Catania is a city full of little neighbourhoods, villages, lanes and alleyways, each holding many myths that rouse curiosity of locals and tourists alike.
Today we are going to delve into a few of the legends of Catania.
Some of these are explained under each of the four bronze street lamps located around Catania’s Piazza Università.
In the heart of Catania’s historical centre, there is an old Jewish well called ‘Gammazita’, in which legend has is that a young girl died. This story is rumoured to come from the 13th century, during which a French soldier became infatuated with the beautiful girl, Gammazita, who would go to the well each day to fetch water. The girl did not appreciate the French soldier’s attention as she was already engaged to wed. Despite this, the soldier pursued her and so, the young girl decided she had to travel to the well accompanied by someone else so as to avoid the soldier’s advances.
On the girl’s wedding day, however, she happened to travel to the well unaccompanied and was attacked by the soldier. Out of fear of losing her dignity, the young girl chose to throw herself into the well to avoid the disgrace of the attack.
Il Liotru, symbol of Catania
In Piazza Duomo, there is a statue of an elephant holding an Egyptian obelisk. The elephant is called Liotru and it is the symbol of Catania.
The name Liotro comes from the story of the magician Eliodoro, a member of the nobility of Catania, who according to legend, attempted in vain to become the bishop of the diocese.
The story goes that one day, after encountering a sorcerer, Eliodoro grew fascinated by the art of magic. He went on to claim that he had sculpted the Liotru himself out of volcanic stone. He claimed that he brought the elephant to life, and used it to fly from Catania to Constantinople and torture innocent townspeople along the way.
When the people of Catania finally decided to rebel against Eliodoro, he was banished from the city.
The statue you see today was rediscovered following the earthquake in 1693 thanks to the architect Gian Battista Vaccarini.
The headless horse
Today, Via Crociferi is one of the most visited streets of Catania thanks to the monasteries and four Baroque churches built within 100 metres of each other. However, there was a time when it was rumoured that in 1700 in Via Crociferi, members of the nobility would use the street as a secret meeting place for extramarital trysts. To keep curious eyes away, they spread word that at midnight each night, a monstrous headless horse roamed the street attacking passers-by.
One day, a young man made a bet that he could defy the headless horse and pass through Via Crociferi unscathed to plant a nail under the Arco di San Benedetto at the end of the Via Crociferi. As he was doing so, however, out realising, the nail got tangled up in the hem of his cloak. Convinced that the disappearance of his nail was the dark work of the headless horse, he became so terrified of the headless horse that he dropped dead out of fear.
It is rumoured that a young man of humble origins, the paladin Uzeta, was dubbed a knight after at the order of King Federico II, he defeated the gigantic Ursini bears. As a reward for his courage, he was given the daughter of King Cocolo to marry. This is quite a recent legend, which was brought to life by the journalist Giuseppe la Malfa, who in 1905 reclaimed the story told by the Sicilian puppeteer Don Raffaele Trombetta.
The Pious Brothers
Among the various legends of Catania, there is also the legend of the two brothers, Anapia and Anfinomo, known as the pious brothers. The two lived in the countryside with their elderly parents. The legend goes that while the brothers were working in the fields, the area was hit unexpectedly by a huge eruption of Mount Etna. Lava began to run rapidly down the mountain and the only way for the brothers to save themselves was to flee by foot. However, their elderly parents were frail and would never have been able to escape quickly enough. So, the brothers decided to carry their parents on their backs, even though this would slow them considerably. According to the legend, just as the lava was reached their heels, miraculously, the searing hot flow of lava split in two streams and the family was spared.
This is but a taste of the many legends of the city of Catania, but to dive even deeper into the city’s mythical history, a guided evening walking tour is the best way deepen your knowledge of the myths and legends of the city. Leaving no historical or artistic stone unturned, your guide will satisfy all your curiosities and with the evening ambience of the tour you’ll get to admire the beautiful lights of the city, which give Catania an entirely different and alluring charm.
Did you enjoy this tour?
Book our vacation rental to live this experience.