Home of the most important Italian port in terms of number of passengers, historic university seat, city rich in beauty and which has been able to rise from its ashes. We can say this and much more about Messina, one of the most important cities in Sicily and therefore a highly recommended destination for those who want to take a tour of the island.
Origins of the town
Founded in 757 BC with the name of Zancle, taking up a Sicilian term which means “sickle” because the peninsula of San Ranieri (home of the city port) has the shape of a sickle. In 491 BC, when it was conquered by Anassilao di Reggio, it took the name of Messene. Only after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the conquest by the Byzantines, Messina was renamed. With the birth of the Kingdom of Sicily, in 1110, it became its capital together with Palermo. It was a period of great prosperity for the city which, thanks to its thriving port, was also part of the Hanseatic league (an alliance between cities which, between the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era, maintained control of trade over a large part Northern Europe). A historical event linked to the city is the revolt against Spain, which took place in 1694 and which caused Messina to lose all forms of autonomy. Later it lived through truly critical centuries, both due to warfare (the bombings of the Second World War) and natural (the earthquakes of 1783 and 1908, with the latter being cataloged as one of the most catastrophic events of the twentieth century and which caused the death of around 70,000 people).
What to see
During a trip to Messina, it is impossible not to pass by Piazza Duomo. Of course, the Basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta stands out, which reached this status thanks to the intervention of Pope Pius IX in 1947 after a decidedly troubled history (in which it was transformed into a mosque during the period of Arab domination and almost completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1908). Also in Piazza Duomo we find the Fountain of Orion, with its complex Neoplatonic-alchemical iconography, it was defined by the art historian Bernard Berenson “the most beautiful fountain of the sixteenth century in Europe”. Two other symbols of the city that deserve to be seen are the shrine of Christ the King and the Madonnina di Porto. The first is the place that houses the 1,288 Messina citizens who fell during the Second World War (as well as offering a splendid view over the whole city), while the second is the statue that “welcomes” people who arrive in the city from the port.
What to do
The city of Messina, even by those who do not know it, is immediately associated with the strait. This is obviously the arm of the sea that separates the Sicilian city from Reggio Calabria and which contains various myths and legends. For example, it is said that the phenomenon of the Morgana fairy occurs in this area: an optical effect that causes the strip above the horizon to be blurred, which can correspond to islands or boats. It is a fascinating phenomenon, which contributes to making the strait interesting to see. In addition to admiring this strip of sea, it is advisable to take a boat ride between the Aeolian Islands.
What and where to eat
The specialties of Messina cuisine are dishes based on fish and seafood: swordfish, stockfish, mussels, costar delle, baby girl and tuna. Meat-based, chops (unique cut different from the rest of Italy) and falsomagro. Finally, typical Messina desserts are: the glazed pignolata, the black and white, the ricotta cannoli with the chocolate variant, the Sicilian cassata. To taste these and other delicacies, as restaurants are to try: ‘A Cucchiara, Bellavista, Casa & Putia, Datterino and Il Grecale.
In addition to places of historical and artistic interest, Messina also offers beautiful beaches. Among the most famous we cannot fail to mention that of San Gregorio, formed by small coves, with light sand, gravel and pebbles and above all a source of inspiration for the singer-songwriter Gino Paoli for the famous song “Sapore di
Salt”. The beach of Testa di Monaco is instead long, for most of its free surface and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. Finally, in addition to the beautiful beaches that the Aeolian Islands archipelago offers, we should also mention that of Marinello, due to the formation of small and spectacular marine lakes created by thin strips of white sand.
How to come
Messina is connected to Palermo and Catania respectively by the A20 and A18 motorways. Obviously the port should be mentioned, which is the tenth in Italy (after Civitavecchia, Venice, Naples, Livorno, Savona, Genoa, Bari and
Palermo, La Spezia) for cruise activities and which has an ever-increasing traffic. This city doesn’t have a
airport, but by choosing this means you can land at Reggio Calabria airport which is the closest and
then reach the Sicilian city by ship across the strait.