Catania is a true city of the volcano. Much of it is constructed from the lava that poured down the mountain and engulfed the city in the 1669 eruption in which nearly 12,000 people lost their lives. It is also lava black in colour, as if a fine dusting of soot permanently covers its elegant buildings, most of which are the work of baroque master Giovanni Vaccarini. He almost single-handedly rebuilt the civic centre into an elegant modern city of spacious boulevards and set-piece piazzas.
Catania’s shades and shadows run deep, right into the heart of a murky local government, which shamefully neglects large portions of the decaying historic centre. It’s therefore surprising to discover that Catania is Sicily’s second commercial city – a thriving, entrepreneurial centre with a large university and a tough, resilient local population who adhere strongly to the motto of carpe diem (seize the day).