Nothing is better than a walking tour of the historic center of Catania to fully grasp the history and spirit of this beautiful city. It is a Baroque triumph in which Etna’s lava stone and marble enrich buildings and monuments and in 2002 it was also named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Are you ready to discover the true face of the “black city” and the best places to visit in Catania?
Walking tour of the historic center of Catania: Piazza Duomo
Our tour of the historic center of Catania will start from the beautiful Piazza Duomo, in the center of which there is a fountain and an obelisk. On the top of it, a lava stone elephant called “u liotru“has been lying since 1239 as a symbol of the city. If you want to know something more about the beautiful story linked to this elephant and why it became a symbol of Catania, we suggest you also read this article.
The elephant fountain is surrounded by some of the most important jewels of the city: on the east side there is the beautiful Cathedral of Sant’Agata, the main place of worship in the city dedicated to the homonymous patroness of Catania. The body of Saint Agatha is kept in the chapel that can be reached at the end of the right aisle.
A gate from 1926 protects the entrance, but it is also possible to admire the golden door inside which the bust of the saint is kept together with her relics. John Paul II decided to personally pay homage to the remains of Saint Agatha during his visit to Catania on November 4, 1994 (below is the short video of that moment).
In Piazza Duomo, next to the Cathedral you will find the Palazzo dei Chierici, an elegant building made of white stone and dark-colored plaster obtained thanks to the volcanic sand. The adjacent Porta Uzeda boasts a passage unknown to many, and which connects the Palazzo dei Chierici with the Cathedral.
On the west side, at the entrance to via G. Garibaldi we find the Amenano Fountain, dear to the people of Catania. It’s made of Carrara marble and produces a cascade of water that overflows with such lightness that it looks like a sheet. On the opposite side we finally find Palazzo degli Elefanti, which houses the Town Hall.
How about visiting one of the city’s historic markets now?
‘A Piscaria: the historic fish market of Catania
Having visited the church and explored Piazza Duomo sufficiently, it is possible to begin the tour of the historic center of Catania by going down the stairs located behind the Amenano Fountain to access the “Piscarìa“, Catania’s historic fish market with an Arab flavor.
This market is able to attract many tourists, as well as locals and it is wonderful to wander among the stalls of fresh fish and listen to the “vuciata” of individual fishermen, which is nothing more than a chant with which each seller praises his own merchandise.
It is really worth spending some time here, strolling among the various counters present: there are also those with cheeses, dried fruit and spices, among which you can certainly find something genuine to take home.
In the list of Catania worth visiting, markets surely have an important place.
Did you like the piscaria? Now comes the best …
Via Etnea: the “heart” of the historic center of Catania
Returning to Piazza Duomo, you can take the famous Via Etnea and walk a few tens of meters to reach Piazza Università. Here the first university in Sicily was built and the building now houses only the Rectorate and the main hall for the graduation ceremony.
A few meters further on, on the left, it is possible to admire the beautiful Basilica Maria Santissima dell’Elemosina. Known as the “Basilica of the Collegiate”, an icon of the late Baroque of Catania which was rebuilt in the early 1700s due to the 1639 earthquake that destroyed it. Inside it has three naves: the central one houses the main altar, the left aisle the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament while in the right aisle you can admire the baptistery and the altar of the immaculate.
A few tens of meters later you will see the vault of Piazza Stesicoro, rectangular in shape, which presents the remains of the Roman amphitheater, partly brought to light following excavations carried out in the twentieth century. Piazza Stesicoro is very dear to the people of Catania also for the presence of the adjacent Church of San Biagio, but above all because every year it is from here that the celebrations for the patron saint of the city begin. It consists of a procession that was formerly called “procession of luminaria ”, with reference to the wax that devotees offered to Sant’Agata to illuminate the altar.
Let’s go to visit a nice public park now!
Visit to Villa Bellini, historic garden of Catania
Then continue on Via Etnea and take advantage of the clothing stores to shop if you want, and after 4 or 5 minutes you will see on your left the beautiful Villa Bellini, one of the most important and famous green areas of Catania. Villa Bellini dates back to the 1700s, and has been affected over time by numerous transformation works that have given it the definitive appearance we can admire today.
To access the garden from Via Etnea it is necessary to walk up an elegant staircase surrounded by flower beds and at the top of the stairs there is a large fountain with pleasant water features. Just behind the fountain there is a huge clock, complete with hands, whose dial was made with white stones and colorful flowers.
Just behind it, there is an impressive giant date window made with flowers and plants: every day the gardeners arrange it so that it correctly indicates the date. On the pitch that you come across as you continue, you can admire the beautiful wrought iron music kiosk.
This used to host the city’s musical band, until it was dissolved in 1958 and is now occasionally used to host musical events that usually take place in the Summer.
It is really worth indulging in some relaxation here, so the advice is to look for a free bench and take advantage of the coolness offered by the trees to find shelter from the sun, if you have decided to visit Catania in the summer.
… It’s time for a good granita!
Granita, a good ice cream or “water, salt and lemon” drink in Catania?
After a regenerating stop, you could conclude your itinerary in the historic center of Catania by passing again through Piazza Stesicoro: this time you could take the opportunity to sit at the tables of a bar and try one of the famous granitas (not to be missed those with almond, pistachio, mulberry and obviously the lemon one).
Alternatively, you can go to one of the kiosks in the square to get a good ice cream or try the excellent “water, salt and lemon”, an absolutely refreshing and typical drink from Catania.
Via Dei Crociferi: the essence of Catania’s Baroque
After the refreshment stop, directly from Piazza Stesicoro, you can take Alessandro Manzoni street and Penninello street, at the bottom of which you will find the staircase leading to the famous Via dei Crociferi, dating back to the 18th century.
This road is a strong testimony of the Baroque in Catania and has numerous churches and monasteries within a few hundred meters. After a few steps you will already meet the beautiful Church of San Giuliano, surrounded by a rich wrought iron gate, whose appearance is particularly majestic and elegant.
Continuing along Via Dei Crociferi you will also meet a few meters later the Church of San Francesco Borgia, built in 1556 and also rebuilt following the earthquake of 1693. Inside it is possible to admire the three large naves, while the main altar has beautiful columns made with green agate.
Finally, among the most famous churches in Crociferi street there is also the Church of San Benedetto, famous above all for the marble entrance staircase and the statues depicting angels.
Note also the adjacent arch of the Benedictines, which is said to have been built by the clergy in just one night.
The roman theater of Catania
After passing the arch and reaching the end of Crociferi street, you can turn right into Vittorio Emanuele II street to reach (it is no more than 500 meters), the beautiful roman Theater, which dates back to the 2nd century and which was able to accommodate up to 7000 spectators.
It has a diameter of about 80 meters and the steps, the space reserved for the orchestra and part of the stage are still clearly visible. The entrance ticket costs € 6 and the theater can be visited every day, including holidays, from 09:00 to 18:00.
After visiting the Roman Theater, you can walk back along Vittorio Emanuele II street and in just 3 minutes you will be back at the starting point, the splendid Piazza Duomo.
End of the walking tour of the historic center of Catania: back to Piazza Duomo
A walking tour of the historic center of Catania following this itinerary will not be at all tiring but pleasant, especially if you take the suggested breaks in Villa Bellini and Piazza Stesicoro, and it will allow you to discover many of the most important beauties that the city holds up close.
Did you like the walking tour of the historic center of Catania that I have prepared for you? Was it easy to follow on site? Would you have added things to visit in Catania? Let me know by leaving a comment below 😉