Today we will visit the secret Catania, the underground Catania.
Because Catania was rebuilt on its own rubble, due to earthquakes and lava flows, its subsoil will tell us much of its history, its art and its culture, from prehistory to the present.
Ready for this trip?
We will start with the Roman Theater, built around the I / II Century D.C., framed between the Baroque palaces and the streets of Catania.
It is like an open window in the land of Catania, from which to look into the deep past of this city.
From the visible remains you can imagine how majestic the theater was and therefore how important the city of Catania was already in those days.
The theater hosted up to 15,000 spectators! And these spectators came to watch the “munera” or the gladiator fights.
In the diaries of past travelers we read that this colossal structure was still in perfect condition a moment before the disastrous eruption of Etna in 1169.
And only after 1904 did the works that brought the theater back to life begin.
In addition to the superficial, visible part, we discover an underground area, often unfortunately not always open to visitors due to security problems.
Other underground realities, created due to the volcanic eruptions of Etna, are found in the most unusual places in Catania.
Cave where the Amenano flows
The cave below this restaurant was formed by an air bubble during the lava flow of 1669. This cave has preserved a water source of one of the most important rivers of Catania, the Amenano, before it was covered eruption.
Catania has been continuously transformed by both lava flows and earthquakes. This proves that the people of Catania have never succumbed to calamities, rebuilding their beloved city on its own ashes.
The earthquake of 1693 made many victims mainly because of the narrow streets. This was why, during the reconstruction, large main streets were designed. As well as the central Via Etnea, the good living room of Catania.
We arrive at Piazza Duomo, through which the Amenano river flowed, flowing just near the square. And right here we find a very interesting dungeon.
We are about to enter the Achillian Baths, an archaeological site from the Roman period – IV / V Sec. D.C.
The Achillian Baths, whose name was derived from an inscription on a marble slab found on the site, were originally much larger, and today only a small part is visible.
This visitable area consists of a central hall, with a rectangular plan, with four pillars. At the center of the room is a bathtub that was originally covered with marble. Probably this was just an environment of connection with the whole thermal complex.
Ceiling and walls were frescoed, with paintings depicting the grape harvest and it is for this reason that, for a long time, it was believed that this was a temple dedicated to Bacchus.
Not far from the city center, we reach the Petralia Cave, a lava cave, an extraordinary natural underground, formed 5000 years ago and discovered in the early 1990s in the Barriera district of Catania.
This cave was discovered in an area already known for a series of caves frequented in the ancient Bronze Age.
400 meters long, it is one of the largest caves of lava origin at low altitude.
In addition to natural beauty, it is surprising that this cave has been used by man since prehistoric times, during the metal age.
This is demonstrated by the discovery of eight human burials, accompanied by vases for funerary purposes.
Numerous bones of animals and ceramics, whole and in fragments, have been discovered.
In addition, small enclosures are visible, leaning against the walls, created with pebbles and lava stone evidently carried from the outside. Small spaces perhaps used for ritual purposes.
It is a tour to be done very carefully both for the sharp stone spikes that cover the lava walls of the cave, and for not damaging the various finds found inside it.
Crypt of San Euplio
Opposite the Capuchin convent, which is currently the “Palazzo della Borsa”, stood the church of St. Euplio, martyr and co-patron of Catania who died in 304, still young. This crypt from the late Roman imperial era was reopened to the public only in 2016.
It is a very small space, rectangular in shape and in whose walls you can see niches that once contained the cinerary urns.
A small altar and a fresco depicting the martyred saint (only 29 years old was killed by Diocletian) is still visible. Euplio, 1700 years ago, was flogged and then beheaded following the explicit admission of his Christian faith.
Secret place of the Benedictines
Another unmissable place in Catania is the underground part of the former Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò L’Arena, a masterpiece of the late Sicilian Baroque, which today houses the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania. This is one of the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe.
The monastery was built in the 16th century, but due to lava flows and earthquakes, it continued to change and develop.
This rehash makes this place a perfect example of architectural integration between different eras, up to the 90s.
Immediately below the western cloister where the Marble fountain is located, there are today 400,000 volumes of the historical and literary library Gianrizza.
To realize this space it was necessary, in the 90s, to empty it of 3000 cubic meters of rubble. This basement is called the secret place of the Benedictines.
Here you can still see the original floors, partly shattered due to the various collapses during the earthquakes. A portion of this pavement remains as evidence of the ancient church of the ‘500 completely destroyed by the earthquake.
Going down again, 3 meters below the courtyard floor, you enter the basement of the former monastery.
Originally they were the places where the monks kept food and wine. They remained intact despite the 1693 earthquake and today house the library of the university’s humanities department.
During the restoration work, under the pavement, two Roman domus were found, one republican and one imperial, one dating back to the late Hellenistic period of Catania and the other to the second century. A.D.
Moving towards the eighteenth-century area of the monastery, one arrives at the Red Room, a circular room, designed by the architect Vaccarini in the late 18th century. Today made spectacular by the recent restoration and enhancement interventions.
All the underground attractions of Catania, are within walking distance of our vacation home. This is one of the reasons why our guests love us.
Do you have any questions before leaving?