Monday, May 17, 2010

Catania's castles

I am sucker for castles and have had the chance to visit many during my time in Italy. To visit my favorite I don't have to go very far, since it is right here in Aci Castello. When friends and family are in town for a visit I am happy for the excuse to make the climb up for breathtaking coastal views and what always turns out to be a meandering exploration of the many different spaces within, that includes a charming cactus garden and funky civic museum.

Although a little more planning is necessary to visit Catania's Castello Ursino, a recent family outing reminded me that it, too, is worthwhile. Piazza Federico di Svevia, in which the castle is the centerpiece, is an inviting space with some benches and greenery in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Catania's historic center. I find it fascinating that when this castle was originally constructed in the 13th century it was actually positioned right on the coastline that is now located a mile or so away due to the 1669 Etna eruption.

The castle we see today is the result of an 1830s restoration. You have to walk across a small bridge that spans the moat to get inside for a visit to Catania’s Museo Civico. The admission is free, and on the ground floor you can see archaeological pieces that were mostly collected by the Prince of Biscari in the 19th century. From here you can also exit the castle for a walk around its base for a true sense of the building's monumentality. Back inside, there is a second floor to visit that displays Sicilian religious paintings, as well as a small gallery that is dedicated to rotating exhibits.

Catania is surprisingly (or as some might say, embarassingly) short on museums for a city of its cultural richness and size, but at least this museum is attempting to fill that gap. Although I do hope that the city’s archaeological museum will reopen someday, here you’ll spend a pleasant hour or so viewing a small museum in an impressive Norman castle, without spending a penny.

6 comments:

  1. One of my goals this summer is to get to know Catania, so thanks for this castle info!
    Have you been to the Donnafugata castle near Santa Croce Camerina, 20 miles from Ragusa? It's a oool mish-mash of styles (17th-century core, Venetian Gothic facade, Baroque interior). Part of the film KAOS was filmed there. One could visit the modest Greek ruins of Kamerina & museum on the same trip.

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  2. I loved Aci Castello!

    Sometimes I really do miss Catania.

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  3. Castello Ursino was the first castle we ever visited in Sicily. We just saw it from the street and wandered inside, and from that moment on it's always felt like a special part of Catania. Fun to see it featured on your blog!

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  4. A mile in from the coast...powerful. I really need a trip to Sicily!

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  5. Climb up the steps to the castle in Aci Castello and talk to Davide, the Sicilian poet. If you look like a local, he'll recite poetry to you in Sicilian and discuss metaphysics.

    That was one of the best, but weirdest nights of my life, with my landlord and his daughter and Davide reciting poetry together and then my landlord and Davide talking about the meaning of existence and metaphysics. The convo was interesting to say the least!

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