The Sicilian baroque

Sicilian Baroque is known all over the world and for those who love art and architecture the city of Catania is certainly among the most suitable destinations to discover its essence.

Baroque Catania originated at the end of the seventeenth century, when two catastrophic events forced citizens to reinvent themselves and rebuild: the eruption of Etna in 1669 and the earthquake of the Val di Noto in 1693. The new construction of the city is carried out in the full Baroque style, which means a very complex phenomenon that is not only linked to art and architecture, but also to the historical and cultural movements of the period, led by the commissions of popes, princes, sovereigns and members of the upper middle class. 

Power, wealth, royalty and religious inspiration are transformed, for the citizens of Catania, into a single word with a deep meaning: reconstruction. The term “Sicilian baroque”, however, was coined by Antony Blunt, art historian who drew on the period under consideration and its dynamism. 

Among the main artists protagonists of the realization of the Catania baroque include Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, Girolamo Palazzotto, Francesco Battaglia and Stefano di Benedetto. 

Baroque Catania, Via Etnea and main monuments

Everything that is accompanied by the adjective “etneo” indicates something that is located above or below the slopes of the majestic Sicilian volcano, which has always watched over the city of Catania. Consequently, the main street of the locality could not but be called Via Etnea: it is a road that has no similar in Italy, with its 3 kilometers in slight ascent characterized by the main monuments in baroque style that extend from one side to the other fascinating visitors.

Its floor, entirely made of lava stone, is in itself a spectacle. From Piazza del Duomo to the Quattro Canti, and partly Villa Bellini, the pedestrian area has been established that facilitates the passage and permanence of people, as well as the discovery of the monuments present. 

We start, of course, from Piazza del Duomo, which houses the beautiful lava stone statue of Liotru, characteristic winged elephant symbol of the city with an Egyptian obelisk, and the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, with its facades made by Vaccarini in lava stone and white marble.

From the Duomo you can access the most characteristic places of Catania, from the Chapel with the relics of Sant’Agata (patron saint of the city) to the Diocesan Museum, the highest expression of the religious and artistic soul of Catania.

Foto : Unsplash

The Porta Uzeda, on the other hand, located to the south, intersects with the Ancient Seminary of the Clerics and allows you to easily reach the sea. Here you can admire the beautiful Fontana dell’Amenano, known as “water or linzolu”, and access the fish market of Catania (piscaria), the famous market where you can buy fresh fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. 

Going west the square is closed by Palazzo Sammartino and Palazzo Zappalà, while to the north is the Palazzo degli Elefanti, seat of the Town Hall. From here begins a roundup of attractions that it is impossible to resist, starting from the Caffè Prestipino, present since 1976 and a real institution for citizens: inside you can choose between arancini and crispelle rice, sweet and savory according to your taste. 

A little further on there is another open space, that is Piazza Università, on which the Palazzo dell’Università faces: here, from the eighteenth century, the Rectorate and a very rich library are located. After a few steps begins the long series of churches of the Via Etnea: the Collegiate Basilica (another great example of Sicilian Baroque), the Minorite Church, the Church of San Biagio, the Church of Ss. Sacramento al Borgo and the Church of Sant’Agata al Borgo. 

Adjacent to the Basilica della Collegiata is Palazzo Biscari, another jewel of Vaccarini and ancient heart of the Belle Epoque of Etna, before reaching the Quattro Canti, the fascinating intersection of Via Etnea and Via di Sangiuliano. Here you will find the beautiful Palazzo di San Demetrio, also in Baroque style, and the Palazzo di San Giuliano.

Immediately after the Church of the Minorites, Piazza Stesicoro enters the scene that, widening on the right, leaves ample space to the statue of Vincenzo Bellini, who watches over the city as a city hero, while widening on the left houses the remains of the Roman Amphitheater and the Church of San Biagio (Sant’Agata alla Fornace for the people of Catania). Towards the north, however, stands Palazzo Tezzano, born as a hospital, which now houses the University’s Ceramographic Archive.  

Continuing we come across the Rinascente, set up within the walls of Palazzo Spitalieri, devastated by a bomb of 1943 and rebuilt after the war. At the intersection with Via Pacini, however, you can stay overnight at the Hotel Gresi where, according to Vitaliano Brancati, the bell’Antonio lived. 

To conclude in beauty the tour of the Via Etnea of Catania, in front of the imposing Art Nouveau building that houses the Post Office and at the entrance of Villa Bellini is the Pasticceria Savia, run by the same family since 1897, while on the opposite side is the Pasticceria Spinella, inaugurated in 1936 and famous for its delicious granite. 

Before leaving the Via Etnea, the advice is to take a walk inside Villa Bellini (‘a villa, for the people of Catania): its gardens, fountains and paths are really suggestive, as well as being able to tell the true essence of the city, so folkloristic, warm, smiling and welcoming. Let yourself be conquered by Catania, it is worth it.

Copertina: Unsplash

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