Catania is not known as a popular tourist destination, but it is a city well worth visiting. It resides on the east coast of Sicily, overlooking the Ionian Sea and is a city with a rich history. As its Greek name suggests, it was originally a Greek colony, founded in the eight century BC, although archaeological evidence has revealed Bronze Age habitation. Catania was conquered by the Romans in AD 263, who turned it into one of Sicily's most affluent cities.
There are two Roman amphitheatres in Catania, the smaller of which was constructed on an early Greek theatre. This is open to the public and can be found near Piazza San Fracesco d'Assisi. The larger amphitheatre lies below ground level, making it inaccessible to the public. This is a great pity as it is an impressive edifice resembling the Coliseum in Rome in its architecture.
Sadly Catania was almost completely destroyed by one earthquake in 1169 and suffered subsequent major damage by another in 1693. As if this was not enough, volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna have also taken their toll on the city with two particularly serious eruptions in the late seventeenth century. It was largely rebuilt in the eighteenth century using grey volcanic stone which gives the city its imposing, sombre appearance. The grand architectural styles are very similar to those of Naples.
Nevertheless, Catania proudly displays evidence of its earlier historical and cultural influences. During the Renaissance the city flourished as a powerful political, artistic and cultural centre and it boasts the islands oldest university, founded in 1434.
Catania's cathedral dates back to 1092, though this has subsequently been rebuilt on Baroque and neo-classical styles. The cathedral contains the tombs of a number of royal personages. Another imposing building is Ursino Castle, in Piazza Federico di Svevia, once a coastal fortress built in the thirteenth century, but now a museum which is open to the public and worthy of a visit.
Although summer temperatures make Catania unappealing to many in the height of the season, the winters are pleasantly mild and a visit in February, perhaps to coincide with the annual festival of St Agatha, the patron saint of Catania, might be well worth considering.