The history of Catania
According to Tucidide, Katane was founded in the years 729 b.C., following Leontinoi, by the same calcidesi of Naxos. The site of the new city presented optimum conditions for a settlement: a position protected within the sea-port and a fertile land bathed by the river Amenano even though it is worth recalling that the Grat Plain of Catania, an immense extension of cultivable land, did not at the time form part of the great wealth of the Grecian colonic, being still in possession of the city of Leontinoi.
The principal nucleus of the Grecian Katane was concentrate in the zone presently occupied by the Benedictine Monastery. Nothing whosoever remains of the monuments or built-up areas of the Grecian period, the continuous superimposition of lava streams and the erections of imposing Roman and Byzantine buildings, having literally eliminated any trace of the first Calcidiesi colonies. The Roman period is by far most represented, even from an archaeological and monumental point of view. Over recent years, areas with geometrically patterned walls, mosaics, and fragment of objects used in everyday life, have been discovered on the grounds of the Benedictine Monastery.
A few years back, in Crociferi Street, a Roman road with transverse canalisations which served for the distribution of water originating from the aqueduct of Piazza Dante, came to light. Moreover, below the level of the beautiful Baroque road, well-preserved Roman edifices, with mosaic floors, columns and other decorations can be found. With the arrival of the Normans, the city’s urban characteristics became more evident, the Duomo becoming the heart of the main square, strategically situated near the port, in order to facilitate commercial activity. The construction of the Ursino Castle was dictated by military needs, because the proximity to the sea consented simultaneous control over the port, the plains and the city it self.
Alfonse the Magnanimous instituted the Sicolorum Gymnasium in 1434, which represented the first Sicilian University. The seventeenth century did not bring about any of the great improvements in the urbanization of the city of Catania, such as were seen in Messina and Palermo. The city remained closed within the tight girdle of mediaeval walls, with houses suffocated within narrow spaces and very disorganized costructions. Following the terrible earthquake which took place in January 1693, the historic city centre was completely redesigned and took on the appearance which for the most part, we can still admire today.