1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Catania

CATANIA (Gr. Katane, Rom. Catina[1]), a city and episcopal see of Sicily, the chief town of the province of Catania, on the east coast, 59 m. by rail S. of Messina, and 151 m. by rail S.E. of Palermo (102 m. direct). Pop. (1881) 100,417; (1905) 157,722. The principal buildings are handsome, and the main streets, meeting in the Piazzo del Duomo, are fine. The cathedral of S. Agatha, containing the relics of the saint, retains its three original Norman apses (1091), but is otherwise a large baroque edifice. The monument of Don Ferrando d’Acunea, a Spanish viceroy of Sicily, is a fine early Renaissance work (1494). In the west portion of the town is the huge Benedictine abbey of S. Nicola (now suppressed), the buildings of which occupy an area of about 21 acres and contain the museum, a library, observatory, &c. The church, dating, like the rest of the buildings, from 1693–1735, is the largest in Sicily, and the organ, built in 1760 by Donato del Piano, with 72 stops and 2916 pipes, is very fine. The university, founded in 1444, has regained some of its former importance. To the south near the harbour is the massive Castell' Ursino, erected in 1232 by Frederick II. Remains of several ancient buildings exist, belonging in the main to the Roman period. The theatre, covered by a stream of lava, and built partly of small rectangular blocks of the same material, though in the main of concrete, has been superimposed upon the Greek building, some foundations of which, in calcareous stone, of which the seats are also made, still exist. It is 106 yds. in diameter, and is estimated to have accommodated 7000 spectators. Close to it are the remains of the so-called Odeum, of similar plan to the theatre but without a stage, and to the north is the church of S. Maria Rotonda, originally a Roman domed structure, perhaps part of a bath. To the north, in the Piazza Stesicoro, is the amphitheatre, a considerable portion of which has been uncovered, including the two corridors which ran round the whole building and gave access to the seats, while a part of the arcades of the exterior has been excavated and left open; the pillars are made of blocks of lava, and the arches of brick. The external diameters of the amphitheatre are 410 and 348 ft., while the corresponding diameters of the arena are 233 and 167 ft. It is thus the third largest Roman amphitheatre known, being surpassed only by that at Verona and the Colosseum. Remains of many other Roman buildings also exist beneath the modern town, among the best preserved of which may be noted the public baths (Thermae Achilleae) under the cathedral, and those under the church of S. Maria dell’ Indirizzo. The number of baths is remarkable, and gives some idea of the luxury of the place in Roman times. Their excellent preservation is accounted for by their burial under the lava. The majority were excavated by Prince Ignazio Biscari (1719–1786), who formed an important private collection of antiquities. Of the ancient city walls no authenticated remains exist.

Catania has a considerable export trade in sulphur, pumice stone, asphalt, oranges and lemons, almonds, filberts, cereals, wine (the total production of wine in the province amounted to 28,600,000 gallons in 1905) and oil. The total value of exports in 1905 was £1,647,075, and of imports £1,326,055, the latter including notably coal, almost entirely from the United Kingdom, and wheat, from Russian ports. The harbour is a good one, and has been considerably enlarged since 1872; £128,000 was voted in 1905 towards the completion of the harbour works by the Italian government. Sulphide of carbon is produced here; and there are large dyeworks, and a factory for making bed-stuffing from seaweed.

The ancient Catina was founded in 729 B.C. by colonists from Naxos, perhaps on the site of an earlier Sicel settlement—the name is entirely un-Greek, and may be derived from κάτινον, which in the Sicel language, as catinum in Latin, meant a basin, and would thus be descriptive of the situation of the town. Charondas, a citizen of Catina, is famous as its lawgiver, but his date and his birthplace are alike uncertain; the fragments preserved of his laws show that they belong to a somewhat primitive period. The poet Stesichorus of Himera died here. Very little is heard of Catina in history until 476 B.C., when Hiero I. removed its inhabitants to Leontini, repeopled it with 5000 Syracusans and 5000 Peloponnesians, and changed its name to Aetna. In 461 B.C., however, with the help of Ducetius and the Syracusans, the former inhabitants recovered possession of their city and revived the old name. Catina was, however, an ally of Athens during the Syracusan expedition (415–413 B.C.), and served as the Athenian base of operations in the early part of the war. In 403 B.C. it was taken by Dionysius of Syracuse, who plundered the city, sold the inhabitants into slavery and replaced them with Campanian mercenaries. In the First Punic War it was one of the first cities of Sicily to be taken by the Romans (263 B.C.). Marcellus constructed a gymnasium here out of the booty of Syracuse. In 123 B.C. there was an eruption of Etna so violent that the tithe on the territory of Catina payable to Rome was remitted for ten years. It appears to have been a flourishing city in the 1st century B.C., but to have suffered from the ravages of Sextus Pompeius. It became a Roman colonia under Augustus, and it is from this period that the fertile plain, hitherto called the plain of Leontini, begins to be called the plain of Catina. It seems to have been at this time the most important city in the island, to judge from the language of Strabo and the number of inscriptions found there. In A.D. 251 a lava stream threatened the town and entered the amphitheatre, which in the time of Theodoric had fallen into ruins, as is clear from the fact that he permitted the use of its fallen stones to build the city wall. It was recovered by Belisarius in 535, sacked by the Saracens in 902 and taken by the Normans. The latter founded the cathedral; but the town was almost entirely destroyed by earthquake in 1170, and devastated by Henry VI. in 1197. It became the usual residence of the Aragonese viceroys of the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1669 an eruption of Etna partly filled up the harbour, but spared the town, which was, however, almost entirely destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. Since that catastrophe it has been rebuilt, and has not further suffered from its proximity to Etna.

See A. Holm, Das alte Catania (Lübeck, 1873).  (T. As.) 

  1. This is the form vouched for by the inscriptions.