Tucked away on the east coast of Sicily, in a curving bay that opens into the Mediterranean Sea, sits the pretty Italian city of Catania, one of the country's largest conurbations with a unique history that's filled with earthquakes and volcanic explosions, Roman conquests and bloody battles. The port was once its only link to the Italian mainland, and as well as ensuring the growth of this captivating city it's also a popular stop for ships cruising in the Mediterranean.
Catania is a wonderfully cultural city, with an ancient past but a young and modern vibe. It has plenty of magnificent attractions to delight its visitors, from UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore to some lively festivals with dancing, eating and merrymaking as only the Italians know how. If you're on a cruise that's stopping in Catania, here are some interesting sights you should fit into your day:
The Odeon: No trip to any Italian city would be complete without a visit to an amphitheatre or two, and Catania has several to choose from. The Odeon is one of the oldest and most interesting and has been recently renovated. In its heyday it could house up to 1500 viewers seated on top of, or inside its arched circle.
Castello Ursino: This 13th Century castle was built by Frederick II as a fortification for the city. It still stands in its original site at the edge of a cliff and overlooking the sea. It used to have a moat surrounding it but when Mount Etna erupted in the early 1600's, her lava flow destroyed the moat and made it landlocked.
St Agata's Cathedral: Built as a defence against any lava flows from Mount Etna, this elaborate marble clad place of worship holds the remains of St Agata, the Italian Virgin saint. She was courted by Quintian, a notoriously evil Roman, who mutilated her after she spurned his favour.
Shopping in Catania
Italy has long been known for its love of fashion, with fabulous shopping to be found in famous cities like Milan and Rome. As a nation, fashionable boutique shopping and eclectic markets can be found everywhere, giving ports like Catania real appeal.
The aptly named Food Market in the heart of Catania is a lively hub for all growers and sellers of produce in this region. Whole animal carcasses can be bought here, and freshly grown and picked vegetables and locally caught seafood create a tantalising array for shoppers. There are lots of little specialities here too, including some freshly rolled pasta and sweet buns.
La Fiera market is the main market in Catania and wandering through the tightly packed stalls discovering little tourist trinkets and souvenirs is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. It is open every day except Sunday.
Eating Out in Catania
Italian's love their food and mealtimes are more of an event than a necessity. Dining out in Italy can be a unique experience, and along with many southern European countries, dinners start late and can last for hours.
When your cruise berths in the port of Catania, why not hunt out one of the region's specialities, Pasta alla Norma, a wonderfully fragrant dish created with tomatoes, fried eggplant, plenty of Basil and some grated Ricotta cheese? Native to this part of Sicily, it is thought to have been named after Bellini's opera, Norma, and it's certainly a memorable and tasty pasta dish.