Catania and the feast of Saint Agata

February is coming and Catania prepares its heart for one of the most important events of the year: the feast of Saint Agata.

The neighborhoods are filled with colored lights, noises, barrels, band sounds and screams of joy. Among the streets, a sweet scent of sweetened almonds and nougat inebriates the sense of smell of the visitors, projecting them into an ethereal and flickering atmosphere.
SicilianMagpie will introduce you to the history of the sanctuary and its feast, one of the best known and most followed in the world.

The story

The young Agata belonged to an important patrician family who lived in Catania in the third century. Driven by a strong vocation, she dedicated her life to God and the Christian religion.
Her amazing beauty attracted the Roman governor Quinziano, who decided to want her.

The girl resisted and took refuge in a family villa in Palermo. This was not enough. Quinziano tracked her down and forced her to come back in Catania. Her attempts were in vain, Agata never wavered, even when the perfidious governor decided to subject her to atrocious martyrs such as prison and breast mutilation. Later, the man decided that if he couldn’t love Agata, no one else would have to enjoy his beauty. So, on February 5, 251, he sentenced her to death by throwing her inside a burning furnace. It is said, however, that a terrible earthquake, a sign of divine will, didn’t bring the torture to a close. Unfortunately, however, Agata died during the night due to the atrocious wounds.
Quinziano, moved by anger, decided to take possession of the young woman’s assets but, near the Simeto river, his horses went crazy throwing him into the water where he died drowned.

The feast

Catania immediately loved her picciridda (child), seeing in her not only the divine element, but the example of a city that does not bend.
It is believed that, already a year after her death, the people of Catania began to idolize her and organize demonstrations in her honor. The origins of the celebrations are not well known, some think that they are inspired by ancient pagan festivals.
In reality, what most resembles the current celebrations dates back to August 17, 1226 when two soldiers brought the remains of the Saint back to Catania, stolen in 1040 and brought to Constantinople. It is said, in fact, that the soldiers arrived from the sea during the night and the people of Catania, caught in their sleep, rushed in their night skirts (a white tunic long to the knees and a black headdress) waving a white handkerchief to greet the Saint now back home.
Today the celebrations take place from 3 to 5 February. The days are organized as follows:

  • The feast begins on February 3rd with the so-called “luminaria” procession. The political and ecclesiastical offices of the city of Catania participate in it, in a sumptuous parade that proceeds from the church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace or carcaredda up to the Cathedral in Piazza Duomo. Preceded by the parade of cannalore, the mayor and other civil and ecclesiastical authorities proceed inside beautiful eighteenth-century carriages belonging to the Catania Senate. In the evening, Piazza Duomo welcomes citizens for a breathtaking fireworks that enchants children and adults. The municipal authorities organize concerts in honor of the Saint and, for the celebrations, restaurants and museums are open to attract visitors and citizens.
  • On February 4th Catania is ready for the external tour of the city. At dawn, a crowd of faithful crowds in front of the cathedral doors waiting for the opening for the dawn mass. At the end of this, we proceed with the positioning of the reliquary bust inside the fercolo. So begins the tour from the Uzeda gate, following the archi della marina and the city walls. He will then stop in Piazza Carlo Alberto near the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmelo. The tour continues in Piazza Stesicoro where there are the most important churches that trace the vicissitudes of the cult: Sant’Agata al Carcere and Sant’Agata alla Fornace. We proceed with the acchianata dei Cappuccini (a steep road that is made in a hurry, in three stages, until we reach via Santa Maddalena). Here another stop in the church of Sant’Agata la Vetere, the first built in honor of the martyr. The tour proceeds along via Plebiscito and the streets of the Antico Corso, preceded by candelore and the faithful who carry large waxes on their shoulders, votive gifts for graces received or requests. Near the Fortino and Corso Indipendenza, Saint Agata will be honored with sensational fireworks. The tour generally ends at first light with the return to the Cathedral.
  • On February 5th the feast begins with the pontifical, in which the most important sicilian ecclesiastical offices . Subsequently, Santa Agata proceeds from via Etnea to Villa Bellini, continuing through the Borgo (a very famous stop for the exciting fireworks display) and going back to the Quattro Canti. From here begins the Acchianata di Sangiuliano (or ascent of Via Antonino di Sangiuliano), famous because in the past it was followed by the faithful running, today this custom has been interrupted due to the numerous accidents that occurred, costing the lives of some devotees. In via dei Crociferi one of the most beautiful and evocative events of the entire festival begins: behind the gates of the churchyard of the convent of the Poor Clares, the nuns sing a sweet and moving song for the Saint. After the fercolo returns to the Cathedral and Agata says goodbye to his loyal devotees.

But the feast doesn’t end here. Eight days later, exactly on February 12th, the devotees give the last farewell of the season to Agata which, for the reason, is transported for a short tour.
In addition, on August 17th, Catania celebrate the return to home of Agata who, in 1040, was stolen and taken to Constantinople.

Candelore

The Candelore or cannalori are one of the most important symbols of folklore and agatine festivals. But what are they? The guilds of the arts and crafts of Catania, in vow to the Patron, built these twelve wooden structures decorated in gold with baroque and floral ornaments. Since the end of January, the city is preparing for the feast, organizing playful parades in which the candelore, driven by strong men, “dance” to the rhythm of the exciting music played by the neighborhood bands.

The culinary tradition

During the celebration of the festival, Catania is full of smells and flavors. There is a real Catania culinary tradition linked to pastry in honor of Saint Agata.
The city is filled with colorful stalls where candies, nougat, caramelized apples, sweet and savory crispelle, calia and simenza (pumpkin seeds and toasted chickpeas), almonds and pistachios with sugar are the masters. The patisseries, already from the first days of February, prepare their windows with small cassata that take up the shapes of the female breasts, recalling the martyrdom of the Saint and for this called minnulicchie (small tits). Marzipan olives o aliveddi are another traditional dessert. It is thought to be linked to the events of the imprisonment of the Saint, according to which, forced to fast by the soldiers of Quinziano, she fed on some olives grown on a small wild tree.

Martina Spampinato

Photo: Rossella Gullotta

What to see in Catania in 60 minutes

What to see in Catania in 60 minutes wants to help all those people who for one reason or another are in Catania and don’t have much time.

Before starting with the itinerary recommended by SicilianMagpie, an important aspect must be emphasized. The route includes very short stops in the monuments (between 3 and 5 minutes). 

Ready? Let’s go!!!

Departure from Piazza Duomo

La The most important square in the city where it is located find The Elephant, symbol of Catania and beauty of the Duomo. If we place ourselves facing the Duomo (Cathedral), with Palazzo dei Chierici at our right hand and the Palazzo degli Elefanti on the left side.

Walking along Via Etnea, the main artery of the city, we will find at 120 meters  from our departure point Piazza Università and we will see the Palazzo Università on the left.

Continuing with “What to see in Catania in 60 minutes” continuing along Via Etnea, 75 meters further on the left, we will find the Collegiate Basilica.

Walking straight the same street, at 250 meters we can see the Church of San Michele Arcangelo ai Minoriti on the left side.

Still on Via Etnea, going up another 250 meters, you’ll reach Piazza Stesicoro and on your left you will find the Roman amphitheater.

Going up the square, with the amphitheater on the right, in front you will see the church of San Biagio.

With the church at the back going down towards Via Etnea we find ourselves immediately on the right Via Manzoni. Walking a short distance, we must take the second street on the right, Via Penninello, a small street full of clubs, at the top of this we find the stairs that will lead to via Crociferi. (It seems difficult but in reality it takes about 5 minutes 300 meters).

Via Crociferi, the street of the baroque, full of wonderful monuments. Going through it we will find ourselves in Via Vittorio Emanuele, 100 meters from the Duomo located on our left.

We end the tour of So we returned to the starting point.

We hope you enjoyed the ride !!!

Leave us a comment !!

Finiamo così il tour di Cosa vedere a Catania in 60 minuti Così siamo tornati al punto di partenza.

Speriamo vi sia piaciuto il giro!!! 

Lasciateci un commento!!

Baroque Catania: via dei Crociferi

Melior de cinere surgo” is the slogan of Catania that, in its history was destroyed a lot of times by earthquakes. After 1963, we can find this motto in “Porta Garibaldi”. The city, reduced to ashes, reborn more beautiful and splendid: it became baroque.

One of the most important Catania’s street is Via dei Crociferi, bourgeois and cultural center very famous for its baroque structures placed in less than 350 meters.

Passing the arch of San Benedetto, that is the point of union between the big ebbey of San Benedetto and the monastery of the benedettine nuns, we can immerse ourself in a rich, picturesque and romantic atmosphere.

Immediately after is the church of San Benedetto that catches the attention for its amazing “stairway of angels” made of marble with representations of angels and an impressive wrought iron gate. Inside there is only one navat decorated with frescoes that show San Benedetto’s story made by Sebastiano Lo Monaco, Giovanni Tuccari e Matteo Desiderato. It became one of the most folkloric place in Catania because, every year, cloistered nuns go out to dedicate a sweet song to Sant’Agata, patron saint of the city.

After we can find San Francesco Borgia’s church with two imposing staircases. The facade was designed by Angelo Italia, made of white marble with two orders of columns that give rigor and majesty. Inside, three large naves are decorated with 18th century frescoes and statues dedicated to San Ignazio and San Francesco Saverio. The beautiful dome, which tells the story of the Jesuit order, was made by the master Olivio Sozzi. History tells that in 1801 in this church the musician Vincenzo Bellini was baptized.

On the left side of our path, we can see the Jesuit College, recognized as a UNESCO heritage site in 2002. Its construction, post-earthquake, was not short, it took almost forty years of work that, however, gave rise to one of the most beautiful buildings of the Company of Jesus in Sicily. The building has four paved courtyards of black and white pebbles, respecting the style of Francesco Borromini. Famous names such as Francesco Battaglia and Giovan Battista Marino participate in the construction of the building. Over the centuries it has been used as the seat of the “Collegio delle Arti“, the Hospice of Charity and since 1968 until 2009 it has housed the Institute of Art.

In front of this building, we find the most beautiful example of Catania baroque: San Giuliano’s church, rebuilt between 1739 and 1751 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. The convex facade is very special: with its curved lines and its lights and shadows play, give uniqueness and royalty to the building. The octagonal interior has four altars decorated with works by Olivio Sozzi and Pietro Abadessa. The high altar, made of polychrome marble, is decorated with gilded bronzes made by Giovan Battista Marino. At the center there is a refined little log made by Nicolò Mignemi, with two majestic statues representing Faith and Charity. In the apsidal basin we find the amazing fresco of God by Giuseppe Rapisardi, great exponent of the nineteenth-century in Catania.

Crossing via Antonino di Sangiuliano, called by the people of Catania “acchianata di Sangiuliano“, we will find the beautiful church of San Camillo and Villa Cerami, ancient residence of the prestigious Rosso di Cerami family from which it takes its name and currently the seat of the University of Law.

In recent years, beyond this amazing structures, we can find a lot of restaurants and pubs along the way, which offer a complete cultural and sensorial excursus that embraces art and culinary tradition.

Martina Spampinato

Graffiti of Catania: The most important places of street art

murales porto di catania

Catania is a small city at the foot of the Etna; renowned for its history, from Greek origins up to the present day, it’s one of the most important artistic centers of the Mediterranean sea.

The root of its beauty is undefined: like a phoenix it has been reborn several times from the ashes and rubble of the numerous volcanic eruptions. Today it appears to our eyes as a melànge of tradition and innovation that never ceases to change.

It’s in this atmosphere of scents and traditions that the taste of a new artistic trend is spreading: street art.

Sicilian Magpie wants to take you on a sensory journey through the places of urban innovation:

San Berillo

The small neighborhood was born after the volcanic eruption of 1693 that destroyed much of the town of Catania. Its limits touch the areas of the historic center: from Piazza Stesicoro to the train station.

Originally it was an important multi-purpose center studded with houses and small artisan shops.

In the 1950s, building speculation made it a place on the margins of society. It is said that, in this period, it became the seat of the red-light districts of Catania. This reality is not very far from us, only in last years the Municipality of Catania has been activated in order to re-evaluate this area.

So, through the hands of young artists it became an open-air museum of contemporary art.

Walking through the small streets,center of Catania nightlife, you can see the murals that reproduce, in an allegorical key, the history and myths of the sicilian tradition. Piazza delle Belle is the center of this new artistic agglomeration: the lights of the street lamps guide the observer like in a outdoor gallery.

Port

As a maritime city par excellence, the port of Catania is famous for tourism and commerce, and lately it’s in the news for the national diatribe about landings and immigration.

On June 21st 2015 the Municipality of Catania promotes an initiative: the Art Festival, to improving the crumbling structures of the place that degraded the suggestive landscape.

The old silos of the port were decorated with fascinating graffiti by great international artists (Okuda and Rosh333, Microbo, Bo130, Danilo Bucchi and VladyArt, the duo Intersni Kazki) that follow the myths of tradition: Colapesce, Bellini’s beautiful Muse, the Ulysses’s escape from Polyphemus, the events of Scylla and Charybdis and the Minotaur’s representation.

It’s in our small italian metropolitan city that the world’s largest mural is found: a man with his eyes lost to the Mediterranean Sea decorates eight silos in the center of the port. The work of the portuguese Alexandre Farto, aka “VHILS“, is considered one of the most important works of territory revaluation that gives prestige and luster to the city.

Librino

Since the 1970s, a long and gray expanse of reinforced concrete has spread to the Catania suburbs. Librino with its palaces and public housing is counted for its bad reputation. A degraded and delinquent area par excellence, it finds a glimmer of hope only in recent decades thanks to Antonio Presti’s work, a renowned sicilian patron already known for the construction of the “Fiumara d’Arte” in Tusa (ME).

In this district the largest terracotta street art work depicting the theme of the “Great Mother” stands out.

The artists have worked in collaboration with the children of the neighboring schools, creating a work that extends for more than 500 meters.

The goal of this magnificent initiative is to make people aware, through art, of the place magnificence.

Squib

Largo Paisello was considered for centuries one of the most prestigious places in Catania. Between Via Sant’Euplio and the famous Villa Bellini, we can meet the imposing and elegant fountain designed by Dino Caruso. In recent years, however, neglect and disinterest made this building the meeting place for sicilian writers and skaters. So the great widening became stage and protagonist of the young street artists creative inspiration.

San Giovanni Li Cuti

Next to the seafront, the small beach of San Giovanni Li Cuti is a truly impressive naturalistic landscape. It’s a popular place for tourists and citizens on hot summer days, it remains an evergreen for the romantic view towards the sea.

Here we can found the work of the young streetartist Salvo Ligama, who holds a degree in Graphics from the Academy of Fine Arts. The mural, “Poseidon“, represents the god of the sea in all its manhood and beauty. The reference to mythology is clear: Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes, seems to have a connection with the naturalistic elements and the history of our land.

The work, 32 meters long and 2.20 meters high, was inaugurated on June 2 by the mayor Salvo Pogliese, in honor of the LungomareFest.

Martina Spampinato

Art for environmental protection

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Pistoletto and the “Third Paradise”

In an historical period of extreme environmental difficulty, Catania being artistic, cultural and social renewal center, hosting the genius and inspiration of the contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto from 8 June to 15 July.

Terzo Paradiso“, in collaboration with the Accademia di Belle Arti of Catania and the Oelle Mediterraneo Antico Association, will be exhibited on a floating platform at the Molo di Levante, in the Port of Catania from 9.30 to 11.00.

The work was made by using plastic found in our sea and arranged to form the symbol of infinity with a third eyelet, leitmotiv of Pistoletto’s art. What is the “Third Paradise“? What is its symbolic nature?

Photo: Conci Mazzullo

The work was showed for the first time in 2005 at the Venice Biennale and, subsequently, re-proposed in other illustrious european cities as Paris, Geneva, Milan, in order to sensitize humanity and launch a campaign of protection and enhancement of the territories. It’s estimated, in fact, that 20% of used plastic is released into the sea causing serious damage to the ecosystem.

Sea, fishes and human beings are involved in this critical collapse towards environmental degradation. The symbol of the “Third Paradise” is particular and unique in its kind: three circles in succession, which revisit the mathematical sign of infinity, symbolize the union between pure nature and innovation with man in the center who settles as a link between the two worlds, as the engine for cohesion and unison development.

With his representation, Pistoletto proposes himself as a supporter and promoter of the artistic development, and also environmental and social development. So, Catania and its port reflect the charm of the contemporaneity, become the lighthouse that leads the citizen towards respect for our mother Earth.

Martina Spampinato

The legend of Gammazita’s well

Among the narrow streets of via Plebiscito, near the Ursino Castle,a young woman story still echoes: her name is Gammazita and for centuries she’s been the female’s citizens symbol.
In 1282 sicilians rebelled against the Angevin oppressors. Catania and its people also faced the vicissitudes of the Sicilian Vespers.

Gammazita was a young woman who, as a typical Judecca Suttana district’s woman, went to the well in Via San Calogero to draw on water resources.
Here, a French soldier fell in love and tried to abuse her. The young woman, to avoid his advances, threw herself in the darkness of that well, finding death.

The source was located in the centre of commercial activities complex, so its presence was essential for the economic and urban development of the neighborhood. It is thought that its waters were fed by Amenano river rivulets which, in this area, was called Judicello.
On March 3, 1669, a terrible earthquake devastated the Sicilian town, covering it with lava blanket that, get to the city centre, also damaged the ancient well.

For the civic value of Gammazita’s story, considered an exemplum virtutis, the citizens of Catania in the mid-1700s endorsed its recovery.
From inside a courtyard, surrounded by nineteenth-century popular buildings, it’s possible to access to the 62 steps that lead directly to the well, located 14 meters below the road surface.

Despite the current crumbling conditions, the Gammazita’s well remains the beating heart of the old covered city and of the ancient Sicilian ethic, never tame in front of the foreign yoke.

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Martina Spampinato

Aci Trezza

It is a section of Aci Castello, in Catania province. This village, originally a place for fisherman, is today a great tourist destination. This is not only for the beautiful landscape that its giant rocks offers, but also because of author Verga’s literature that took inspiration in this marvelous place. This beautiful seaside village is for sure one of the most recommended places to visit in Sicily.

Etna

It’s the highest active volcano on the european continent. With its constant volcanic activity it has strongly influenced the aesthetic conformation of the island and the Sicilians mindset. Etna is rich in easily passable paths and guided tours. Certainly one of the obligatory stops in Sicily.

Palazzo Università

The building is located in Università square. It was commissioned by King Alfonso of Aragon and it was  the first and the only university of the island for a long time. It was rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake thanks to the work of illustrious architects of the period. The style is baroque. Today it is home of the Rectorate.