The legend of the black elephant of Catania.

Piazza Duomo and the statue of the black elephant in Catania

Many legends revolve around the statue of the black elephant of Catania, some of historical origin, others to be considered popular legends.
The term “Liotru” seems to be a distortion of the name Eliodoro, a magician of the time (VIII century) who was against the church and in particular to the bishop of Catania San Leone called the thaumaturg.

But let’s go by order …

The historical center is the most picturesque and old area of ​​Catania, with its monuments and its most typical areas.
The historic center is the same city of Catania that is reborn from the rubble after the terrible earthquake of 1693.
After 5 months from the terrible event, the Duke of Camastra, making use of the architect Vaccarini, redesigned and rebuilt Catania as we see it today, reaching the maximum artistic-architectural in the Piazza del Duomo and in the Via dei Crociferi.

Piazza Duomo by Catania
Piazza Duomo in Catania.

The Piazza del Duomo is the center of the historical center of Catania.
At the center of the square is the elephant fountain “O Liotru”, with the statue of the elephant in lava stone whose eyes look at the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, “a Santuzza”, the most loved and venerated by the Catania people.

"O Liotru". The elephant in Piazza Duomo in Catania
“O Liotru”. The elephant in Piazza Duomo in Catania.

In 1736 it was Vaccarini who built this monument and it is a very particular work that is interesting to describe.

A basin is built at the base of the monument. During the beautiful days of Catania on its steps many people like to sunbathe.

The tank and the elephant fountain in Piazza Duomo in Catania
The tank and the elephant fountain in Piazza Duomo in Catania.

From the basin rises this statue, from which jets of water come out and which represent the two rivers of the city, the Simeto on one side, and the Amenano on the other.

The elephant fountain in Piazza Duomo in Catania
The elephant fountain in Piazza Duomo in Catania.

It seems that the elephant was carved from a single block of lava stone and in pre-existing times to that of Vaccarini, who however reconstructed the elephant’s legs, which had been destroyed in the earthquake of 1693; and added both the white fangs and the eyes.

The marble cloth that rests on the statue contains several symbols dedicated to Saint Agatha.
Above the cloth stands the obelisk, in Egyptian style, more than three meters high.
Above the obelisk there is a sphere in which there are some symbols always dedicated to the Saint and above the sphere there is a cross.
Next to the sphere is a branch of lilies, which represents purity, and a palm leaf that represents martyrdom.

Symbols on the black elephant's mantle. Piazza Duomo. Catania
Symbols on the black elephant’s mantle. Piazza Duomo. Catania.

Many anecdotes are told around the elephant statue, some of historical origin, others to be considered popular legends.
The term “Liotru” seems to be a distortion of the name Eliodoro, a magician of the time (eighth century) who opposed the church and in particular the bishop of Catania San Leone known as the thaumaturg.

San Leone that makes the magician Eliodoro burn
San Leone that makes the magician Eliodoro burn.

It seems that Heliodorus fought against the bishop’s miracles with his esoteric powers.
In a text of 1845, written by William Gumppenberg, we read:
“In his day, Eliodoro, a noble magician, having been caught in Catania, suddenly appeared in Constantinople; and, captured also there, after a few hours he was found in Catania in Sicily. The magician made the people laugh with his malignant antics, and he threatened to make dance the bishop and all the clergy. “

According to legend, Eliodoro was burned alive inside a furnace, blocked by Bishop San Leone.
On the west side of the fountain there is an inscription which reads:
“This extraordinary elephant of ancient Catania, as a symbol of justice, wisdom and submissiveness, honors the famous city and its inhabitants; and so that everyone knows that it is a representation in stone of the Etna of that famous Eliodoro, once famous for its prestige, the senate and the people of Catania, after having dug it from the weight of the centuries, here they place it in the year 1736. “

Legends on the elephant symbol of Catania
Legends on the elephant symbol of Catania.

The legend says that the statue was carved by Eliodoro himself and it seems that the magician rode this statue to shoot through the streets of Catania during the night.
A splendid dichotomy: a plaque in honor of Heliodorus, a magician opposed and burned by the clergy, applied to this statue that looks towards the church. The sacred and the profane face each other.

Terme Achilliane of Catania
Terme Achilliane of Catania.

Below the Piazza del Duomo, at a depth of 4-5 meters, you can access an underground Catania, where we meet the Achillian Baths, dating back to the 5th century.

This square is the meeting place par excellence of the people of Catania and where, often, concerts and events are organized.
Surely it is the square from which to visit the splendid Catania.

Don’t miss the night vision of this square and its very suggestive lighting.

Piazza Duomo in Catania by night

Piazza Duomo and the statue of the black elephant and all these splendid attractions, sea, nature, history, tradition, gastronomy, shopping, of Catania are very close to our holiday home. This is one of the reasons our guests love us.
See the 12 most beautiful attractions of Catania within walking distance of Sicily Holiday Home.


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