Catania is an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea. It is the capital of the Metropolitan City of Catania, one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in Italy. The population of the city proper is 315,601 while the population of the conurbation is estimated to be 767,003. The metropolitan city has 1,115,310 inhabitants.
Catania is well known for its historical earthquakes, having been destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes in 1169 and 1693, and for several volcanic eruptions from the neighbouring Mount Etna, the most violent of which was in 1669.
Catania has had a long and eventful history, having been founded in the 8th century BC. In 1434, the first university in Sicily was founded in the city. In the 14th century and into the Renaissance period, Catania was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres. The city has a rich culture and history, hosting many museums, restaurants, churches, parks and theatres. Catania is well known for its street food.
Catania is located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna.
As observed by Strabo, the location of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna has been both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, violent outbursts of the volcano throughout history have destroyed large parts of the city, whilst on the other hand the volcanic ashes yield fertile soil, especially suited for the growth of vines.
Two subterranean rivers run under the city; the Amenano, which surfaces at one single point south of Piazza Duomo, and the Longane (or Lognina).
The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Csa" (Mediterranean Climate). It has hot and long summers, the hottest in the whole Italy (a feature characterising nearly every months). 40 °C (104 °F) are surpassed almost every year a couple of times, with record highs over 45 °C (113 °F).
Winters are mild (not rare peaks around 20 °C or 68 °F) and wet. Most of precipitations are concentrated from October to March, leaving late spring and summer virtually dry (some years rain lacks for 3–4 months). The city receives around 500 millimetres (20 inches) of rain per year, although amount can highly vary from year to year (wettest over 1,200 millimetres or 47 inches, driest under 250 millimetres or 9.8 inches,).
During winter nights occasionally lows can go under 0 °C (32 °F). Highs under 10 °C (50 °F) are rare as well. Snow, due to the presence of Etna that protects the city from the northern winds, is very rare. Occasional snow flurries have been seen over the years in the hilly districts, more substantial in the northern hinterland. More recently, brief snowfalls occurred on 9 February 2015 and 6 January 2017, but the last snowfall of particular relevance dates back to 17 December 1988.
The symbol of the city is u Liotru, or the Fontana dell'Elefante, assembled in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. It portrays an ancient lavic stone elephant and is topped by an Egyptian obelisk from Syene. Legend has it that Vaccarini's original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, Vaccarini appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue.
The Sicilian name u Liotru is a phonetic change of Heliodorus, a nobleman who, after trying without success to become bishop of the city, became a sorcerer and was therefore condemned to the stake. Legend has it that Heliodorus himself was the sculptor of the lava elephant and that he used to magically ride it in his fantastic travels from Catania to Constantinople. Another legend has it that Heliodorus was able to transform himself into an elephant.
The presence of an elephant in the millenary history of Catania is surely connected to both zooarcheology and popular creeds. In fact, the prehistoric fauna of Sicily from the Upper Paleolithic, included dwarf elephants. Paleontologist Othenio Abel suggested that the presence of dwarf elephants in Sicily may be the origin of the legend of the Cyclops. Ancient Greeks, after finding the skulls of dwarf elephants, about twice the size of a human skull, with a large central nasal cavity (mistaken for a large single eye-socket) supposed that they were skulls of giants with a single eye.
The Catanian Museum of Mineralogy, Paleonthology and Vulcanology holds the integral unburied skeleton of an Elephas falconeri in an excellent state of conservation. The first inhabitants of Etna molded such lavic artifact to idolize the mythical proboscidian.
Catania is the first economic and industrial hub of Sicily. The city is famous for its mainly petrochemical industry, and the extraction of sulphur. In the year 2000, according to Census, Catania was the 14th richest city in Italy, with a GDP of US$6.6 billion (€6.304 billion), which was 0.54% of the Italian GDP, a GDP per capita of US$21,000 (€20,100) and an average GDP per employee of US$69,000 (€66,100).
In the late-19th century and early-20th century, Catania began to be heavily industrialised, with its several factories and chimneys, often to the extant that it was referred to as Southern Italy's "Manchester." The economy of Catania suffered heavily from the bad effects of World War I, and was marked by an economic crisis and recession that culminated in the 1920s. Since then, the city lost its industrial and entrepreneurial importance. In the 1930s, Catania remained a small fishing town with derelict and disused industries. However, after the destruction of World War II, Catania's economy began to re-grow in the late-1950s and early-1960s. As a matter of fact, the city's economic growth was so rapid and dynamic that it was often nicknamed the "Milan of the South", or in Italian "Milano del Sud". This rapid economic growth prompted a great number of Sicilians living in the more rural areas, or smaller towns such as Enna, Ragusa and Caltanissetta, to move to the city to seek new jobs.
Today, Catania, despite several problems, has one of the most dynamic economies in the whole of Southern Italy. It still has a strong industrial and agricultural sector, and a fast-growing tourist industry, with many international visitors coming to visit the city's main sights and the nearby Etna volcano. It contains the headquarters or important offices of companies such as STMicroelectronics, and also several chemical and pharmaceutical businesses. There have been several new business developments to further boost Catania's economy, including the construction of Etnapolis, a huge and avant-garde commercial centre designed by Massimiliano Fuksas, the same architect who designed the FieraMilano industrial fair in Milan, or the Etna Valley, where several high-tech offices are located.
Tourism is a fast-growing industry in Catania. Lately the administration and private companies have made several investments in the hospitality industry in order to make tourism a competitive sector in Catania and its province. Nearby, just 12 kilometres (7 miles) from the city, there is Etnaland, a big theme park, which is the largest of its kind in Southern Italy and which attracts thousands of tourists, not only from Sicily, but also from the rest of Italy.