If there was one way to describe Catania, it wouldn’t be too far from sensory overloaded. Coming from Agrigento, I considered myself already well into the Sicilian mode to soon found out that our next stop was just in for new surprises and revelations.
Noisy, smelly and proudly displaying a seductive state of decay, Catania, even though dotted with spectacular churches, UNESCO-listed sites and a famous coastline, never gave up on its village-like vibe, genuinity and chivalric code included. It doesn’t matter how many tourists hit Catania all year long, especially in the summer season, locals are as enthustiastic as if every time they get asked for information it’s the very first.
The majestic and infamous Etna volcano looms over the city, ebullient from within and always ready to show off and offer some fireworks extravaganza for the joy of locals and visitors. Dominated by such view, while wandering around Catania you are literally chased by the haunting smell of arancine, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with anything from ragù sauce, to pistachio nuts to spinach, fresh fish on sale in the local open markets and pizza by the slice on the go, and the ever tempting sight of local granite, smashed ice flavored with fruit juices, best if made with local produce of almond and mulberry, the only thing that can help you face the humid unforgiving heat defining the local summer.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to get them, as Sicilian pride conspires to make all the local delicacies easily available everywhere.
For as tempting as the food fragrances and sights are and as stunning as the churches’ architectural styles and decorations, what’s more alluring and utterly beguiling in Catania is its old crumbling buildings. Belonging to different historical periods, the palaces show off the unfading exuberance of Sicilians reproduced through the lovely collaboration of loud patterns of Baroque churches and the more austere features of the Norman mansions.
What captured my attention, however, was not the imposing cathedrals or the historical manors, but instead the everyday beauty of those old palazzi that bear the most precious past of the city, that of ordinary people carrying on with their ordinary lives.
Like Agrigento, or maybe even more, the thick spirituality permeates the air everywhere you go in Catania, with churches, symbols, madonnas and passers-by who, almost absent-mindedly, make the sign of the Cross in front of their church or saint or protector of any sort. Adding to the devotion, a cloister and an unfinished cathedral complete the Sicilian otherworldly scene.
I stayed in Catania only two days, enough to take in plenty of churches and wander around its city center dotted with sculptures, Roman ruins and mysterious sites such as a restaurant with an underground river flowing across its lower floor. It didn’t matter how long, or short, I managed to stay though, as every attraction was duly followed by one of the many delicacies the regional cuisine has to offer.