Day 2. Exploring Catania, Sicily

After enjoying a leisurely breakfast on our apartment balcony we prepared to go out and made our way towards the main square (Piazza Duomo). The Giro Sicilia car rally was about to get underway so we admired some of the vehicles and spotted a Morris Minor Traveller which one of my elderly relatives used to drive.

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The Giro Sicilia Car Rally in Catania

Continuing on a short distance, we arrived at the well preserved Castillo Ursino which is open daily from 9.00 a.m.to 7.00 p.m. with standard adult admission €10. Audio guides are available but as these were only in Italian it wasn’t very helpful.

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Castillo Ursino, Catania

Castillo Ursino was constructed in the 13th century for Emperor Frederick II and its formidable structure includes large circular towers on each corner with an open air inner courtyard.

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Open air courtyard at the Castillo Ursino

The castle now houses the collection of the civic museum of Catania which contains an impressive collection of art and artefacts with paintings on the upper floor. Some of the information boards have English translations but not all, however helpful museum staff are on hand to offer explanations when required.  The castle was originally built high on the sea cliffs to protect the Sicilian coast but was encircled in lava after the 17th century eruptions of Mt. Etna filled in the moat and pushed the coastline further out to sea. The castle now stands 500m inland surrounded by bustling city centre streets and squares.

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An idyllic spot for our cups of morning coffee

Leaving the castle we wandered along narrow cobblestone streets taking shade wherever possible beneath the beautiful oleander and bougainvillea trees which were flowering in delicate shades of cream and pink. After a few twists and turns we eventually arrived at the Monastero Della Benedettini where we picked up audio guides (this time available in English) and began our tour of the elaborate monastery buildings. It was interesting to view the grilles on the windows in the parlour. These windows were the only communication the nuns had with the outside world as they were able to see out yet not be seen themselves.

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The chapel of the Monastero Della Benedettini

The exquisite chapel has a grand staircase and is well worth a visit. Near the exit are some architectural remains visible under a glass floor. After returning our audio sets we were ready for some lunch, finding a table in an attractive small cafe overlooking the university.

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The Law School of Catania University

An English teacher sitting at a nearby table suggested we explore some streets with stone steps not far away. Around this area were lots of attractive small cafes with a large stone arch at one end leading to an elegant courtyard surrounded by historic buildings which are now the Law School of Catania University.

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Monastero dei Benedecttini di San Nicoli L’Arena

We had reserved places on a tour of the Monastero dei Benedecttini di San Nicoli L’Arena which was at one time the second largest monastery in Europe. Tours take place daily in English but need to be booked in advance (admission €8). There were about 20 people on our tour and despite having already visited a monastery earlier in the day, this was a totally different experience and a highlight of our stay in Catania.

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Long corridors in the former monastery with elegant doorways

The monastic building which was founded in the 1500’s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a marvellous example of architectural integration. It is now home to the Humanities Department of the University of Catania arranged around the Roman cloisters and beautiful gardens.

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The monastery cloisters

Our informative guide showed us around the most important parts of the monastery including the XVI century cellars which have been transformed into the faculty library. There was evidence of how Mt. Etna’s past eruptions had impacted on the building with evidence of lava flows.

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The library is now housed in the cellars of the former monastery

On the upper floors, huge rooms where a solitary monk would have studied and lived are now used as offices for several members of staff. There is quite a lot of walking involved in the tour but I highly recommend it as it demonstrates how new life can be breathed into an old building whilst retaining its original features and memories of its previous use.

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Beneath the dome of the former monastery

After the tour ended we called into a nearby bar for an ice cream and a glass of beer. I’m always spoilt for choice deciding which flavour of ice cream to choose and finally settled on salted caramel which tasted delicious.

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The ancient well of Pozzo di Gammazita,

Feeling invigorated after our short rest we continued onto the Pozzo di Gammazita, an ancient well located near the old city walls. According to legend, a French soldier fell in love with a local girl called Gammazita who was already engaged. On the day of her marriage she went as usual to collect water from the well and the soldier violently attacked her and prevented her from escaping. Rather than give in to his dishonour she threw herself into the well and the site has since been preserved. It is accessed down a flight of narrow stone steps in the courtyard of some residential properties adjacent to the city walls where the lava flow has formed above it creating a cave like appearance.

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The Dome of the Badia di Sant’Agata, Catania

As it was such a clear evening we decided to complete our day of sightseeing in beautiful Catania with a visit to the top of the dome of the church of the Badia di Sant’Agata next to the Piazza Duomo. The interior of the church is completely white, illuminated with lanterns and natural light from the glass ceiling dome. It’s possible to climb to the top of the dome, €4 per person and a newly installed lift transports visitors up to the third floor. From there it’s necessary to take a staircase to the next level followed by narrow, winding steps to the top.

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Panoramic views from the rooftop dome

 

From the rooftop we were able to enjoy stunning city views with Mt.Etna towering behind. The panoramic views clearly show how the city is laid out with its squares and landmarks.

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Far reaching views from the rooftop dome towards Mt. Etna

Returning down visitors are able to look inside the rooms on the first floor where the nuns used to sing. Here, they stood behind a wooden trellis through which they could see but not be observed. At the rear of this room, covering the windows is another trellis, this one made of iron and giving the appearance of lace, again for the nuns to look to the outside world but not to be noticed.

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The balcony from where the nuns sang but could not be seen through the trellis

Visiting the church and climbing up to the dome was a wonderful way to end our day exploring Catania providing us with some of the finest city views and lasting memories.

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28 thoughts on “Day 2. Exploring Catania, Sicily

  1. Another great trip. I like very much to see the photos. You may be interested in my new blog FUNndLIFE.2. I tell the story of my walk on the Camino in France when I was there in May/June. Have a great WE! France

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t been to Sicily since 1990 and that was for motor racing so we pretty much flew in on Thursday, worked through the three days and flew out Monday. It’s somewhere I really want to visit so I shall be noting what you’ve seen and having a think about when we can go back.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Stella for your ever welcome thoughts. Although we’ve visited Italy numerous times, it was our first visit so far south. Sicily was very attractive and June was an ideal month to visit as it wasn’t too hot and the countryside still looked green. Life’s different from northern Italy but equally nice.

      Like

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