Catania is well known for its historical earthquakes, having been destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes in 1169 and 1693, and for several volcanic eruptions from the neighbouring Mount Etna, the most violent of which was in 1669.
Catania has had a long and eventful history, having been founded in the 8th century BC. In 1434, the first university in Sicily was founded in the city. In the 14th century and into the Renaissance period, Catania was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres. The city has a rich culture and history, hosting many museums, restaurants, churches, parks and theatres. Catania is well known for its street food.
Catania is located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna.
As observed by Strabo, the location of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna has been both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, violent outbursts of the volcano throughout history have destroyed large parts of the city, whilst on the other hand the volcanic ashes yield fertile soil, especially suited for the growth of vines. (Strab. vi. p. 269)
Two subterranean rivers run under the city; the Amenano, which surfaces at one single point south of Piazza Duomo, and the Longane (or Lognina).
The ancient indigenous population of the Sicels named their villages after geographical attributes of their location. The Sicilian word, katane, means "grater, flaying knife, skinning place" or a "crude tool apt to pare". Other translations of the name are "harsh lands", "uneven ground", "sharp stones", or "rugged or rough soil". The latter etymologies are easily justifiable since, for many centuries following an eruption, the city has always been rebuilt within its black-lava landscape. Around 729 BC, the ancient village of Katane became the Chalcidian colony of Katánē where the native population was rapidly Hellenized. The Naxian founders, coming from the adjacent coast, later used the name for their new settlement along the River Amenano.
Around 263 BC, the city was variously known as Catĭna and Catăna (Greek: Κατάνη, [katánεː]; Latin: Catana, [ˈkatana], and Catina.). The former has been primarily used for its supposed assonance with catina, the Latin feminization of the name catinus. Catinus has two meanings: "a gulf, a basin or a bay" and "a bowl, a vessel or a trough", thanks to the city’s distinctive topography.
Around 900, when Catania was part of the emirate of Sicily, it was known in Arabic as Balad al-fīl (بلد الفيل) and Madinat al-fīl (مدينة الفيل). The former means "The Village (or the Country) of the Elephant", while the latter means "The City of the Elephant". The Elephant is the lava sculpture over the fountain in Piazza Duomo. Most likely a prehistoric sculpture that was reforged during the Byzantine Era, it appears to be a talisman that was reputedly powerful enough to protect the city from enemies and to keep away misfortune, plagues, or natural calamities. Another Arab toponym was Qaṭāniyyah (قطانية), allegedly from the Arabic word for the "leguminous plants". Pulses like lentils, beans, peas, broad beans, and lupins were chiefly cultivated in the plains around the city well before the arrival of Aghlabids. Afterwards, many Arabic agronomists developed these crops and the citrus orchards in the area around the city. The toponym Wadi Musa (وادي موسى), or "Valley of Moses" (from the Arabic name of the Simeto River), was rarely used.
Catania was founded as a Greek colony named Κατάνη (Katánē—see also the list of traditional-Greek place names), of Chalcidic origin, under the guidance of a leader named Euarchos (Euarchus).
The exact date of its foundation is not recorded, but it appears from Thucydides that it came into existence slightly later than Leontini (modern Lentini), which he claims was five years after Syracuse, or 730 BC.
The only event of its early history that is known about is the legislation of Charondas, The exact date of which is uncertain.
His legislation was extended to the other Chalcidic cities, not only of Sicily, but of Magna Graecia also, as well as to his own country. It is evident that Catania had close relations with these other cities during this time.
Catania appears to have retained its independence up to the reign of the despot Hieron of Syracuse, whereupon in 476 BC he expelled all the original inhabitants of Catania and replaced them with those he ruled over at Leontini - said to have numbered no less than 10,000, consisting partly of Syracusans and Peloponnesians.
At the same time he changed the city's name to Αἴτνη (Aítnē, Aetna or Ætna, after the nearby Mount Etna, and proclaimed himself the Oekist or founder of the new city. For this he was celebrated by Pindar, and after his death he received heroic honors from the citizens of his new colony.
A few years after the death of Hieron and the expulsion of Thrasybulus, the Syracusans combined with Ducetius, king of the Sicels, to expel the newly settled inhabitants of Catania, who went on to settle in the fortress of Inessa (to which they gave the name Aetna). The old Chalcidic citizens were reinstated to the city in 461 BC.
The period that followed appears to have been one of great prosperity for Catania, as well as for the Sicilian cities in general. However, no details from this period of its history are known, until the great Athenian expedition to Sicily (part of the larger Peloponnesian War), when the Athenians invaded the city.
The Catanaeans at first refused to allow the Athenians into their city, but after the latter had forced an entrance, they found themselves compelled to honour the alliance of their invaders. Catania became the headquarters of the Athenian armament throughout the first year of the expedition, and the base of their subsequent operations against Syracuse.
No information exists on the fate of Catania after the Athenian expedition. It is next mentioned in 403 BC when it fell into the power of Dionysius I of Syracuse, who plundered the city and sold its citizens as slaves, after which he established a body of Campanian mercenaries.
These, however, quit in 396 BC and retired to Aetna, on the approach of the great Carthaginian armament under Himilco and Mago. The great naval battle in which the latter defeated Leptines, who was quickly fought off from Catania, and the city is consequently believed to have fallen into the hands of the Carthaginians.
Calippus, the assassin of Dion of Syracuse, held possession of Catania for a time (Plut. Dion. 58); and when Timoleon landed in Sicily Catania was subject to a despot named Mamercus, who at first joined the Corinthian leader, but afterwards abandoned this allegiance for that of the Carthaginians. As a consequence he was attacked and expelled by Timoleon.
Catania was now restored to liberty, and appears to have continued to retain its independence; during the wars of Agathocles with the Carthaginians, it sided at one time with the former, at others with the latter; and when Pyrrhus landed in Sicily, Catania was the first to open its gates to him, and received him with the great splendour.
Catania was the birthplace of the philosopher and legislator Charondas and was also the place of residence of the poet Stesichorus, who was buried in a magnificent sepulchre outside one of the gates, which derived from thence the name of Porta Stesichoreia. (Suda, under Στησίχορος.)
Xenophanes, the philosopher of Elea, also spent the latter years of his life in the city so that it was evidently, at an early period, a place of cultivation and refinement.
The first introduction of dancing to accompany the flute was also ascribed to Andron, a citizen of Catania.
In ancient times Catania was associated with the legend of Amphinomus and Anapias, who, on occasion of a great eruption of Etna, abandoned all their property and carried off their aged parents on their shoulders, the stream of lava itself was said to have parted, and flowed aside so as not to harm them. Statues were erected to their honor, and the place of their burial was known as the Campus Piorum; the Catanaeans even introduced the figures of the youths on their coins, and the legend became a favorite subject of allusion and declamation among the Latin poets, of whom the younger Lucilius and Claudian have dwelt upon it at considerable length.
The occurrence is referred by Hyginus to the first eruption of Etna that took place after the settlement of Catania.
In the First Punic War, Catania was one of the first among the cities of Sicily, which made their submission to the Roman Republic, after the first successes of their arms in 263 BC. The expression of Pliny (vii. 60) who represents it as having been taken by Valerius Messalla, is certainly a mistake.
It appears to have continued afterwards steadily to maintain its friendly relations with Rome, and though it did not enjoy the advantages of a confederate city (foederata civitas), like its neighbors Tauromenium (modern Taormina) and Messana (modern Messina), it rose to a position of great prosperity under the Roman rule.
Cicero repeatedly mentions it as, in his time, a wealthy and flourishing city; it retained its ancient municipal institutions, its chief magistrate bearing the title of Proagorus; and appears to have been one of the principal ports of Sicily for the export of corn.
It subsequently suffered severely from the ravages of Sextus Pompeius, and was in consequence one of the cities to which a colony was sent by Augustus; a measure that appears to have in a great degree restored its prosperity, so that in Strabo's time it was one of the few cities in the island that was in a flourishing condition.
It retained its colonial rank, as well as its prosperity, throughout the period of the Roman Empire; so that in the 4th century Ausonius in his Ordo Nobilium Urbium, notices Catania and Syracuse alone among the cities of Sicily.
One of the most serious eruptions of Mount Etna happened in 121 BC, when great part of Catania was overwhelmed by streams of lava, and the hot ashes fell in such quantities in the city itself, as to break in the roofs of the houses.
Catania was in consequence exempted, for 10 years, from its usual contributions to the Roman state The greater part of the broad tract of plain to the southwest of Catania (now called the Piana di Catania, a district of great fertility), appears to have belonged, in ancient times, to Leontini or Centuripa (modern Centuripe), but that portion of it between Catana itself and the mouth of the Symaethus, was annexed to the territory of the latter city, and must have furnished abundant supplies of grain.
The port of Catania also, which was in great part filled up by the eruption of 1669, appears to have been in ancient times much frequented, and was the chief place of export for the corn of the rich neighboring plains. The little river Amenanus, or Amenas, which flowed through the city, was a very small stream and could never have been navigable.
Catania was sacked by the Vandals of Gaiseric in 440–441. After a period under the Ostrogoths, it was reconquered in 535 by the Eastern Roman Empire, under which (aside from a short period in 550–555) it remained until the 9th century. It was the seat of the Byzantine governor of the island.
Catania was under the Islamic emirate of Sicily until 1072, when it fell to the Normans of Roger I of Sicily. Subsequently, the city was ruled by a bishop-count. In 1194–1197 the city was sacked by German soldiers during after the conquest of the island by emperor Henry VI. In 1232 it rebelled to the former's son, Frederick II, who later built a massive castle, Castello Ursino and also made Catania a royal city, ending the dominance of the bishops. Catania was one of the main centers of the Sicilian Vespers revolt (1282) against the House of Anjou, and was the seat of the incoronation of the new Aragonese king of Sicily, Peter I. In the 14th century it gained importance as it was chosen by the Aragonese as a Parliament and Royal seat. Here, in 1347, it was signed the treaty of peace that ended the long War of the Vesper between Aragonese and Angevines. Catania lost its capital role when, in the early 15th century, Sicily was turned into a member of the Crown of Aragon, and kept its autonomy and original privileges specially during the period from 1282 to 1410.
In 1434 King Alfonso V founded here the Siciliae Studium Generale, the oldest university in the island.
With the unification of Castile and Aragon (early 16th century), Sicily became part of the Spanish Empire. It rebelled against the foreign government in 1516 and 1647.
In 1669 the city's surroundings suffered great material damage from an eruption of Mount Etna. The city itself was largely saved by its walls that diverted most of the lava into the port. Afterwards in 1693 the city was then completely destroyed by a heavy earthquake and its aftershocks. The city was then rebuilt in the Baroque architecture that nowadays characterizes it.
Catania was one of the vanguards of the movement for the Sicilian autonomy in the early 19th century.
In 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi's expedition of the Thousand conquered Sicily for Piedmont from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Since the following year Catania was part of the newly unified Italy, whose history it shares since then.
During the Second World War Catania was repeatedly bombed by the Allies, starting from 5 June 1940, and some 100,000 of its inhabitants were moved to the neighboring villages. It was evacuated by the Germans on 5 August 1943 and liberated by the British 8th Army. After the conflict, and the constitution of the Italian Republic (1946), the history of Catania was, like the history of other cities of southern Italy, an attempt to catch up with the economic and social development of the richer northern regions in the country and to solve the problems that for historic reasons plague the Mezzogiorno, namely a heavy gap in industrial development and infrastructures, and the threat of the mafia. This notwithstanding, during the 1960s (and partly during the 1990s) Catania enjoyed a development and an economic, social and cultural effervescence. In the first decade of the 21st century, Catania economic and social development somewhat faltered and the city is again facing economic and social stagnation. This was aggravated by the economical crisis left by the Forza Italia administration of mayor Scapagnini in 2008.
The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Csa" (Mediterranean Climate). It has hot and long summers, the hottest in the whole Italy (a feature characterising nearly every month). 40 °C (104 °F) are surpassed almost every year a couple of times, with record highs over 45 °C (113 °F).
Winters are mild (not rare peaks around 20 °C or 68 °F). Most of precipitation is concentrated from October to March, leaving late spring and summer virtually dry (some years rain lacks for 3–4 months). The city receives around 500 millimetres (20 inches) of rain per year, although the amount can highly vary from year to year (wettest over 1,200 millimetres or 47 inches, driest under 250 millimetres or 9.8 inches,).
During winter nights lows can occasionally go under 0 °C (32 °F). Highs under 10 °C (50 °F) are rare as well. Snow, due to the presence of Etna that protects the city from the northern winds, is very rare. Occasional snow flurries have been seen over the years in the hilly districts, more substantial in the northern hinterland. More recently, brief snowfalls occurred on 9 February 2015 and 6 January 2017, but the last snowfall of particular relevance dates back to 17 December 1988.
The Metropolitan Area of Catania is formed by the Comune of Catania (315.601 inhabitants as of jan. 2015) and by 26 surrounding comuni forming an urban belt (453,938 inhabitants as of Dec. 2007). The total population of the Metropolitan Area of Catania is therefore 752,895. The comuni forming the Metropolitan Area are:
These comuni form a system with the centre of Catania sharing its economical and social life and forming an organic urban texture.
The Metropolitan Area of Catania should not be mistaken for the Province of Catania, a far broader administrative area that includes 58 comuni and 1,081,915 inhabitants, but does not form an urban system with the city.
As of January 2015, there are 315.601 people residing in Catania, of whom 47.2% are male and 52.8% are female. Minors (people under age 18) totalled 20.50 percent of the population compared to pensioners who number 18.87 percent. This compares with the Italian average of 18.06 percent (minors) and 19.94 percent (pensioners).
The average age of Catania residents is 41 compared to the Italian average of 42. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the population of Catania declined by 3.35 percent, while Italy as a whole grew by 3.85 percent. The reason for this population decline in the Comune di Catania is mainly due to a large segment of the population leaving the city centre to go to live in the up-town residential areas of the comuni of the Metropolitan Area. As a result of this, while the population in the comune di Catania declines, the population of the hinterland comuni increases making the overall population of the Metropolitan area of Catania increase.
The current birth rate of Catania is 10.07 births per 1,000 inhabitants compared to the Italian average of 9.45 births. As of 2006, 98.03% of the population was Italian. The largest immigrant groups come from Sub-Saharan Africa: 0.69%, South Asia: 0.46%, and from other European countries (particularly from Ukraine and Poland): 0.33%.
The symbol of the city is u Liotru, or the Fontana dell'Elefante, assembled in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. It portrays an ancient lavic stone elephant and is topped by an Egyptian obelisk from Syene. Legend has it that Vaccarini's original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, Vaccarini appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue.
The Sicilian name u Liotru is a phonetic change of Heliodorus, a nobleman who, after trying without success to become bishop of the city, became a sorcerer and was therefore condemned to the stake. Legend has it that Heliodorus himself was the sculptor of the lava elephant and that he used to magically ride it in his fantastic travels from Catania to Constantinople. Another legend has it that Heliodorus was able to transform himself into an elephant.
The presence of an elephant in the millenary history of Catania is surely connected to both zooarcheology and popular creeds. In fact, the prehistoric fauna of Sicily from the Upper Paleolithic, included dwarf elephants. Paleontologist Othenio Abel suggested that the presence of dwarf elephants in Sicily may be the origin of the legend of the Cyclops. Ancient Greeks, after finding the skulls of dwarf elephants, about twice the size of a human skull, with a large central nasal cavity (mistaken for a large single eye-socket) supposed that they were skulls of giants with a single eye.
The Catanian Museum of Mineralogy, Paleonthology and Vulcanology holds the integral unburied skeleton of an Elephas falconeri in an excellent state of conservation. The first inhabitants of Etna molded such lavic artifact to idolize the mythical proboscidian.
The city has been buried by lava a total of seventeen times in recorded history, and in layers under the present day city are the Roman city that preceded it, and the Greek city before that. Many of the ancient monuments of the Roman city have been destroyed by the numerous seisms. Currently, different ancient remains can be seen and visited in the city-centre, as part of an archaeological park (Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania).
Ancient edifices include:
The Baroque city centre of Catania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The city of Catania is divided in ten administrative areas called Municipalità (Municipalities). The current administrative set-up was established in 1995, modifying previous set-ups dating back to 1971 and 1978.
The ten municipalities of Catania are:
Catania is the first economic and industrial hub of Sicily. The city is famous for its mainly petrochemical industry, and the extraction of sulphur. In the year 2000, according to Census, Catania was the 14th richest city in Italy, with a GDP of US$6.6 billion (€6.304 billion), which was 0.54% of the Italian GDP, a GDP per capita of US$21,000 (€20,100) and an average GDP per employee of US$69,000 (€66,100).
In the late-19th century and early-20th century, Catania began to be heavily industrialised, with its several factories and chimneys, often to the extant that it was referred to as Southern Italy's "Manchester." The economy of Catania suffered heavily from the bad effects of World War I, and was marked by an economic crisis and recession that culminated in the 1920s. Since then, the city lost its industrial and entrepreneurial importance. In the 1930s, Catania remained a small fishing town with derelict and disused industries. However, after the destruction of World War II, Catania's economy began to re-grow in the late-1950s and early-1960s. As a matter of fact, the city's economic growth was so rapid and dynamic that it was often nicknamed the "Milan of the South", or in Italian "Milano del Sud". This rapid economic growth prompted a great number of Sicilians living in the more rural areas, or smaller towns such as Enna, Ragusa and Caltanissetta, to move to the city to seek new jobs.
Today, Catania, despite several problems, has one of the most dynamic economies in the whole of Southern Italy. It still has a strong industrial and agricultural sector, and a fast-growing tourist industry, with many international visitors coming to visit the city's main sights and the nearby Etna volcano. It contains the headquarters or important offices of companies such as STMicroelectronics, and also several chemical and pharmaceutical businesses. There have been several new business developments to further boost Catania's economy, including the construction of Etnapolis, a huge and avant-garde commercial centre designed by Massimiliano Fuksas, the same architect who designed the FieraMilano industrial fair in Milan, or the Etna Valley, where several high-tech offices are located.
Tourism is a fast-growing industry in Catania. Lately the administration and private companies have made several investments in the hospitality industry in order to make tourism a competitive sector in Catania and its province. Nearby, just 12 kilometres (7 miles) from the city, there is Etnaland, a big theme park, which is the largest of its kind in Southern Italy and which attracts thousands of tourists, not only from Sicily, but also from the rest of Italy.
The University of Catania dates back to 1434 and it is the oldest university in Sicily. Its academic nicknames are: Siculorum Gymnasium and Siciliae Studium Generale. Nowadays it hosts 12 faculties and over 62,000 students, and it offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
Catania hosts the Scuola Superiore, an academic institution linked to the University of Catania, aimed at the excellence in education. The Scuola Superiore di Catania offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs too.
Apart from the University and the Scuola Superiore Catania is base of the prestigious Istituto Musicale Vincenzo Bellini an advanced institute of musical studies (Conservatory) and the Accademia di Belle Arti an advanced institute of artistic studies. Both institutions offer programs of university level for musical and artistic education.
The opera composer Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, and a museum exists at his birthplace. The Teatro Massimo "Vincenzo Bellini", which opened in 1890, is named after the composer. The opera house presents a variety of operas through a season, which run from December to May, many of which are the work of Bellini.
Giovanni Verga was born in Catania in 1840. He became the greatest writer of Verismo, an Italian literary movement akin to Naturalism. His novels portray life among the lower levels of Sicilan society, such as fishermen and stonemasons, and were written in a mixture of both literary language and local dialect. Francesco Longo Mancini was a painter known for paintings of nudes who was born in Catania in 1880.
The city is base of the newspaper La Sicilia and of the TV-channel Antenna Sicilia also known as Sicilia Channel. Several others local television channels and free-press magazines have their headquarters in Catania.
The city is home to the Catania Jazz Festival, which typically runs for several winter months with concerts in different locations. In the late 1980s and during the 1990s Catania had a sparkling and unique popular music scene. Indie pop and indie rock bands, local radio station and dynamic independent music record labels sprung. As a result, in those years the city experienced a vital and effervescent cultural period. Artists like Carmen Consoli and Mario Venuti and internationally known indie rock bands like Uzeda came out of this cultural milieu.
The 2012 film, Acqua Fuori Dal Ring is set in Catania and was filmed on location in the Librino neighborhood and Black Lava Fields of Mount Etna.
The city is the home of Amatori Catania rugby union team, Calcio Catania football team and Orizzonte Catania, the latter being a women's water polo club, winning eight European Champions Cup titles from 1994 to 2008. Noted Italian basketball coach Ettore Messina is a native of Catania. The city also hosted the first ever qualification tournament for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1992, and the associated Etna Cup, which was won by the host Sicily team. In addition, the Catania Elephants are currently members of the Italian Football League.
The city's patron saint is Saint Agatha, who is celebrated with a religious pageantry, the Festival of Saint Agatha, on February 5 every year.
Catania also hosted the 2011 FIE Fencing World Championships.
Catania has a unique cuisine, with strong Sicilian traits. Dishes such as Pasta alla Norma are from the city. Pasta alla Norma is a pasta dish made out of macaroni-like penne, tomato sauce, largely sliced aubergines, and often topped with salty ricotta, or ricotta salata in Italian. Granita, a popular flavoured sherbet, is believed to hail from the city too. Blood oranges, such as the famous tarocco, are common to the city and others. Another famous plate is horse's meat, usually cooked on coals and sold on the streets and at restaurants. In Castello Ursino's surroundings are located the most famous horse's meat restaurants with lots of different price ranges. However, the most famous and traditional food are the Arancini. It is a rice croquette stuffed with any kind of ingredients such as meat sauce, mushrooms, pistachio, smoked salmon....It has an orange colour because of the saffron used. The arancini are on sale in any Tavola Calda shop and they can be eaten at any time of the day.
Catania has a commercial seaport (Catania seaport), an international airport (Catania Fontanarossa), a central railway station (Catania Centrale) and it is a main node of the Sicilian motorway system.
The motorways serving Catania are the A18 Messina-Catania and the A19 Palermo-Catania; extensions of the A18 going from Catania to Syracuse and to Gela are currently under construction.
The Circumetnea is a narrow-gauge railway that runs for 110 km (68 mi) from Catania round the base of Mount Etna. It attains the height of 976 m (3,202.10 ft) above sea level before descending to rejoin the coast at Giarre-Riposto to the North.
In the late 1990s the first line of an underground railway (Metropolitana di Catania) was built. The underground service started in 1999 and it is currently active on a route of 8.8 km (5.5 mi), from the station Nesima (West of town), passing through the stations of San Nullo, Cibali (still under construction), Milo, Borgo, Giuffrida, Italia, Galatea, Giovanni XXIII, to Stesicoro. These two stations, bringing Catania Underground in the city centre, have opened on 20 December 2016 First line is planned to extend from the satellite city of Paternò to Fontanarossa Airport.
The average amount of time people spend commuting with public transit in Catania, for example to and from work, on a weekday is 56 min. 13% of public transit riders, ride for more than 2 hours every day. The average amount of time people wait at a stop or station for public transit is 23 min, while 46% of riders wait for over 20 minutes on average every day. The average distance people usually ride in a single trip with public transit is 4.7 km, while 3% travel for over 12 km in a single direction.
The site of what was to become the major Australian city of Adelaide was surveyed and laid out by Colonel William Light, the first Surveyor-General of South Australia. In 1823, Light had fondly written of Catania: "The two principal streets cross each other at right angles in the square in the direction of north and south and east and west. They are wide and spacious and about a mile [1.6 km] long". This became the basis for his plan of Adelaide.
Catania is sister cities with: