the past, Messina was a major stop in the Mediterranean trade routes
and had been representing a crossroad of cultural and artistical
exchanges, able to provide a dynamic and stimulating environment
to important artists, among which the most important certainly is
Antonello da Messina. In more recent times, several natural catastrophes
hit the city, notably two earthquakes in 1783 and 1908, the latter
razing 9/10 of it to the ground, provoking as many as 60,000 dead.
During the Second World War it was subjected to intensive bombing
display is arranged chronologically beginning with the Byzantine
and Norman Ages. The first rooms are devoted to paintings, shallow
reliefs and capitals. Among these is a fine polychrome wooden Crucifix
dating back to the early 1400’s (third room on the right)
and a glazed terracotta medallion from the Della Robbia workshop
depicting the Virgin gently gazing down at her Child. The works
in the next room betrays the Flemish influence. A strong sense of
realism and an astute attention to detail characterizes the edge
of a mantle and cuffs of the garments in the Madonna and Child attributed
to a follower of Petrus Christus (15th century). The same exquisite
technique is evident in Antonello da Messina’s beautiful,
though badly damaged, Polyptych of St. Gregory (1473). His style
assimilates several northern features, namely the International
Gothic predilection for linearity (stance of the figures, the crisp
folds of falling drapery). In the same room is a fine Deposition
by Colijn de Coter: in this, the drama of the scene is heightened
by the anguished expressions of the mourners bent in supporting
the weight of the dead Christ, and in the predominant use of burnt,
next room is devoted to Messina artist Girolamo Aliprandi. Among
his paintings is the huge Presentation at the Temple, dated 1519.
Here is also displayed a fine statue of the Madonna and Child by
Gagini. The Roman painter Polidoro da Caravaggio and the Florentine
sculptor and architect Montorsoli introduced Mannerism to Messina.
To them and his followers were devoted rooms 6 and 7. Michelangelo
Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, spent a year in Messina, between
1608 and 1609. During this time he painted the Adoration of the
Shepherds and the Resurrection of Lazarus (room 10). That was long
enough to influence the many artists living in the city.
Splendid Senator’s Coach (room 12), dated 1742, incorporates
a number of exquisitely made furnishings, including small gilded
wooden carvings and painted panels. The top floor of the museum
is devoted to displaying decorative and applied arts.
of San Giovanni Malta – On Via S. Giovanni Malta. It is a
square building of the late-1500’s. Its west front (Via Placida)
is graced with white stone pilasters, niches and windows (some of
which are blind) and a gallery in the upper tier.
di San Francesco d’Assisi o dell’Immacolata –
On Viale Boccetta. It is an imposing building that was largely rebuilt
following the 1908’s earthquake. It only retained three 1200’s
austere stone apses, relieved by narrow arches containing windows;
the two ogival portals that are later in date than the original
building; a fine rose-window on the façade.
di Pietà – Via XXIV Maggio and Piazza Crisafulli. This
is a late-Mannerist building with a façade ornamented with
a massive rusticated doorway framed between rather solid columns
and a broken pediment, above, the balcony rests on brackets carved
with volutes. Unfortunately, the upper floor, destroyed by the earthquake,
was not rebuilt, making the building look unfinished. Today it is
used as a concert and recital hall.
the left side of the building is a gate that gives access to what
once was the consecrated ground of the church, preceded by a majestic
symmetrical flight of steps. The façade is the only remain
of the church.
– Almost entirely rebuilt after its original Norman style
following the quake of 1908, the Duomo has a façade graced
with one-light windows and a small central rose-window. The central
doorway, one of three, rebuilt using the original elements (15th
century), is flanked by two small columns supported by lions, surmouted
by a lunette bearing a Madonna with Child from the 16th century.
the right flank, a small building is lit with elegant two-light
windows in the Gothic-Catalan style. Inside, a fine beamed and painted
ceiling was replaced, the original one having been destroyed by
the bombings of the Second World War. The ornamental carved rosettes
along the central betray the influence of eastern design.
– Access from inside the Duomo. It displays a fine collection
of religious objects and vestments. The most ancient exhibit (from
the High Middle Ages) is the Pigna, a lamp made of rock crystal.
Much of the silver plate was made in Messina, including the arm-shaped
reliquaries (the one of San Marziano is inscribed with Moorish and
Byzantine patterns), candlesticks, chalices and a fine 1600’s
monstrance (containing a host) with two angels and a pelican on
top presiding over the rays.
astronomico – The astronomical clock is the most interesting
component of the 60m high bell-tower to the left of the cathedral.
The mechanism dating from 1933 was built in Strasbourg. It comprises
several layers, each bearing a different display endowed with a
separate movement. At the bottom, a two-horse chariot driven by
a deity indicates the day of the week; above, the central figure
of Death waves his scythe threateningly at the child, youth, soldier
or old man – the four ages of man – that pass before
him. At the third stage, the Sanctuary of Montalto (turn left to
compare it with the real one) sets the scene for a group of figures
which, according to the time of year, represent the Nativity, Epiphany,
Resurrection and Pentecost. At the top, the tableau enacts a scene
relating to a local legend whereby the Madonna delivers a letter
to the ambassodors of Messina in which she thanks and agrees to
protect the inhabitants of the town who were converted to Christianity
by St. Paul the Apostle: the same Madonna della Lettera (Madonna
of the Letter) is the patron saint of Messina.
tow young female bell-strikers are the local heroines Dina and Clarenza,
who were alive during the period of resistance against the Angevins
(1282). The very top is capped with a lion. The southern side of
the bell-tower (starting from the bottom) shows a perpetual calendar,
the astronomical cycle marked by the signs of the zodiac, and the
various phases of the moon. When the clock strikes midday, all the
mechanical figures come to life in tune to a musical air: the lion,
the symbol of the vitality of the town, roars three times while
the cockerel crows from between the two girls.
di Orione – This fine and elegant fountain rising at the centre
of Piazza del Duomo was designed by Tuscan architect Montorsoli
to commemorate the inauguration of the aqueduct. Sculpted in a pre-Baroque
style (16th century), it incorporates allegories of four rivers
Tiber, Nile, Ebro and Camaro – the Messina river whose waters
had been diverted into the new aqueduct.
Annunziata dei Catalani – A short way from the Duomo, this
church rises behind via Garibaldi, among fine noble palazzi. It
was built in the 12th century during the Norman rule and remodelled
in the following century and named after the Catalan merchants who
patronised it later. The apse is a fine specimen of the Norman composite
style, that combined Roman (with small blind arches on slender columns),
Moorish (geometrical motifs in polychrome stone) and Byzantine features
(dome on a drum).
Santa Maria Alemanna – Unfortunately heavily ruined, with
no roof and façade, the church still manages to convey something
of the original Gothic style, so rare in Sicily, with its pointed
arches supported on pilasters and clusters of columns topped by
fine capitals that once articulated the aisles.
Maria della Valle o Badiazza – Leave Messina by Via Palermo
and follow signs for the SS 113 to the village of Scala; turn right
and alongside the Rizzo River for about 1,5km.
Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria della Valle, also known as Santa Maria
della Scala, has been likely built in the 12th century and restored
two centuries later. The interior is not open to the public, its
precincts enclosed behind a tall concrete wall that protects it
when the river is in full spate. The exterior, however, has windows
set into pointed arches finished in volcanic stone. Through these,
the interior can be glimpsed with its two-coloured ribbed vault
and sculpted truncated pyramid capitals.
ROUND CAPO PELORO
from Messina, a highly panoramic road runs around the edge of the
headland, past the glorious beaches that skirt the tip before continuing
along the Tyrrhenian shore.
and Torre Faro – 15km north. Ganzirri is a lively fishing
village, with its houses clustered around two wide salt water lagoons,
used for farming shellfish. The road along the “lakeside”
bristles with restaurants and pizzerias and continues to hum with
activity late into the summer evenings. Proceeding north, beyond
the Strait of Messina, lies Torre Faro, a small, mainly fishing
village overlooked by a lighthouse and big electricity pylons bearing
cables across the strait. beautifully detailed reconstructions of
rural homes and artisan’s workshops will give you a fascinating
overwiew of daily life in modica not so very long ago/The road along
the “lakeside”, bristles with restaurants and pizzerias,
and continues to hum with activity late into the summer eveningsbristles
with restaurants and pizzerias.
Drive through Lido Mortelle and Lido Divieto and turn inland towards
Gesso. Past this little town, after about 6km, the road that forks
right leads up the top of Antennammare.
Antennammare – The road winds up to the San Rizzo pass. There
a second pass leads to the Santuario di Maria SS di Dinnammare which
is situated atop mount Antennammare (1130m tall). From here there
is a magnificent vista of the surrounding landscape spanning Messina
and its harbour, Capo Peloro and Calabria, to the east, and the
Ionian coast with the sickle-shaped promontory of Milazzo, and Rometta,
perched on a hill, to the west.
the way back, continue down to the crossroads, then turn right,
across the wooded slopes of the San Rizzo hill, leading to Messina.
IONIAN COAST: MESSINA TO TAORMINA
40km. The 40km trip along the coastal road, only relieved by brief
excursions inland, can be just as easily undertaken in reverse,
starting out from Taormina.
di San Placido Calonerò – On the road to Pezzolo. The
Benedictine monastery, today accomodating a technical institute
for agriculture, preserves two gracious 1700’s cloisters with
columns with high dosserets and Ionic capitals; right of the atrium
leading into the first cloister, is a fine small Durazzo Gothic
portal giving access to a vaulted chapel articualted with clustered
Zanclea – The castle at Scaletta Superiore (2km inland), that
in the 13th century served as a Swabian military outpost, was then
acquired by the Ruffos who used it as their hunting lodge. The massive
fortress, graced by elegant two-light windows on the first floor
and one-light windows on the second, houses the Museo Civico, displaying
weaponry and historic documents.
– 2,5km inland from Itàla Marina. At the heart of the
small hamlet of Croce stands a Basilian Church dedicated to Saints
Peter and Paul, built by Count Roger in 1093, to celebrate, it is
thought, the victory over the Arabs. It comprises a tall nave and
two lower aisles. The crossing is marked with a dome rising from
a square drum. The brick exterior is relieved on the façade
with occasional insertions of volcanic stone and by low blind arcading
inspired by eastern influences.
back along the coast, the road passes Capo Alì which is topped
by a small round watchtower probably from the Norman period. The
road then proceeds through the seaside resorts of Alì Terme,
Nizza di Sicilia and Roccalumera.
– Approx 3km inland. This charming medieval village occupies
a splendid position on the top of a hill that divides into two ridges
and yet interconnets with three spurs on which the districts of
San Rocco, San Giovanni and Pentefur are built; together they form
the star-shaped town.
the Town Hall, still outside the old town, sits the Convento dei
Capuccini, with a crypt containing the mummified bodies of 32 former
local notables and friars, died between the 17th and 18th century.
Some of them that have been daubed with green paint by vandals are
displayed in niches; others are in wooden sarcophagi. From the sacred
area of the church a wonderful view extends over the village, the
ruined castle and the Calvario hill in the distance. Go back the
same way and turn up Via Borgo, then immediately left into via San
Michele which leads to the gateway to the old town. Further on,
on the right, is the 1400’s Chiesa di San Michele with fine
Gothic-Renaissance portals, and, alongside, the ruins of the Archimandrite
community precincts (accomodating the highest officers of an Eastern
monastic order). Along the street, fine views extend over the rooftops
and the valley below, and up to the ruins of the Norman castle and
the Chiesa di San Nicola (or Santa Lucia) perched up a rocky spur,
with its unusual crenelations. The Chiesa Madre comes into view
with its fine 1500’s portal surmounted by a beautifully carved
oculus and the coat of arms of Sàvoca, bearing the elderberry
branch from which the name of the town si supposed to derive. A
climb up the Calvario hill where is the ruined Chiesa di S. Maria
delle Sette Piaghe can complete the visit of the town. Along the
same road, 2km inland, is the hamlet of Casalvecchio.
– The ancient Byzantine Palakorion (meaning hamlet) occupies
a splendid position with a panoramic view. From the terrace before
the Chiesa Madre, dedicated to Sant’Onofrio, there is a panoramic
view over the Ionian coastline, from Capo Sant’Alessio to
Forza d’Agro, and, to the south, the Etna volcano. The church
has a fine coffered wooden ceiling ornamented with anthropomorfic
figures, and a stone floor inlaid with the local black and red Taormina
marble, both dating from the 17th century.
close vicarage houses the Museo Parrocchiale with an interesting
display of farming tools, a silver life-size statue of Sant’Onofrio,
dated 1745, a painting of San Nicolò, in the Antonelli style,
dated 1947, liturgical furnishings and sacred vestments.
towards Antillo and after about 500m fork left along a minor and
di Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Paolo – Founded by the Basilian
monks, the church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul was rebuilt
in 1117 and restored in 1172 by master builder Gherardo il Franco,
as an inscription above the architrave of the main doorway claims.
The exterior is ornamented with decorative banding, interlaced arcading
and herringbone patterns. The main façade is graced with
a portico flanked by twin towers. The interior is divided into nave
and aisles by Corinthian columns with high dosserets that rise to
pointed arches. A large ribbed dome contains the central area hovering
on its tall drum suspended by pendentives. The choir is enclosed
by a smaller dome springing from an octagonal drum.
back towards the coast to Capo Sant’Alessio.
Sant’Alessio – This lovely rocky headland is landmarked
by a round fortress on the western side and a polygonal castle on
the eastern tip (neither open to the public). On the south side
nestles the wonderful beach of Sant’Alessio Siculo.
road leads from the two fortresses to Forza d’Agrò.
d’Agrò – It is a lovely village of Medieval origin,
perched on the furthermost spurs of the Peloritani Mountains, enjoying
splendid views – particularly from the terrazza-belvedere
in Piazza del Municipio – of the coast broken into inlets
and bays. Behind it, a flight of steps leads through a fine Durazzo
Gothic archway up to the sacred area before the Chiesa della Triade.
Tortuous lanes wind their way up the hill towards the castle, past
the 1500’s Chiesa Madre, later remodelled in the Baroque style.
Of the castle, which is Norman in origin, only remain few ruins
most belonging to the walls that enclose the cemetery: silence and
serenity endow this secluded corner, populated at random with tombstones
with particular atmosphere.
kilometres separate Messina from the mainland Italy, what makes
it the natural landing stage for people arriving from the peninsula.
Hence the importance of its sickle-shaped harbour that in ancient
times was given the name of Zancle. Messina history is therefore
inextricably linked to the sea and to the straits that bear its
name, and that, according to tradition, were guraded by two monsters,
Scylla and Charybdis. The former was the daughter of Phorcys and
Hecate. She is said to have twelve feet and six heads and to live
under a cliff on the Calabrian side. It was she who flung herself
at Ulysses’ ship, catching and decouring six of his sailors.
On the Sicilian side of the strait, under another rock, lived Charybdis,
who used to drink the sea water and regurgitate it three times every
day (Odissey, Book XII, v 234-259).
connections – Messina handles the principal ferry services
to the Eaeolian Islands (see Isole Eolie) and to mainland Italy.
For details on connections with Reggio Calabria (45 minutes) and
Villa S. Giovanni (35 minutes), contact: Italian Railways –
Stazione Ferrovie Stato, Piazzale Don Blaso; tel. 090/675201 ext.
626; Società Caronte Shipping, Viale della Libertà
tel. 090 44982; for hydrofoil services (20 minutes) SNaV, 27 Via
della Munizione tel. 090 717921.
to eat – The restaurant Polipo Guercio at 32, Via Centonze
serves seafood at reasonable prices.
pastries – The Pasticceria Vinci at 49, Via Garibaldi, and
Billé in Piazza Cairoli make sweet specialities including
the Pignolata and the Bianco e Nero which resembles a profiterole.