This morning, I rode a train from Siracusa for just over an hour to the next destination on this Sicilian trip, Catania. Having arrived in Catania at 11:15 in the morning, it gave me almost a full day here. I’m staying for two nights, so one more full day after this.
When I arrived, the cloud god held sway over the day. As if being overcast wasn’t depressing enough, the walk from the train station to my hotel was, for most of the way, bleak. It would have been so even on a sunny day.
I’ve never been anywhere in the former Soviet Union, but some of the buildings along the way looked like pictures of buildings I’ve seen with derogatory captions saying something to the effect of, “Soviet-style construction.”
And that was the better part of all but the last bit of the approximately 20-minute walk. On the other side of the street from the one I walked on, I saw first a treeless parking lot, followed by a few lots enclosed by unroofed cinderblock walls. There didn’t appear to be anything within the walls. Gaffiti covered the cinderblock. Understand, I’m not talking about artful graffiti. Just uninspired tags. I began to have misgivings about coming to Catania.
I won’t post, nor did I take, any pictures of those streets. It’s enough I had to experience them. You don’t have to see them.
Then, I got close to my hotel. It’s in the old part of town on a nice, mostly pedestrianized shopping street. (I say “mostly pedestrianized” because a couple of taxis and a few other unidentifiable cars drove on it, but they had to mind the pedestrians walking wherever they wanted on the street.
After leaving my luggage at the hotel (because I arrived in the morning, my room wasn’t ready for a few hours), I walked around a bit and took in a few sights before a simple lunch at a little after 1:00. I went out again after retrieving my luggage and checking into my room
During my walks, my impression of Catania improved greatly. There are some great streets and buildings throughout the old part of the city.
Just before lunch, something that I haven’t seen at up until today on this trip started happening to me. Yes, specifically to me. True, also to everyone else walking around in Catania. But this is my journal, not theirs.
Into Every Life …
Like the song says, into every life a little rain must fall.
Who the hell made up that stupid rule? I mean, who needs it? Really. I don’t. That’s for sure.
Sure, in general, we need some rain. Otherwise, drought will befall us. Crops will wither and fail. Lakes and rivers will run dry. Countries and ragtag militias will wage war to try to capture what little food and fresh water remain. But eventually we’ll all die of thirst or starvation. I suppose we should try to avoid that, wherever possible. On the other hand, as another inane song says, que sera, sera.
So, yes, a little rain here and there, now and then is something to be desired. But that doesn’t mean it has to rain on me specifically. Rain wherever I’m not. That’s fine. Rain while I’m well-sheltered with no desire to go out at that particular time, rain or not, such as when I’m asleep. That’s fine too. But don’t rain on me.
But noooooo. Today I got rain. The rain god hates me. Or maybe there is no god. It’s so hard to have faith in a rainy world.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I arrived in Sicily just a couple of days shy of two weeks ago. This is my first day here with less than great weather. Still, it’s not part of a just society. I paid a lot of money to come to and travel around in Sicily. Yet, into my life a little rain fell. Curses.
Sure, it rained only in the afternoon and evening, not the morning. And most of that consisted of just intermittent light sprinkles. What’s more, the forecast calls for mostly clear skies here in Catania tomorrow. But the weather app I use also says I’m in for a couple of days of rain after that. Drat, drat, drat.
Thanks for sticking with me through that rant. That felt good. I’m still far below my quota of complaining this trip. I find it liberating to work a little of it off like that.
Piazza del Duomo
I don’t know if this is always true, but people crowded the Piazza del Duomo in Catania today. Of course, it would have been worse if, say, a large herd of rampaging elephants crowded the square.
Obviously, there wasn’t a large herd of elephants in the Piazza del Duomo today. That probably occurs only exceptionally rarely, if at all.
No, today there was only one elephant in the square. It’s always there and it is always very docile, not rampaging. In fact, it just sits there, as statues are wont to do.
The literally statuesque elephant is carved from lava stone and is of Roman design. It carries an Egyptian obelisk on its back.
When I was there, scaffolding with a gauzy material attached to the outside of it surrounded the statue up to almost the mid-section of the elephant (middle taking into the parallax effect of me standing on the ground and the statue being on a pedestal). But the obelisk above it was fully exposed. So, if you look at the accompanying picture and have trouble making out the elephant, that’s probably why. That’s likely also why I found it unimpressive in real life too.
Aside: Oh, yeah. About the lava rock material. If you have a close relationship with the volcano god, please ask Him, Her, or It to keep Mount Etna quiet for the next few days. It’s close to both Catania and my next stop. Etna is a volcano. And it’s not extinct. Not at all.
Catania Cathedral (Cattedrale di Sant’Agata)
I’m starting to get to the point of cathedral exhaustion on this trip. Most cathedrals in most places exhibit great beauty, formidable dimensions and construction, a timelessness of the ages, or sometimes a combination of two or all three. That’s fantastic. But after seeing so many of them in one trip, I begin to grow blasé about them.
I don’t think there are any more cathedrals in the remaining stops on this trip, so let’s get this one out of the way, shall we?
Catania’s cathedral is big and nice enough, with simple, but attractive arches between the pillars on either side of the centre aisle. Those arches reach up almost to the ceiling. Paintings adorn the walls of the side aisles. A big, beautiful organ sits above the entrance at the back of the cathedral. It played music while I was there. How’s that for a description?
The site has some history. The Normans built a combination cathedral/fortress in this location, on top of what used to be Roman baths. But the Norman cathedral/fortress was largely destroyed by—you can probably guess by what if you’ve been following along with these Sicily journal entries. That’s right, the 1693 earthquake.
Oh, those pillars on either side of the centre aisle I mentioned above? They’re large and roughly cuboid shaped. They went up when the cathedral was rebuilt after the earthquake. But at a couple of points, in line with, but between the current centre aisle columns, there are some shallow rectangular holes in the floor protected by short wrought iron fences. Looking down in those holes, one can see the base of some of the original columns from the destroyed church. The original columns were cylindrical and a fraction of the size of the current roughly cuboid columns. I guess they learned their lessons from the earthquake. Good for them.
When I visited the cathedral, a service was underway. Thus, I couldn’t get close up to the altar. In fact, I don’t think they ever let gawkers up close. During the service, a rope and stanchions at the back of the centre aisle almost blocked that aisle. A man, presumably with the church, dressed in a black suit blocked the remaining gap. After the service, he pulled the stanchion by the gap over so the rope completely blocked the aisle.
Don’t ask me how he knew who were worshippers who could go in, and who were gawkers who couldn’t. The taking of photographs probably gave the gawkers away. See the photographs on this page of the interior of the cathedral? Yeah, he didn’t move out of the way when I got close.
Church of Sant’Agata alla Badia
The Church of Sant’Agata alla Badia has an unassuming exterior and a small, but attractive, elegantly proportioned chapel inside. A large crystal chandelier with a crown-like decoration on top hangs from the centre of the ceiling. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
But that’s not what attracted me to the Church of Sant’Agata all Badia. It has a dome.
“Sure,” you say, “lots of churches have domes.” And you’re right. But not a particularly large fraction of them have stairs that visitors can use (for a fee) to climb up to the base of the cupola and walk around the outside of it, taking in the view. The Church of Sant’Agata all Badia does.
The cost is only €6. How could I not? It’s not an enormously tall dome. It requires climbing only 170 steps to reach the narrow walkway around the dome’s base.
The stairs are rather narrow. The lower portion is just barely wide enough for two people to squeeze by. However, the upper portion is a spiral staircase too narrow for one person to pass another. As a result, the visit to the cupola required some waiting while a stream of people walked in the opposite direction.
No one from the church controlled the traffic flow. So, some people had to backup because, from the top or bottom, you can’t see all the way to the other end of the spiral staircase to see if the way is clear.
The 360-degree views include some other church domes, the spread of the city, and a glimpse of the sea by the harbour. However, I couldn’t see Mount Etna. It’s supposed to be visible from Catania. I looked in every direction, but couldn’t see a mountain.
As I mentioned above, clouds filled the sky today. And, when I was up by the cupola, the occasional drop of rain spit down on me. I figure clouds must have obscured the mountain. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’d hate to think that I’m so unobservant that I could fail to notice an entire mountain in my field of view.
Roman Theatre in Catania
Right in the middle of Catania’s old town sits the ruins of an old Roman theatre. If you wander around Catania without knowing it’s there, you probably wouldn’t notice it. Buildings of I don’t know what vintage—almost certainly after the earthquake of 1693, but fairly old nonetheless—almost entirely surround the Roman theatre. The entrance is through one of those buildings.
Most of the stone benches of the theatre still exist in situ. Some sections, however, don’t. In those sections, some modern day custodians of the theatre built wooden benches to fill in where the stone benches used to be. Some of the old stone benches that do exist are becoming overgrown with weeds.
I’ve now seen a few Roman theatres in various locations in my life. That doesn’t make me an expert. Not even close. So, take this with a grain of salt. Or pepper. Or oregano. Maybe thyme. Really, just whatever seasoning you prefer. But the Roman theatre in Cantania appeared to me to not be the very best preserved Roman theatre I’ve seen, but probably in the upper quartile. But, again, if your life depends on providing accurate information in that regard and I’m your only source, please get your affairs in order.
What was kind of amazing was seeing this ancient Roman theatre in the middle of buildings of Catania’s old town built around and immediately adjacent to it.
The tour book I’m using and other sources I looked at don’t list many “must see” or even “good to see” attractions in Catania. One that the tour book listed as a must see, I intentionally didn’t go to today, despite it being closed tomorrow.
That one is a museum of the Allied Landings in Sicily during World War II. The book’s description sounded terminally hokey. In addition to some fascist flags and slogans, and a 12-minute English-subtitled video, the book says there’s a recreated Sicilian piazza of the Mussolini era. Apparently, at I don’t know what intervals, the sound of approaching aircraft plays. Visitors are then supposed to run into a recreation of an air raid shelter. According to the book, the shelter simulates an air raid, with walls shaking, sounds of screaming, and lights flashing. Then, when the all-clear signal sounds visitors leave the shelter to see the piazza in ruins.
Am I the only person who finds that to be, as I said, terminally hokey? Obviously, I didn’t go. Because it’s closed tomorrow and I leave the next morning, I won’t have a chance to change my mind.
The one other listed “must see” is a fish market. It’s closed Sundays. Today is Sunday. Apparently, it’s most active during mornings. I plan to go tomorrow morning.
“So,” you might well ask, “what will you do for the rest of the day tomorrow?”
Patience, Grasshopper. Patience. All will be revealed tomorrow. Unless, of course, my plans fall through. In that case, I’ll pretend that whatever I do end up doing was my plan all along. How will you know the difference if I don’t reveal my plans now? Clever, eh?
A little rain must fall. No sense trying to sue for your vacation money back. It could be worse. Environment Canada is telling us that we will be looking at 30-50 mm of the wet stuff by the morning. But then again, I am cosy and probably going to watch Netflix. The house is paid for. No need to ask for my money back.
Catania looks pleasant so far, so thanks for not taking pictures of the view in from the railroad station. The views from the church of Sant’Agata alla Badia look lovely. Too bad you couldn’t see Etna, but better clouds than ash. Think on it.
You have suspensefully left us, your readers, with a cliff-hanger. What is Joel going to do tomorrow? As always, I will wait, impatiently, to find out.