Best things to see in wonderful Acireale

Acireale is an Italian town of 51.886 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Catania in Sicily,  formed by small migrations from the territory to the south, today the urban layout is typical of the late medieval cities of Sicily.

It rises in the middle of the Sicilian Ionian coast, and is known, in particular, for its carnival, for the Baroque, for its naturalistic beauties (including the Timpa), for its lava coast, for its tradition in football and fencing as well as, until a few years ago, for its spas.

Close to Etna, it includes in its territory a series of seaside villages with a marina, including Santa Maria la Scala and Capo Mulini.

The name of the city derives from Greek mythology, where there was room for a character called Aci. This was a shepherd with whom the nymph Galatea fell in love, with which in turn the cyclops Polyphemus who crushed his rival under a boulder was in love. From the blood of the shepherd a river was born called Akis by the Greeks, mainly underground. The name of the city has therefore undergone a slow evolution: it became Jachium under the Byzantines, Al Yag with the Arabs and then Aci d’Aquila (or Aquilia) with the Spaniards.

In the fourteenth century the city settled in the present territory (before it stood near the castle of Aci, today Aci Castello) with the name of Aquilia Vetere first, and of Aquilia Nuova afterwards.

Famous for organizing one of the most famous Carnival in Sicily, Acireale preserves important signs of its noble past which certainly deserve to be known.

Let’s discover its gems through our virtual tour!


The Cathedral

The Cathedral of Maria Santissima Annunziata is the main city place of worship located in the articulated Piazza del Duomo, on which also the minor papal basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, in the historic center of Acireale. The original layout of the church dates back to the 15th century and has undergone numerous changes over the years until 1872, the year in which it was awarded the title of “Cathedral”, since Acireale became an independent diocese. The additions to the original structure that have been made over the centuries are perceptible to the eye. The result is an architectural layout with multiple styles.

In the fifteenth century the Cathedral was composed of a single chapel, but later on thanks to the rich financial donations of the guilds and noble families residing in the city, the Cathedral was enlarged. The sundial and the facade date back to the seventeenth century, while the marble portal that was made by Placido Blandamonte dates back to 1668. The two octagonal bell towers, however, are in Gothic style but were built at different times. The south bell tower dates back to 1544, the second (while maintaining the same construction style) instead dates back to the end of the nineteenth century by Stefano Ittar and Giovan Battista Filippo Basile.

The internal structure, with a Latin cross, is in Baroque style and was built in the period from the end of the seventeenth century to the first half of the eighteenth century. Many  works are kept inside, like the Chapel of Santa Venera, inside which are kept the relics of the Saint, the statue that depicts it carved by Mario D’Angelo in 1651 and the silver fercolo dating back to 1658-1670.

The frescoes in the chapel were painted by Antonio Filocamo, while the others in the transept and dome are by Pietro Paolo Vasta, between 1738-1739. The vault, on the other hand, was frescoed by Giuseppe Sciuti in the late 19th century. The sundial adorned with the signs of the zodiac kept in the transept and made by C.F. Peters in 1844 and decorated by G. F. Boccaccini shortly after.


The Natural Reserve “La Timpa”

The natural reserve “La Timpa di Acireale” is a protected natural area located in the municipality of Acireale. It was established definitively, after long and troubled vicissitudes, only in April 1999, by the Department of the Territory and Environment of the Sicily Region, thanks also to a vast movement of opinion and sensitivity of the inhabitants of the territory.

The reserve was established to allow the conservation, protection and enhancement of an area with a huge natural, geological and landscape heritage. The initial reasons, however, are reductive compared to the real values ​​because despite the high degree of anthropization, the site also represents the wooded strip at the lowest altitude of the eastern Etneo side belonging to the ancient Bosco di Aci, a forest that in the early 1800s covered a wide range of the aforementioned slope.

These areas have allowed the conservation of a rich forestry fauna and a large invertebrate fauna of the Etna foothills and represent an important refuge for many vertebrate species.

The protected area, 265 hectares, entrusted in management to the Regional Department of State Forests, falls entirely within the territory of the municipality of Acireale in the province of Catania, exactly between the hamlets of Maria SS delle Grazie and Santa Maria Ammalati, and has been divided in two distinct areas with different intended use:

Zone A, includes the narrow coastal strip between the Gazzena area and the town of Santa Maria la Scala, part of the Timpa Falconiera and Timpa Belfrontizio.

The pre-reserve, controlled development zone B includes the sub-flat area of ​​the Gazzena and the land below the Timpe Falconiera and Belfrontizio.

The Timpa area represents one of the most important testimonies of the Etnean coastal landscape.

The terraces made of lava stone along the steepest slopes, the small walkways, the internal streets, the irrigation channels (saie), the dry stone walls, make up the memory of this territory.

Due to its particularity, the promontory was used over the centuries as a military stronghold, especially for purposes of defense against pirate raids.


Piazza del Duomo

A true architectural gem, Piazza Duomo in Acireale, in addition to being the beating heart of the city, today represents the culmination of a story that has its origins in the distant past.

Piazza del Duomo is the largest and most important of the squares of Acireale, in the Catania area, as well as being a real open-air museum, thanks to the monuments that overlook it, and the decoration of the pavement, renewed in 2009 according to Aldo’s project Scaccianoce, Vito Messina and Paolo Portoghesi, architect known for the Rome Mosque project.

This trio owes this concentric ring construction of the new flooring, desired according to a geometric design that recalls the shapes of a Gothic rose window, similar to that of the facade of the Cathedral.

Enlarged in the 17th century, it is an environment of rare beauty. The Duomo, dedicated to the Annunziata and S. Vénera, was raised between 1597 and 1618 and remodeled at the beginning of the 18th century; the two bell towers, with a conical spire covered with polychrome ceramics, frame a facade in a pseudogothic style, built in the early twentieth century by Giovarmi Battista Filippo Basile.

Of great value are the rose window and the large Baroque portal with seventeenth-century statues of the Annunciation and the Saints Vénera and Tecla. Inside, works by Pietro Paolo Vasta and, at the intersection of the naves with the arms of the transept, a sundial from 1843.

The basilica of Ss. Pietro e Paolo (1642), with an eighteenth-century elevation and façade, complete the scenography of the square. two orders and with only the right bell tower with cusps and pinnacles, and the Town Hall, built in 1659 in the typical flowery Baroque of Catania, with balconies supported by shelves carved in bizarre figures and crowned by exuberant wrought iron railings.


The Collegiate Basilica of San Sebastiano

The basilica is the most important monument in Acireale, declared a national monument. In December 1990 Pope John Paul II elevated it to the dignity of a minor basilica.

The first building site was opened in 1609 and the church completed in 1644 with subsidies from the town hall and offers from the faithful. The temple was largely renovated after the 1693 earthquake, between 1699 and 1705, taking on its current appearance. The church was elevated to collegiate with papal bull of November 20, 1924.

The facade, designed according to Angelo Bellofiore, inlays by Diego and Giovanni Flavetta, has several orders and has a frieze with fourteen putti that hold festoons. The church is preceded by a balustrade built in 1754 by Giovan Battista Marini on a project by Pietro Paolo Vasta, enriched with statues depicting characters from the old testament: Giuditta, Giaele, David, Giosuè, Mosè, Aronne, Giuda Maccabeo, Gedeone, Sansone.

The interior, with a Latin cross, is rich in frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta, made between 1732 and 1736, in the transept and in the choir with some scenes from the life of the saint, in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with scenes from the life of Christ, and in the dome drum. Before the earthquake of 1693, sources report the existence in the church of pictorial works by Baldassarre Grasso, master of Vasta. The left side chapel is frescoed by Alessandro D’Anna.


Opera dei Pupi Theater

The Opera dei Pupi theater, founded in 1887 by Don Mariano Pennisi, a pupil from Acese, in via Tono, was then transferred in 1928 to its current location in via Alessi.

In the representation of the Opera dei Pupi, Don Mariano followed a very personal taste, introducing techniques and dimensions of the puppets different from those of the Palermo and Catania schools.

In 1934 the baton passed to his adopted son Emanuele Macrì, who brought the work of the puppets around the world enjoying flattering success.

In 1983 the Superintendence for Cultural and Environmental Heritage of Catania declared that “the Theater in via Alessi is a testimony of significant cultural interest as the only example of the Stable Theater whose activity remains linked to the Sicilian tradition of the Opera dei Pupi”.

The Sicilian Region has acquired and restored the theater, returning this building of great cultural importance to the city of Acireale, which is about to host again the deeds of the paladins.

The premises of Via Alessi host in all its splendor the permanent Exhibition of the Collection of the Pennini-Macrì Theater of Acireale, the Pupi and the ancient equipment of Sicilian theaters.

This collection includes in detail puppets, puppet heads, benches, posters and original theatrical equipment.


Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio

The construction of the church, dedicated to Santa Maria del Suffragio, began on May 1, 1634 and ended in December 1638. Founded at the behest of Giuseppe Costarella, the structure was built in just four years by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood formed by fishermen, artisans and small traders whose activities were closely linked to the small port of Santa Maria La Scala.

The church is located in one of the most characteristic neighbourhoods of the city, on the ancient road of the marina which, through the seventeenth-century pedestrian path of the Chiazzette, reached the small seaside village. The sacred building was, therefore, the first construction that the traveller encountered when he entered Acireale, but also the last when he left the city so that those who left could rely on God and ask for his blessing; those who returned, however, could thank him for his protection.

The facade of the church is oriented towards the east, that is, towards the sea, a place where many inhabitants of the neighbourhood carried out their fishing activities, and to which they could turn their gaze to invoke the protection of God. For more than a century the church has been remained completely bare, until Pietro Paolo Vasta painted the frescoes that embellish its interior.

This operation conferred a certain prestige on the church because Vasta was now a highly appreciated artist who had frescoed the main churches of Acesi. It was the seat of one of the first brotherhoods of the city, the Sunday Archconfraternity born in 1638 as a continuation of the Monday Brotherhood which had its headquarters in the primitive church of Suffragio from which the name of Santa Maria del Suffragio derives. On November 1, 1693, it became a sacramental church and a branch of the Matrix.

The earthquake of 1693 which seriously damaged almost all the churches of Acireale, did not spare the Mother Church but did not cause serious damage to our church which, with its own baptistery, became a branch of the Mother Church.

In it the baptisms of the inhabitants of the city were celebrated until the restructuring of the Matrix was completed and subsequently those of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and the seaside villages. In 1905 the church was declared a national monument.

On 11 June 1908 it was solemnly consecrated by Monsignor Giambattista Arista, second bishop of the Diocese of Acireale while it became a parish in 1922.


Zelantea Library and Art Gallery

The Zelantea Library and Art Gallery is a municipal library and picture gallery in Acireale. It is located in via Marchese di Sangiuliano in a neoclassical palace designed at the beginning of the twentieth century by the Acese architect Mariano Panebianco on behalf of the municipal administration.

The municipal library and art gallery take their name from the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of the Zelanti and the Daphniques, an ancient association still in operation today. The Accademia was born from the merger of the Accademia degli Zelanti founded in 1671 with the association of the study fathers (1834) and subsequently with the Accademia Dafnica (1934). For an agreement stipulated between the Municipality of Acireale and the Academy, dating back to 1960, the Zelantea Library is subject to the control of a Supervisory Commission made up of three representatives from the Academy and two from the Municipality.

The passage of the fleet of Don Martino De Redin, grand master of the Gerosolimitan order, off the city (Giacinto Platania, 1657).

In the part intended for the museum there is an eighteenth-century carriage of the Acese Senate, the Bust of Caesar (Roman archaeological find of the republican era, of high sculptural level, which is attributed to the features of Julius Caesar and found in 1675 in the seaside village of Capomulini), a collection of weapons and a Risorgimento tricolor flag, a collection of Greco-Roman finds from the area of ​​the Santa Venera al Pozzo excavations, some collections of minerals, coins and fossils.

The Zelantea library houses over one hundred and six thousand volumes, plus 1650 headings of discontinued and ongoing magazines, for a total of over 143,000 magazine issues. The bibliographic patrimony today exceeds 250,000 units. The Zelantea Library preserves an ancient collection of over 56,000 volumes, made up of incunabula, cinquencentine, rare and valuable editions, manuscripts.

There are many works to mention: the Encycoledie methodique, Paris, 1782; the Greek and Latin Patrology of Migne; the precious works of botany and medicine, natural sciences by Mattioli, Linnaeus, Brugnatelli etc. To remember the precious Acis Hortus Regius, pictus herbarium, created in 1811 by the painter Emanuele Grasso on commission of the pharmacist Giuseppe Riggio, consisting of 749 watercolor plates depicting the plants cultivated in the Riggio botanical garden.

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