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Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, located near the North-East corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just in front to Villa San Giovanni and north to Reggio Calabria


Founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BCE, Messina was originally called Zancle (scythe) because of the shape of its natural harbour. (The stairs leading to the harbour are to this day called 'Scaletta Zanclea'.) In the early 5th century, Anaxilas of Rhegium renamed it Messene in honor of the Greek city Messene. See also List of traditional Greek place names.
The city was sacked in 396 BCE by the Carthaginians, then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse.
In 288 BC the Mamertines seized the city by treachery, killing all the men and taking the women as their wives. The city became a base from which they ravaged the countryside, leading to a conflict with the expanding regional empire of Syracuse. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines near Mylae on the Longanus River and besieged Messina. Carthage assisted the Mamertines because of a long-standing conflict with Syracuse over dominance in Sicily. When Hiero attacked a second time in 264 BC, the Mamertines petitioned Rome for an alliance, hoping for more reliable protection. Although initially reluctant to assist lest it encourage other mercenary groups to mutiny, Rome was unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and encroach on Italy. Rome therefore entered into an alliance with the Mamertines. In 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian peninsula.
At the end of the first Punic War it was a free city allied with Rome. In Roman times Messina, then known as Messana, had an important pharos (lighthouse). Messana was the base of Sextus Pompeius, during his war against Octavian.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively conquered by the Goths, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I stopped at Messina in his path towards the Holy Land, and occupied briefly the city after a dispute of the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William II of Sicily.
Messina was most likely the harbor at which the Black Death entered Europe in the Middle Ages (1347): the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Jaffa in Palestine. In 1548 St. Ignatius founded here the first Jesuite College of the world, which later gave birth to the Studium Generale (the current University of Messina).
The Christan ships that won the Battle of Lepanto (1571) left from Messina: the Spanish author Cervantes, who took part to the battle, was recovered for some time in the Grand Hospital. The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under the Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XII, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the University, the Senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants, and thenceforth Messina decayed steadily.
In 1847 it was one of the first cities in Italy where Unitarian riots broke out. In 1848 it rebelled openly against the reigning Bourbons, but was heavily suppressed again. Only in 1860 , after the Battle of Milazzo, the Garibaldine troops freed the city. One of the main figure of the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Mazzini, was elected deputy at Messina in the general elections of 1866.
The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern ad rationale plan. Further damage was added by the massive American air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousand of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for the Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.

Main monuments

Cathedral Messina Sicily tourism

The church was originally built in Norman times, but only in 1197, in a ceremony presided over by Henry VI of Swabia ( the father of Frederick II, who lived and was buried in Messina), was it dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Nothing of the Norman construction remains today except the general layout and the overall exterior appearance which, after the 1908 earthquake, the architect Valenti reconstructed on the basis of ancient documents.
Since at least the 14th century the Cathedral has undergone various structural changes. Guidotto de Tabiatis, the bishop whose tomb, sculpted by Goro di Gregorio in 1333, can be admired in the transept- ordered the construction of an additional section, along the south front of the cathedral, decorated with blach and white stone bands and beautiful mullioned windows.
The 14th century also saw the addition of the baptisimal font by Florentine Gaddo Gaddi and the mosaics in the vaults of the apses. These depict, from south to north: St Giovanni between St Nicola and St Basilio; Christ Pantocrator; and the Virgin and Child between, Archangels, St Lucia and St Agata. The three portals of the Cathedral facade, with their elaborate decorations in polycrome bands and sculpted features, date from the same period. The central portal is by Baboccio da Piperno and shows figures of kings and saints, cherubs intently observing a mystic harvest, heraldic devices and symbols of the Evangelists. The triangular gable with God the Father at the top and a tondo depicting Christ crowning the Virgin were added in 1468 by Pietro di Bonate. The statue of Madonna and Child, in the lunette of the portal, is from 1534, and is the work of Giovambattista Mazzeo.
The 16th century saw radical intervention also inside the buiding: Montorsoli designed a marble inlay floor and the arrangement, along the walls of the side naves, representing the Apostolate.
The sculptor from Carrara, Andrea Calamech, sculpted the marble pulpit, and Jacopo Lo Duca built the chapel of the Sacrament in the north apse. The canopy in wood and copper and the high altar in mixed marble act as a kind of theatrical device to focus attention on the painting of the Madonna della Lettera (patron saint of Messina), and date bach to the 17th century. The altar, designed by Simone Gulli - who was also responsible for a unique series of buildings along the port known as the "Maritime Theatre", was begun in 1628 and finished at the end of the 18th century. A large number of artists collaborated on its construction, including the great goldsmiths of the Juvarra family, who also made the other altar, in silver and gold, built into the modern one at the centre of the transept, depicting the Virgin handing over her letter to the ambassadors of Messina.
In 1930, the Cathedral became home to what is the largest organ in Italy and the third largest in Europe: 5 keyboards, 170 stops, 16000 pipes arranged in both sides of the transept, behind the altar, above the main portal and above the triumphal arch.

Ss. Annunziata dei Catalani
Ss. Annunziata dei Catalani Messina Sicily tourism

The church of the "Annunziata dei Catalani" stands on one of the most historically important sites of the Straits. Nearby, there was once the Byzantine shipyard, guarded by the fortress of Castellamare. The church was built between 1150 and 1200 on the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to Neptune. It is an interesting example of how various architectural styles were added to a late Byzantine construction typical of those built by the Basilian Order of monks. The blind loggias and the play of colour created by the exterior stonework, along with the two-tone arches of the interior and the elongated layout of the church, are all indications of Islamic and Byzantine influence, and also reflect contemporary architecture on mainland Italy.
The original lenght of the naves was almost double their present length: they were shortened and the facade was redone following a flood in the Middle Ages, wich caused the front section of the church to collapse. The church has been known by the name "Catalani" ever since the 16th century, when the senate of Messina gave it to the powerful guild of the Catalan merchants. The guild made it their headquarters and placed the coats of arms of Catalonia on the main entrance. The great difference in height between the ground level of the church and that of the surrounding streets and buildings is due to the piles of rubble caused by the eartquake of 1908, which were later levelled for reconstruction.



Regional museum

The Messina Regional Museum preservers precious testimonies of the city's artistic production from over the centuries. Its collections include works both from the collections of the destroyed Museo Civico Peloritano, and from the religious and civic buildings destroyed by the catastrophic earthquake in 1908.
The exhibits are arranged according in chronological order from the 12th to the 18th centuries, over 12 rooms on the ground floor and 3 display areas on the 1st floor, and include important architectural fragments, mosaics, sculpture and examples of decorative arts.
The itinerary starts with material from the Norman period, a moment of great glory for the city, whose port represented a stopover point of great strategic importance on Mediterranean shipping routes. The exhibts here, like most of the works in the first rooms, show signs of the vast range of influences absorbed from a wide variety of contemporary national and international artistic currents. This shows the interest displayed in foreign work by those commissioning the pieces, many of which were indeed brought to Messina - along with artists themselves - from far afield: Venice, the Adriatic, Tuscany, Burgundy, Provence, Flanders, Spain and Portugal. This cultural background contributed to the formation of the great Antonello, who absorbed these experiences, reordered them and brought them together in a vision that was entirely Renaissance.
The modest figurative culture of Antonello's followers was supplanted, in the early 1500s, by the great Renaissance renewal, represented by G.Alibrandi and the Gagini family. These is turn were succeeded by the mannerist Polidoro and Montorsoli, who influenced local art for the whole of the century, up to the Counter-Reformation. This style of art was definitively swept away by the great event of the arrival of Caravaggio, destined to influence a great part of subsequent art.
At the same time as the closest followers of Caravaggio, such as Rodriguez and Minniti, there was also a naturalist or classicist current represented by Maroli, Quagliata and Scilla. Interrupted only by the period of Spanish repression, this led up to Tuccari's 18th century Arcadianism, the moderately classical-style works of Tancredi and the advance of that lavish rococo which can be seen in the sumptous berlin of the Senate, a testimony of the city's glorious past.
On the first floor there are numerous other artefacts in gold and silver, fabric, ivory, and majolica, which bear withnes to the lively creativity of the silversmiths and of local craftsmanship in the 17th and 18th centuries.
V.le della Libertà, 465
Phone: 090.361292-3