Catania: The “Colonists” Arrive
Jet-lagged but in good spirits, sixteen intrepid New Paltz students arrived in Sicily, and I was so relieved to see them walk through the sliding exit doors in the Catania Airport. A bit dazed and confused, probably much feeling much like their ancient Greek counterparts when founding the city of Catania in 729 B.C., they cheerfully set off to learn about their new surroundings while trying trick their bodies into getting into the right sleeping pattern for their new time zone.
After checking into the hotel and a brief orientation, we had a lunch of traditional Sicilian fare at a nearby restaurant. Unbeknownst to me, the chef decided to expand our planned menu (as it is not every day he gets to cook for New Yorkers) and gave us a belly-busting amount of food for over two hours. So much for that “light meal” I promised the students! Thankfully the shots of expresso at the end perked everyone up once more, so we were ready to explore the city of Catania itself.
Our first stop was the local civic museum, which contains the local antiquities collection. In a surprise turn of events, the entire museum had been taken over by an exhibition of local contemporary art, including what appeared to be sculptural groups featuring mummified humans. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. A personal highlight had to be the one playing the piano surrounded by cases of Greek vases. (Sorry for the lack of a picture!) It was an interesting mishmash, to say the least. Our next stop was a bit more relevant to the topic of our program, the Greco-Roman theater, which hides behind a modern-day facade of buildings, making it all the more extraordinary to see upon entering.
Our final stop was the central square of Catania to see the cathedral and the famous elephant fountain that serves as the city’s symbol. The elephant dates from Late Antiquity and is carved from lava rock from Mount Etna, which looms over Catania today. Mount Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano, and it destroyed much of the city in an eruption in 1669. When the town was rebuilt, many of the major public buildings were constructed from the grey lava stone with white limestone as trim in an elegant Baroque style, giving the town a very distinctive look among Sicilian cities. Of course, we made time for our first gelato break of the trip as well!
Tomorrow, off to Syracuse, one of the greatest cities in the ancient Greek world!