Monday, June 13, 2005

Catania's Comeback

Five hundred years ago, Catania was one of the most elegant cities in Europe. It was called the "Milan of the South," and every night the streets were washed with perfumed water to make it even more pleasant.

But, Catania has been destroyed seven times--by earthquake, volcanic eruption, and bombing.Twenty years ago, the city of Catania closed up when it got dark. No one would be out on the streets. The city was dead. Now, it is alive again with restaurants, people, and life! Catania is making a huge comeback.

It is an interesting city that feels almost third-world, part African and part European. Certainly the markets with their open-air butcher shops and animal heads hanging in front remind me of the bazaars in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey moreso than anything I've seen elsewhere in Italy. In spite of the department stores and expensive shops on Via Etnea, most people shop in the open stalls of the market that features everything from food to clothing to household goods to carpets to watches to antiques. No business cards, no receipts, no returns, but great prices. The market, which is open every day of the week covers many streets and squares. A step up from the stalls are tiny, dark shops with goods stacked to ceiling in boxes, also like North Africa and Turkey.

But, around the corner from the fish market and through the arch is a modern Hard Rock Cafe, all glistening glass and chrome with a menu identical to Chicago or New York. And there are two McDonald's nearby! One block away, the decrepit buildings look like they have been bombed, and guess what? They were! They were damaged in World War II and still not repaired.Catania is alive again, indeed, with a new spruced-up look. The pollution-blackened buildings are being cleaned to reveal fabluous Baroque exteriors that are gleaming white. The cathedral is almost completed, inside and out. Municipal buildings, palaces, churches, the university, and an opera house that is considered more beautiful than La Scala mix with Greek and Roman ruins, parks, piazzas, statues, and fountains to create a fascinating city with Etna as a backdrop.

The city is just now tearing down the last building that covered up a Roman theater and odeon just a few blocks from the cathedral that is a unique combination found nowhere else in the world. And in an old gypsum factory called "The Chimneys," there is a new cultural center of museums, theaters, art galleries, and such. The World War II museum is outstanding in itself, not to be missed. There are public lidos, or beaches, right in the city. The international airport is more busy than ever, and it's being completely rebuilt. About one million people live in and around Catania.

IF you come to visit, I'll take you all over Catania, and I'll know where to park (See "The Parking Culture of Sicily," an earlier post).


At June 15, 2005 7:26 PM, Anonymous Colleen@SlowTrav said...

We were completely fascinated by the outdoor markets in Catania! Watching the sellers and buyers in the fish market was like seeing the activity on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.
We only had time for a day trip to Catania, but look forward to a return visit.


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