This gem of a city on Sicily’s east coast, overlooked by Mount Etna, Europe’s highest volcano, boasts a multitude of cultures in its historic curriculum: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Norman, Aragonese, Spanish, just to mention the main ones, and Catania’s Jewish Heritage is surely high on our must-see list.
Founded by the Greeks in 729 BCE with the name of Katane, it was later conquered by the Romans: the impressive architectural remains of the Augustan period are scattered throughout the island. After the Byzantine dominion, the island was conquered by the Arabs, and then by the Normans in the IX century. During the Aragonese period, Catania became the seat of the court. The following Spanish domination led to a severe economic crisis in the city, and it turned out to be catastrophic for the Jewish community.
Jewish presence on the island is probably a consequence of the destruction of the second temple, but the earliest records of Jewish life are dating back to 4th and the 5th century. In the middle ages, the community lived in two different Jewish districts, each with its own synagogue. Jews had houses and shops both inside and outside these districts and were an important part the economic life of the town.
Under Spanish rule, Jews were forced to wear identifying marks and were soon expelled completely from the whole island. After their expulsion at the end of the 15th century, there would be no Jewish presence in Sicily for over 500 years.
The Jewish community today is small, and the only Synagogue on Sicily is in Palermo, but there are many things to see that tie this region to its ancient Jewish past. In our Jewish Catania Tour, we will follow the traces of Jewish life in the city, from the remains of the synagogue, near via Bellia, to the Funerary Epigraphs from the Jewish catacombs, kept in the Civic Museum at Castello Ursino. We’ll explore in depth all the charms of Catania’s Sicilian Baroque soul. The architectonic style, which gives the city its unique character, is the result of the reconstruction after the strong earthquake of 1693, and earned the city the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Piazza Duomo, where the reconstruction of the city began, beloved meeting point of Catania’s citizens, hosting one of the city’s symbols, the Fontana dell'Elefante (Fountain of the Elephant), and of the Duomo (Cathedral), dedicated to Sant' Agata, the Patron Saint of the city. Constructed and rebuilt over the centuries, it still retains pieces of its Norman origins.
Don’t miss the Peschiera, Catania's busy and lively fish market, which takes place behind Piazza del Duomo every workday morning, reminding us that the sea is only a stone’s throw from here. Surrounding the market are a number of good seafood restaurants.
Speaking of food, fish is certainly the main dish in Catania. Don’t miss the famous seafood salad with octopus, shrimps and “Occhi di bue” (“ox eyes”, shellfish typical of this sea). And what’s Catania’s most delicious drink? Surprise: almond milk! You can drink it in a bar, in a “chiosco”, and, during the summer, almond milk granita (iced) is the most refreshing drink you could ask for.
Explore Catania through all your senses on our Jewish Catania tour!