Focus on...Catania, Sicily
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
A City With Nine Lives.
Catania July 2019.
Catania has a history that goes back almost 2,700 years. Given its location near Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, in an earthquake-prone area, it has almost been wiped off the map quite a few times. With every earthquake, buildings were reduced to rubble or were covered by layers of lava, but each time the Catanesi built their city again on top of the ruins.
The last time Catania was destroyed by an earthquake was at the end of the 17th century. That earthquake also leveled nearly all the other villages and cities in south-eastern Sicily. This brought about a major effort to rebuild Catania, and the city’s leaders took the opportunity to create a completely new layout of the city centre, with wide streets, spacious squares, beautiful churches, impressive administrative buildings and even more impressive private palaces for the many aristocratic families in Catania. All of this was done in the Sicilian baroque style, which now dominates Catania and the surrounding areas, including Syracuse and Val di Noto with Modica and Ragusa.
Because the designers and architects enjoyed great freedom for interpretation, the Sicilian baroque style is difficult to define. It includes the traditional curved facades and floral ornamentation of the baroque style, but grinning masks and cherubs are also common. Wrought-iron balconies are another identifier of Sicilian baroque. There is great variety in the decoration of the facades – some are elaborately decorated, whilst others have only a few decorations around the windows, gates and balconies. All of this was decided by the taste of the architects of the time.
Many of these baroque buildings in Catania have been restored and/or the facades have been cleaned up, showcasing their original splendour, but there are also plenty of buildings in their original state. Both provide fantastic opportunities for cityscape photography.
All of this provides an amazing backdrop for the everyday life of the Catanesi. A must-do for street photography is a visit to the ‘A Piscaria – the historical fish market adjacent to Piazza Duomo at the beginning of the Via Etnea. The sounds and the sights of the vendors, their wares and clients – in Sicily it is often the men who are buying the fish – are amazing. There are always eye-catching large tuna or swordfish on display, which are fantastic to photograph.
Nowadays you will also find many butchers, fruit and vegetable stalls in the alleys surrounding the square. One oddity is that sometimes you see men angling in what looks like sewer ducts between the market stalls – they are actually fishing for eels in the underground river that flows beneath the square.
One of the very few buildings to have survived the 1693 earthquake was Castello Ursino, a heavy-built medieval castle dating back to the year 1250. It was the royal seat for many centuries, thereafter it served as a prison and today it is the picture-perfect Museo Civico of Catania.
Catania’s historic centre is not very large and can be fairly easy covered on foot. I would recommend staying near the Via Etnea – the main street in the historic centre – anywhere between Villa Bellini and Piazza Duomo, so that you are only a couple of minutes’ walk from the best photo locations.
Focus on Sicilia specializes in Photo Tours in Sicily. Catania is included in the itineraries of the eight-day Eastern Sicily and twelve-day Sicily Highlights Photo Holidays offered by Focus on Sicilia. Each Photo Holiday has multiple departures in 2019 and 2020.
For more info visit focusonsicilia.com.
All images © 2019 Marco Duyves