Four Corners (emulating the famous crossroads of the same name in Palermo, Catania and Rome). Three of the corners are occupied by rather uninspiring public buildings (the town hall, regional government offices and the former main post office) but the exception is the Stile Liberty Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III at 13 Piazza Antonello.

Designed by Camillo Puglisi Allegra and built between 1924 and 1929, it was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan (1865).

It’s the second biggest galleria of its kind in the south of Italy, after the Galleria Umberto I in Naples.

It’s composed of a central hexagon with three arms and three entrances.

The central vault is enclosed by a coloured glass dome.

The central portico of the main entrance to the gallery has a monumental arch with pilasters (ornamental columns) and a raised pediment.

If you walk out the back entrance onto Via della Munizione, you can see some nice detailing on the exterior units of the Galleria.

As you come out of this entrance, just over the road on the corner of Via Romagnosi is the Edicola Votiva del Bambinello dei Miracoli, one of several votive shrines dotted around the city.

Earlier I said that I wasn’t a fan of the town hall building, the Comune di Messina aka Palazzo Zanca (designed by Antonio Zanca in 1924), but the entrance on Piazza Antonello is just one of four, with the main Neoclassical façade on the opposite side of the block. However, my favourite is the side entrance on Via San Camillo, just around the corner on the north side.

The bas-reliefs (bassorilievi) on the façade once again celebrate the two Messina heroines Dina & Clarenza who were also striking the bells on the cathedral clocktower in my previous post. In the reliefs Dina is pictured throwing a rock (to beat back the attackers) and Clarenza is ringing the bells to raise the alarm.

If you continue north along Corso Cavour, a brief detour to 1 Piazza Seguenza will take you to another Baroque votive shrine, one of many around the city for this particular madonna, the Edicola Votiva della Madonna della Lettera. Local legend has it that after protecting the city from the 1693 earthquake, the Virgin Mary wrote a letter (hence the name) to the city honouring its inhabitants. Miraculously, the letter was even addressed and dated from Jerusalem!

Another few minutes and you come to the Palazzo del Governo di Messina in Piazza dell’ Unità d’ Italia. The sturdy building has Electic and Liberty elements and was designed by Cesare Bazzani in 1920.

In front of the governor’s palace is the Fontana del Nettuno, or Neptune Fountain. Built in 1557 it is the work of Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli whose work on Fontana d’Orione in Piazza Duomo (see previous post) was so much appreciated that he was asked to create this second fountain.

The fountain shows the god of the sea caught between Scylla and Charybdis, the two monsters of the Strait of Messina.

Just opposite the fountain on the waterfront, you’ll notice some stairs going down to the marina. There’s a Michelin restaurant in the marina called, logically, Ristorante Marina del Nettuno which I review in a later post but even if you don’t fancy eating there, it would still be a good spot for an al fresco aperitivo while looking out over the harbour, if you finish the walk around the cocktail hour.

Back at the Palazzo del Governo, the next block along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi seems to me to be entirely Neo-Moorish (Venetian?). This is the side of the block at 3 Via Gran Priorato.

And this is 275 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.

From here you could make a diversion inland to see the Porta Grazia in Piazza Casa Pia. Originally this Baroque arch was one of the gates of the Real Cittadella (Royal Citadel) on the Zona Falcata on the San Ranieri peninsula, the arm of land that stretches around the harbour. It was designed by Domenico Biondo, during the era of Spanish rule.

You might wonder why this battered arch is worth seeing but it was in fact very influential on the development of Sicilian Baroque with local architects using many of its features as recurrent motifs.

If you do this you could do the next few places in reverse (my map here).

Otherwise, back at the Fontana del Nettuno, over the road from the fountain at 136 Via Garibaldi is Il Circolo, a Stile Liberty palace that’s now a cultural centre.

The building at 1 Via Francesco Crispi, on the corner with Viale Liberta has a nice Liberty window.

Further down Viale Liberta at 7 Piazza Vittoria is the Circolo Della Borsa, another artistic and cultural association.

Going on its design and location near the Fiera di Messina (a fairground park), I think this is Palazzo Bonanno, another Gino Coppedè design. I don’t know which number it is on Viale della Libertà, but it’s on the corner with Via Fata Morgana.

In the Fiera park opposite is the Fontana del Brugnani, a Baroque fountain dating from 1738, but it was being repaired when I went to see it. It was sculpted by Ignazio Brugnani when he was just twenty years old.

From here, the northernmost point of my walk, you could either start walking back to the centre along the seafront or you could conceivably walk to see the two missing Quattro Fontane fountains (see previous post) outside the Museo Reigionale at 465 Viale della Libertà, but it’s a bit of a hike.

Personally I walked back along the waterfront checking out Fontana Bios in Piazzale Batteria Masotto on the way. The fountain, made of reinforced concrete, granite, marble and river-smoothed stones, was designed in 2005 by Ranieri Wanderlingh.

The upper body pours water into the lower tub, which then pours it into the larger basin at the bottom where it’s pumped back up to the upper level. The continuous cycle is meant to remind us of the regeneration of life although it reminds me more of an ashtray.

I carried on walking back to the centre along the waterfront, along Via Vittorio Emanuele II. The view consists of huge cruiseliners parked on one side of the street and lots of boring Rationalist blocks on the other (streetview here), but it’s the fastest route and you do get good views accross the straits to Villa San Giovanni (the ferry port for Reggio Calabria)…

…and a good view of the golden statue of the Madonna della Lettera over in Zona Falcata, guarding the entrance to the harbour as well.

Fairly soon after Via Vittorio Emanuele II starts bending round the harbour, you’ll come to this arch at the end of Via Sant’Elia.

Passing through the arch you’ll see the Grand Hotel Commercio, a four-star accommodation facility, at 69 Via I Settembre.

There’s another nice building, the Hotel Sant’Elia (part of the same hotel chain), on the opposite corner at 67 Via I Settembre. Also, if you continue up you’ll come to Chiesa di Santa Maria Alemanna (closed when I went), a unique example of pure Gothic church architecture in Sicily. It was formerly a chapel for Teutonic knights, hence the name. On the same block is the Palazzo della Cassa di Risparmio, designed by Ernesto Basile who featured in a lot of my Catania posts.

Back on the waterfront where Via Luigi Rizzo (the continuation of Via Vittorio Emanuele II) meets Via San Martino you’ll see the cast iron gates and canopies of the Stile Liberty Palazzo della Dogana (Palace of the Customs).

And that’s enough palazzi for one day! Honestly how many does one city need!! The next (third and final) walking post will cover the areas south, east and west of the centre…

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