Catania in Sicily is overlooked by Mt Etna, a volcano that erupted in 2002. You can still see smoke steaming out of her top. You can take guided walk tours to Mt Etna, though we did not do that for a lack of time on our part.
Catania was familiar in terms of its architecture – just extremely run down when you compare it to other parts of Italy. There was a major earthquake in 1667, which destroyed all the buildings, so much of the buildings we saw occurred after that time. The architecture was familiar but alot of buildings were also disused and bricked up, probably reflecting the lack of affordability in the city. Because of this, Catania is relatively inexpensive. A cup of coffee was about $1 Euro, which is cheap. If Catania had the funds to “renovate” and clean up the city, it would look as swish as any other port city on the Italian mainland.
Catania is also part of “ancient history” – having been influenced/invaded by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arab at one stage of its past. I remember some brief snippets of it from school, but not a whole lot of it. At the time, I was studying about places that seemed so far away, not just in time but in distance as well. It felt like I was studying about a mythical land – that was how far from reality it felt. But being in these places, I really felt connected to how old these places are. In terms of building and architecture, Australia is just a twinkle compared to these civilisations.
But all this is lost on my son. He was just excited to be in mafia country, though I was telling him that Palermo is the place to be for that.
The Duomo in Catania is the equivalent of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I was amazed at how many churches Catania had. Other than the Duomo that you have in the main town suqare, there was almost a church on every other street corner – in the city anyway. If the town had money, I’m sure it was all spent on the churches.
Other than the Duomo, we only went into one other church, which was half completed. There’s a roof over it and everything, but incomplete columns, and very few carved statues and the like. War and conflict interrupted the raising of funds from the population. Still, the nave of this church was very impressive – about 100 m deep. We couldn’t see into it completely as there was scaffolding in the middle restoring this incomplete church.
On the way back to the ship, we walked through another market. And again, there were fantastically fresh fruits and vegetables. It really made me want to open my Jamie Oliver cook book and start cooking Italian. There were all sorts of cheeses, cured meats, and just fresh meat. Incidentally, in the heat, butchers still sold their products with no refridgeration – just like the wet markets in Asia. It was nice. Living in Australia, I’ve definitely gotten used to buying my meat in supermarkets and specialist butchers, with glass display cabinets and the like. I guess the Italians can do what they do because their meat is a lot fresher, ie. more recently slaughtered.
We stopped by an old castle, which was now a museum. Saw a few roman statues, phoenician artifacts and many other items. But we had to rush through the museum in about 15 minutes, as the museum was going to be closed for their afternoon siesta. Yes, I can understand the siesta thing, but it’s very inconvenient when you’re sightseeing. Basically, the Mediterranean sea port towns we visited all honoured the siesta, each varying different start times. Some places at noon, others at 1 pm. Siesta lasted at least 2 hours.
Having said that, once I experienced the heat of the Mediterranean sun, I can understand the siesta. You just want to get out of the sun. We felt the same way, so we started to head back to the ship for a spot of lunch and a laze by the pool. You know, I never thought the Mediterranean sun could be so hot, but I was wrong. It’s usually hottest between 1 pm to 3 pm. By that time, I had completely wilted.
For more information on Catania, click on this link.
For more information on Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, click on this link.