Beautiful beaches as well as the “Oasi del Simeto” nature reserve unfold to the south of the town and Catania’s strategic location right in the middle of numerous tourist highlights such as Taormina, the nearby Cyclops Coast, splendid Etna Park, historical sites like Syracuse and Piazza Armerina add to the attractions of the city.
Greek settlers founded Katane in 729 B.C. In 263 B.C. it was conquered by the Romans and in the following period the town rapidly developed. Monumental buildings of this era (amphitheatre at Via Etnea, remains of the Teatro Antico, odeon and thermal spa) testify the rising importance of Catania, which also continued in Norman times (when the cathedral was built) and under Spanish reign (foundation of the first university on the island). In the 17th century, however, the town was dramatically hit first by the great lava flow of 1669 and second by the earthquake of 1693 which destroyed major parts of Catania as well as many other towns in southern Sicily. The townscape completely changed, e.g. the medieval Castello Ursino (made of black lava stone and housing the Civic Museum) originally stood right by the harbour. The still visible lava stream flowed past its west side and so pushed the coastline eastwards.
Thanks to its almost entire reconstruction in the 18th century the town features a unique Baroque appearance designed by the famous architect Vaccarini. His fountain Fontana dell'Elefante, an elephant made of black lava supporting a small Egyptian obelisk, stands in the middle of the cathedral square, surrounded by the Duomo - dedicated to the city's patron saint Sant’Agata and originally Norman, but also reconstructed by Vaccarini, who integrated Roman columns in the new façade - , the Palazzo del Municipio (townhall) and Porta Uzeda, where Sicily’s most beautiful fish market attracts the visitors. In the heart of the Baroque area round Via Etnea (elegant shopping street and one of the main arteries of Catania) and Via Crociferi (lined by four magnificent churches and plenty of gorgeous “palazzi”) life is pulsating until late at night. A large choice of international restaurants, pubs and sophisticated bars, combined with the cheerful mediterranean atmosphere, invite you to saunter along the boulevards and squares where people sit right on the steps - just as they do in famous “Piazza Spagna” in Rome.
Whenever you need a break from the crowded city, just relax in the “Villa Bellini” park - a quiet oasis with an excellent view of the volcano Etna, or even enjoy an opera in the homonymous “Teatro Bellini” - one of Italy’s largest and most beautiful theatres.