Catania is the second largest city of Sicily located on the east coast facing the Ionian Sea. It is the capital of the Metropolitan City of Catania, one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in Italy. The population of the city proper is 313,000 while the population of the city’s metropolitan area, Metropolitan City of Catania, stood at 1,116,168 inhabitants.
Catania was 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 was 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.
Catania is located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna.
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.
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.
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