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Posts tagged ‘Catania’

The Sicily Series | Part X – Baroque Round-up

From Catania to Noto, and all the lavishly decorated theatrical towns in between, Baroque was a huge feature of our Sicilian adventure, and very much characterised the look and feel of South Eastern Sicily. Yes, of course modernity has crept in, placing its often ugly stamp around these towns of baroque splendour, but Sicily is no Manhattan, and for the most part it is the ancient architecture which continues to dominate, even though it is often tired, dilapidated and a mere shadow of its former self. This, I think, is the true essence of the Sicilian Baroque: complete over the top theatricality while bearing all the signs of age and weathering which is a side effect of the harsh climate and the poor economic conditions which still dominate in the region.

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For me, nostalgically romantic as ever, it is this battered and broken appearance which gives the Sicilian Baroque its charm, furnishing it somehow for my perception of what the Mediterrananen aesthetic should always look like. Fascinated, I took a lot of photos, as the elaborate lines and fantastical detail of the baroque flourishes became more and more over top. While, throughout the Sicily series on my blog, you will already have seen many of these, I thought I would end this Daily Norm trip to Sicily with a final round up of the many baroque splendours on show.

So let me indulge you in the beautiful Baroque of Sicily, in the abundance of putti (cherubs) and swirling clouds that offer the promise of paradise. Gaze in wonder as life-like statues of the apostles and the saints appear to come to life upon their baroque stage-set, and be dazzled by the plethora of intricately carved balcony corbels, each displaying its unique take on the ultimate Sicilian decoration, as angels and demons, animals and even house owners are rendered in stone and set at the base of palace balconies where they can be best admired from the street below.

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Sicily is characterised by its food and its people, by its climate and its architecture, but chief amongst its influences are the tectonic actives and that ever dangerous volcano, Etna, which have so often caused havoc on the island. But with disaster comes beauty, and were it not for the great earthquake of 1693, Sicily might never have been presented with this opportunity to redesign itself in the baroque style. Today we cannot help but admire this aesthetic all the more, both for its fortuitous advent, but also in the knowledge that its fragile foundations may be rocked again one day when the powers below the earth decide its time to stir again…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

 

My Sicily Sketchbook: Bellini’s Fountain, Catania

It’s been a while since I last opened the pages of my travel sketchbook. I believe the last time was in sunny Granada, almost one year ago, when I sat in Andalucian cafes, happily sketching away at views of the Alhambra and the rooftops of the Albayzín. In fact part of the problem (asides from a vast international house move from which I am still recovering) is the fact that with my last sketch, I filled the final page of my first travel sketchbook, and there was something about starting a new volume which I found daunting, especially because this one is a sexy Fabriano sketchbook, with a ravishing red cover designed to resemble the tiles of San Marco’s basilica in Venice.

But as I suppose was inevitable, it was the bright light and the perfumed air of the Mediterranean which had me taking out my sketching pens once again to create this first creation of my new travel sketchbook vol.2. This deliciously baroque fountain, with four handsome dolphins spitting water across a round stone pool, sits at the centre of the Piazza Vincenzo Bellini in the heart of Catania, Sicily. Celebrating the life of Catania’s favourite son, opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, the Piazza is also the location of the resplendent Teatro Bellini, which can be seen to the right of the fountain.

Catania Sketch

Bellini’s Fountain, Catania (©2017, Nicholas de-Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Requiring an awful lot of details and the challenge of drawing water to boot, this sketch was my first lesson in how tricky the baroque details of Sicily can prove. But it made for an enjoyable and meditative experience, and is a welcome first page of my new travel sketchbook.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part II – La Pescheria, Soul of the City

You can smell Catania’s famous daily fish market, Le Pescheria, long before you approach it… that unmistakable smell of the sea tinged by an ever so decipherable pungency of putrid flesh together with the fresh zing of lemon, the fragrant perfume of fresh herbs and the pure scent of water, the neutral base note which both reflects and is imbued with the distinctive nature of the surrounding area. In Catania, that is a smell which is characterised by the scorching heat absorbed into and evaporating off the dark lava stone walls of its ancient Etna-born palazzos. Follow the scent, past the resplendent Baroque Duomo, and you find yourself in Catania’s burgeoning and frankly raucous market, starting with the abundance of locally caught fish, and spreading outward into the streets beyond where stalls loaded with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, bread and cheeses populate every spare inch of the pavements.

The famous fish market

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I have been to many wonderful European markets. Each have their own character, and every one of them is utterly captivating for the breadth of fresh produce and characterful salesmen. But Catania’s market feels more historical and more authentic than any I have visited. Gathered together among the foundations of ancient Roman ruins and decaying Medieval walls, the stalls of the fish market are collectively transportative, with the power to recall the bustle of a Roman Forum or a scene from the Renaissance. The market takes us back to the roots of modern civilisation, stripping back our senses to a basic appreciation of nature at its best: enviably fresh fish, sensationally plump vegetables, none of them the result of quality control but a product of nature’s caprice. And beyond the produce, perhaps the best thing about Catania’s market is its people, the fishermen and stall holders who are so full of passion, who will declare strong and loud that their fish is the best, outdoing one another to see who can attract the most attention, and secure the quickest sales of their freshly acquired catch.

To be accompanied by some super-fresh fruit and veg… (and cheese)

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All of this combines to make a visit to Catania’s market an ultimately thrilling experience, full of noise, of smells, and of colour; shades of pink and red and green and blue whose vibrancy truly shines against a backdrop of black lava stone. This is street theatre at its thrilling best, as fishermen slice open slithering fish and proudly display their decapitated fish heads while elegantly dressed women totter in heels, neatly stepping over pools of water stained with blood. Catania is a city with real spirit and an abundance of outwardly expressed emotion, but it is perhaps in its market where Catania’s soul truly resonates.

…and some more fish

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Sicily Series | Part I – Catania, Black City

Over the last few weeks, the Daily Norm was all about Marrakech, and the highly spiced rose city will resonate long in the minds of Norms and the Daily Norm writer. But now this blog has headed back to European shores, albeit not far from the desert sands of Morocco. For one of the Mediterranean’s most southern points, and its largest island, is the Italian island of Sicily, known for some as the ball being carefully nudged by the point of Italy’s toe. Famous for its volcanoes, its mafia, its voluminous seafood and rolling agricultural land, for its ruins and its baroque splendour, Sicily is a veritable melting pot of historical and cultural highlights, and the perfect location for any aesthete on holiday.

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But Sicily is a large island and we would be pushed to do it all in the time available. So with only a little over a week at our disposal, we concentrated our energies on the Eastern coast, and the lands above and beneath the mighty shadow of Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active and prominent volcanoes. With its proximity to Greece as well as Italy, the Eastern side of Sicily is one heavily characterised by a history of both Greek as well as Roman civilisations, not to mention the Arabic and Spanish influences which also made their mark during their respective occupations. All of these influences were clear to see upon our first stop in Sicily, in its second biggest city and the tenth largest in Italy: Catania.

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Both the scale of this bustling city, as well as its historical and geographical influences were immediate upon arrival in Catania. Bracing ourselves behind the wheel of an all-too-new hire care, our first encounter with Catania was with its wild roads, filled with drivers, irritated by the heat and paying little attention to generally accepted driving rules. Mercifully unscathed, it was only when we parked that we were able to calmly appreciate Catania, a city whose roads seemed to stretch off into an eternity of traffic jams sparkling like slowly moving jewels, whose streets are crammed with more churches than there are shops, and whose landscape is rendered tiny by comparison with the mighty silhouette of Etna which is omnipresent in the background, wherever you look.

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For me, Catania was a city with much of the hectic disorder of Naples, but with the refinements of Rome. It is one characterised by the breadth of its architectural splendour, from frequently arising Roman and Greek remains squeezed between more modern houses, to the exquisite quality of its baroque architecture. And above all, it is one which has earned its epithet: “black city”, forged as it is from the lava stone which nearby Etna has regularly granted the city, Surprisingly hard but tellingly cratered, the lava stone from which Catania is built is a true testament to this city’s unavoidable relationship with its nearby volcano – both the source of its wealth, and the constant threat of its destruction.

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Perhaps it is this vulnerability which gives Catania the undeniable spirit which pervades it. Its residents can be excused for living by the ethos: carpe diem. After all, Etna is continuinuously erupting, and no one can ever be sure just when the next large eruption will reach this heavily inhabited Sicilian city. So seize the day we certainly did, passing 24 hectic hours in Catania in what was a relentless conveyor of churches, coffees, aperol spritz and lots of pasta. And what a great beginning to our Sicily trip it was!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.