Sicily: From Catania to Palermo up to Italy’s Mainland

Sicily is the largest Mediterranean island with a population of 5 million people. It is an autonomous region, called Siciliana in Italian.

First stop in Sicily

The first stop on this journey is Catania, an ancient port city located on the east coast of Sicily with a population of 313,000 people. The city is located next to Mount Etna, an active volcano whose presence is constantly felt, occasionally erupting, and necessitating the relocation of nearby residents. For adventurous travelers, a day trip to Mount Etna is an option.

Sicily’s second biggest city 

Aside from that, just take a walk through the city center, which has so many charming old buildings. The Cathedral of Catania, known as Basilica Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, originally built between 1078 and 1093, has been rebuilt multiple times due to earthquakes and eruptions from Mount Etna.

Amphitheater of Catania

Another highlight in Sicily’s second-largest city is the Roman Amphitheater, constructed during the Roman Imperial period in the 2nd century AD. For a small entry fee, you can explore these ruins, bringing you back in time to long-forgotten eras.

Markets and other attractions

Catania is known for its markets, particularly its vibrant fish market. Each morning, sellers display fresh seafood under colorful umbrellas, creating a charming and unforgettable experience.

Additionally, Catania has numerous churches, museums, and parks. 

Way to the second stop in Sicily

From Catania, our journey continues to the capital city of Sicily, Palermo. There is no direct train connecting the two cities, so taking a direct bus from Catania’s main train station to Palermo, which takes approximately 2.5 hours, is advisable.

The capital of Sicily – Palermo

Palermo itself has a population of around 670,000 people and is located northwest of Sicily. The city has a long and rich history spanning more than 2,700 years.

Palermo’s city center is a delight! The Palermo Cathedral was built in 1185 but underwent modifications until the 18th century. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking through the city will take you to Quattro Canti – a baroque square. It is considered the heart of the historic city center. Another recognizable church is the Church of St. Mary of the Admiral and next to it the Church of San Cataldo. They feature Norman-Arabic architecture, which is unique to Sicily. Other than that, there are many more churches in Palermo, each with more beautiful interior architecture than the last.

Another must-visit is the Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel. This palace has a unique mix of architectural styles – Byzantine, Norman, and Fatimid.

Catacombs of Palermo

A bit outside the city center (best accessed by bus) are the Catacombs of Palermo, known as the “Catacombe dei Cappuccini.” These catacombs house the remains of more than 8,000 corpses and 1,252 mummies, categorized into groups such as men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks, and professionals.

A notable figure in the Catacombs is Rosalia Lombardo, a little Sicilian girl who died in 1920 at nearly two years old from the Spanish flu. Her father, devastated by her death, sought the help of his friend, the chemist Alfredo Salafia, to preserve her body. He preserved the little girl’s body in a way that even nowadays she looks like she is only sleeping. For almost one century it was not clear what Salafia did to make her look that way. Salafia’s preservation method, discovered in papers found in 2011, included formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry the body, glycerin to prevent over-drying, salicylic acid to combat fungi, and zinc salts to maintain rigidity. Rosalia Lombardo’s preserved body was one of the last to be buried in the catacombs. Interestingly, her father stopped visiting shortly after her funeral, and it is not known why he suddenly disappeared.

By the way, taking pictures in the catacombs is not allowed out of respect for the deceased. Please follow this rule!
Ferry Train from Sicily to the Mainland of Italy

A highlight is the ferry train from Sicily to the Mainland of Italy. It is the only train on a ferry route in Europe. The total journey of this train route goes from Rome to Palermo and vice versa, with several stops in other cities along the way. The trip from Palermo to Rome takes around 10 hours during the day and approximately 12 hours at night. There are two daytime connections and one overnight train.

In Messina, the train is brought onto the ferry. The ferry ride lasts only 20 minutes, during which you can leave your train seat and go up to the top deck to enjoy the crossing from Sicily to the mainland of Italy. The ferry arrives at Villa San Giovanni, a city on Italy’s mainland, and continues its journey via Salerno and Napoli up to Rome.

Stopping in Salerno will give you the opportunity to explore the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Click here to read more about it.

As you can see,

Sicily has a lot to offer with its beautiful two major cities and the highlight of the only train ferry in Europe. And of course, there is so much more waiting to be discovered on this beautiful island.

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