Catania’s Crisis

In 1669 two fumeroles, or side vents, of Mount Etna erupted and lava began to flow towards the city, eventually engulfing¬† part of it. The flows stopped just behind a Benedictine monastery, a miracle the monks were, no doubt, happy to affirm. These monks appear in a famous painting of the event in Catania’s cathedral, done by the painted Michelangelo Bonadies (see detail below).

My Kingdom for a Boat

Detail of above, showing a procession of monks going down to the waters to escape the lava flows from Etna.

Bolt the Doors

While waiting around in Catania’s cathedral I was impressed by the old mechanisms of the interior of the colossal main doors. They made fascinating subject with all the locks and bars of iron. In case of a revolt the church might offer a safe refuge indeed.

Constance in Catania

Exploring Catania’s cathedral today, dedicated to St Agatha, I decided to buy a ticket to give me access to the sacristies. I was surprised to find the tomb and effigy of one of Sicily’s most important historical personages, and certainly one of the most importance women, Queen Constance of Aragon (1179-1222). She married the great Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of the Two Sicilies, in 1209, when she was thirty and he only fourteen. Here she rests in peace after eight hundred years.

Rome’s Remains

The Greco-Roman City of Catania, Sicily had an amphitheater as well as a theater and odeon, among other ancient remains still visible today. The theater one can visit, wedged tightly into the dense buildings that surround it. At some point in the Roman period there was a conversion in the theater as apparently they couldn’t make enough money just putting on plays. In an attempt to cash in on other types of entertainment, they constructed a low wall around the orchestra and diverted water from an aqueduct so it could be filled with water for tetimimi shows, which were aquatic spectacles where nude or semi-nude swimmers put on shows. The famous Roman ‘Bikini Girls’ depicted in the mosaics of Sicily’s Piazza Armerina villa might be drawn from tetimimi entertainments of the period.

Catania’s Cascade

In Catania, Sicily, in the town’s main historic square, is a fountain designed by the Neapolitan sculptor Tito Angelini in 1867. It features a sheet of water cascading down the front. Made of Carrara marble, its figures symbolize the wealth and prosperity of the city. Here’s a detail of one of the figures, his shell telling us he represents the gifts of the seas. Appropriate as the fountain is right at the entrance to the city’s famous fish market.

Roman Reuse

The church of the Rotunda (see below) in Catania began as a Roman bath complex in the 1st or 2nd century CE, but was converted to a church around the 6th century. Over the years it was updated, abandoned, fell into ruin, refurbished. Now it’s open to the public and takes its place as part of Catania’s considerable cultural and antique remains. It’s such a great city, and every time I come here they seem more and more ready for tourists. There’s great little hotels and Air BnBs and super little restaurants too.

Catania Conversion

In Catania, Sicily, there’s a wonderful ancient church that was built from the ruins of a 1st or 2nd century Roman bath complex (see above). It’s known as the Chiesa della Rotonda for its huge central domed area, which perhaps was the caldarium or hot room of the baths. This is a picture of the interior arches of the rotunda, which still have some medieval and baroque period frescoes adhering to the walls.

Catania’s Roman Theater

Catania’s Roman theater is not the most famous on an island full of famous theaters: Segesta, Taormina, Syracusa. But at Catania the tunnels of the cavea, as you can see here, are virtually intact, and not just one set but three of them. You don’t have that at any of the other Sicilian theater sites.¬† When you visit Catania’s theater, you get a bonus since the ancient Odeon is right beside it. They’ve also preserved an 18th century house which was built atop the ruins, and you can visit that as well.

Mountain Mother

I have a day off between Smithsonian trips and am enjoying Catania, Sicily, a town you may not have heard of but which has many great sights. From the balcony of the Ostello degli Elefanti I can look north and see the looming, and smoking, peak of Etna, always active, beyond one of Catania’s many Baroque domes, this one clearly referring to Brunelleschi’s famous dome over the Florence cathedral.

Brilliant Bellini

If you frequent this blog, you know that Giovanni Bellini is my favorite Venetian painter, but there’s another famous Bellini from Italy, and I don’t mean the drink: Vincenzo Bellini, the great composer, who was only 34 years old when he died, but he penned great operas like Norma (1831), first performed at La Scala Opera in Milan. He was from one of my favorite towns in Sicily, Catania, where he’s buried in the cathedral. I was in there today and took this picture of his tomb.

Row Your Boat

There was a small exhibit of traditional boats in Monterosso (see below) and I had time to kill so did a few black and white studies of these lovely little crafts.

This Oar That

The little wooden boats used by the fishermen of the Cinque Terre of the Ligurian Coast of Italy are simple and beautiful crafts. There was a little exhibit of some newly refurbished ones in Monterosso a few days ago, and I loved the designs and colours.

Port of Love

Porto Venere, or the ‘Port of Venus’, is located on the Ligurian Coast of Italy just south of the famous stretch of little villages called the Cinque Terre. You can take little ferries that deliver you to all these quaint habitations. The entrance to Porto Venere is particularly striking, with a narrow channel overseen by a castle and a wonderful church perched on a high rock so that sailors in the dangerous waters could pray towards it in times of need.

Manarola Marvel

One of the scenic towns of the Cinque Terre, or ‘Five Lands’ (Towns’) along the Ligurian coast of Italy is Manarola. Here’s a picture I took from the little ferry as we approached to pick up some new passengers, mostly hearty hikers who had been trekking on the steep and undulating trails between the famous little towns. The candy coloured houses are perched on the steep cliffs of a ravine, which is also a dangerous place to be. Mud slides are a constant threat to these scenic little communities. In 2011 the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza was almost destroyed by a mudslide. You can check out the video here.