The Cathedral of Messina
The Cathedral of Messina is undoubtedly the most representative building of Messina. It was destroyed several times, but faithfully reconstructed to its original Norman form. Set in Piazza Duomo, it was built under Count Roger and consecrated in September 1197 in the presence of Henry VI (son of Frederick Barbarossa). For the beauty and elegance of the structure, it was chosen as the venue for the important marriage of Wilhelm II, the Norman prince of Sicilian origin, and Princess Joan, sister of Richard the Lionheart.
In 1294, it was damaged by a fire and its facade was notably modified into different architectural styles, with the addition of windows and marble statues.
Mutilated in many of its areas by the prior 1908 earthquake and then bombings, only the central Gothic entrance outside of the original building remains, the two smaller entrances and the entrance on the right side of the Cathedral, designed by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio, a painting understudy of Raphael.
The structure of the basilica with three ailes was maintained even after the destruction, with 13 rows of columns dividing the aisles. In the middle stands the reconstruction of the mosaic of the Blessing Christ, an unmistakable piece among the main sacred works of the Norman period. Below its canopy is the work that stylistically joins the very elaborate main altar, made of semiprecious stones.
At the end of the left aisle, is the only original mosaic that has been maintained till this day: The Virgin Enthroned with the Child between Saint Lucia and St. Agatha and the Archangels Gabriel and Michael.
Inside, the entire building is decorated with twelve statues depicting the apostles. There are many chapels and tombs of leading exponents of the medieval Messina.
The Treasury will seal the visit to the Cathedral of Messina: the Manta d’Oro is the most famous and evocative of the entire reliquary. Made of pure gold in 1668 by Innocent Mangani, a famous Florentine goldsmith, it has been embellished with diamonds and precious stones given as a gift by the faithful.
To this are added the reliquary busts of St. John and St. Bartholomew, candlesticks and goblets made of silver and finely decorated and lastly a beautiful crystal pinecone.
The Campanile of the Cathedral of Messina is one of the most curious attractions of Italy. It rises to about 60 meters with its majestic mechanical clock, added to the bell tower in 1933, boasting the supremacy of being the largest astronomical clock in the world.
The façade, which looks on the Square, is on the main side of the tower. On the first floor, an earthly experience is depicted through statues that cover the four main stages of life: childhood, youth, maturity and old age. Between them lies death. The entire complex moves every quarter of an hour.
Further below on the other hand, the days of the week are represented by seven Greek Gods driving a chariot drawn by different animals (thus resuming its Greek myth that wanted Apollo to be driving the chariot to make the sun rise).
On the second floor instead, the most important phases of the events of Christ have been reproduced: His Birth, Easter and Pentecost.
On the third floor, the scene is dominated by a free-range rooster, symbol of the rebirth of the city. On its sides, the statues of two women Dina and Clarenza, noble citizens of Messina, who distinguished themselves during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 against the Angevins.
On the fourth floor the Lion, a symbol of strength and courage, holds in its paws the flag of Messina flown three times a day. At noon, a mighty roar celebrates the tenacity of its people.
Finally at the top is the big clock.
The Regional Museum in Messina
Rooms 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Since 1984 the Museum has been organized in 13 different rooms following a chronological order, where are placed the works of several artists of the same period. In the first room, the materials are organized from the period such as the Arab-Byzantine mosaic of The Madonna Enthroned with the Child Jesus and The Monaco bidder. In the same room, there is also a marble slab, depicting the Madonna and the painting of San Placido.
In the second room, there are several works from the fourteenth century, among them stands the sumptuousness Norman form of a beautiful marble sculpture, the Madonna seated with child, created in 1333 by a Tuscan artist. Worth mentioning, is an interesting triptych of The Madonna and Child with St. Agatha and St. Bartholomew.
In the third room there are the works of the late Gothic and early examples of Renaissance art. Here the Madonna and Child enthroned between Saint Gregory and Saint Benedict can be found, a panel painting made in 1473 by Antonello da Messina, who is among the most exciting of the celebrated local painters. Especially beautiful in its dramatic appearance, is the wooden crucifix by an unknown artist.
Rooms 4th, 5th, 6th
The scene in the fourth room, is reserved primarily for the works of Antonello.
A large space is devoted to the so-called alter piece of St. Gregory. The work, created in 1473, consist of several panels, although it is missing the top center one. Of note, in this painting, Antonello manages to give a sense of three-dimensionality to his figures thanks to their position and the play of light and shade. Another work of the painter from Messina is a painting composed of the Madonna and Child on one side and the Ecce Homo on the other. The work was purchased by the Region of Sicily in 2003 through auction.
In the fifth room, many works of other prominent figure Messinese art are exhibited, Girolamo Alibrandi, whose paintings are of the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria, The Presentation in the Temple and Circumcision. Also worthy noteriety, are the marble remains of Gaginis.
In the sixth room, works from the second half of the sixteenth century, which among them The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Polidoro da Caravaggio stands out. Here is located the marble statue of the mythological figure of Scylla, by Giovanni Montorsoli.
Rooms 7th, 8th, 9th
In the seventh room are placed works in silver, gold, marble, and majolica dating back from the second part of the sixteenth century.
In the eighth room, among works celebrating illustrious figures of the sixteenth century presented is the table of The Madonna of Itria, by the Florentine Alessandro Allori.
In the ninth room, start works dating back from the seventeenth century, works mainly made of canvas as well as some marble sculptures. Among them, the oil on canvas of The Madonna Of Angels between Saint Francis and Saint Chiara, by Antonio Catalan the Elder.
Rooms 10th, 11th, 12th
Instead, the tenth room is dedicated entirely to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and his followers. The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Resurrection of Lazarus (the latter undergoing restoration) are among the most famous works by Caravaggio. The play of light typical of his work renders, in all its drama, the mystery of Christ: the scene made in dim light, with the light source coming from a incomprehensible place to the observer’s eye, looks like the light of God, often too incomprehensible to mortals. In the same room, are The Meeting of Saints Peter and Paul, The Supper at Emmaus and The Slaughter of the Innocents, all works by Alonso Rodriguez.
The eleventh room contains examples of classical Messines art. The Nativity of the Virgin of Giovan Battista Quagliata and The discovery of the bodies of Saint Placido and his companions, realized by a Flemish painter of clear Sicilian origin, Giovanni van Houbracken.
Twelfth room is dominated by the presence of the magnificent carriage of the Senate, a work realized by local artists and artisans in 1743 to celebrate some tax privileges granted by the Viceroy to the city of Messina.
The last two rooms collect items and precious materials, created by the most skilled craftsmen in silver, coral, and gold as well as several frontals, decorative panels finely decorated with precious materials including pearls and semi-precious stones, saved after the collapse of 1908.
The museum is looking to re-establish itself in a larger area in the vicinity of today’s structure.
For this reason, the above provision may be subject to change.
The ring road runs 9 kilometers on the upper part of Messina, which offers sensational landscapes of great beauty, especially in the evening, with the city lights illuminating the waters of the Strait and the tip of Calabria, sealing the picturesque panorama. Along the way, there are numerous architectural testimonies of the noble history of Messina.
The Sanctuary of Montalto
Thanks to its location and imposing size, the Sanctuary of Montalto, is clearly visible from all parts of the city. The present building was built in 1930, after the 1908 earthquake had destroyed the previous church and adjoining monastery. It is said that the Church was built in gratitude to Our Lady, who during the Vespers of 1282 had defended the insurgents of Messina, protecting them from the arrows of the French archers.
Dedicated to Our Lady of Victories, the Sanctuary is displayed in all the strength of Gothic and Romanesque styles: the two high bell towers enclose the central front in which there is a statue of Our Lady of Victories, made of marble during sixteenth century. Inside, a beautiful sixteenth-century crucifix found after the collapse of the earthquake. Its location gives one of the most beautiful views of the Messina and the Strait.
The Shrine of Christ the King
The area, where now stands the Shrine of Christ the King, has always been the subject of strategic implacements for the controlling of Messina. During the Norman period, the previous building was enlarged, giving life to the Castle of Rocca Guelfonia or Matagriffone. This was the site of the home of Richard the Lionheart during his stay in Sicily before conducting the Third Crusade to the Holy Land. The castle, however, was also a place of dramatic events and revolts of Messina against foreign domination. The complex was expanded by Charles V, and consequently weakened during the clashes of the uprisings movements of the nineteenth century, and reduced to rubble by the earthquake of 1908.
Its reconstruction was completed in 1937 with an octagonal structure and harmonious dome. Today it is the monumental tomb of Messina, within which are the remains of those who have fallen in battle for Messina.
In the vicinity of Messina
Among the places to mark on the agenda before heading towards Messina is definitely Ganzirri, ten kilometers to the north. The beauty of the place enhanced by the presence of the sea and typical local ponds annually attracts an increasing number of tourists.
The Pantano Grande and Pantano Piccolo are lakes partly navigable, in which has developed a thriving trade in fishery products: mussels, mollusks, crabs, oysters and clams. You will therefore understand that even local places of the area provide delicious products for lovers of seafood in exciting locations placed directly on the lake.
Cape Pelorus, commonly called Tip of the Lighthouse, is the extreme northern tip of Sicily, the part closest to Italy of the entire island.
During the summer period, Mortelle is the preferred location by the people of Messina, where numerous beaches are found along the sandy coast, which offer all the amenities to make you forget the stress of the city. Like any self-respecting seaside resort, here pizzerias also abound, along with bars and clubs to spend your evenings.
Feast of the Annunciation in Messina
The anticipated event of the year, the feast of the Annunciation gives character to the city of Messina for several days. From August 10, carried in procession, are the Giants, two large equestrian statues of the warrior Moor Griffin and noble Lady Mata made of wood and papier-mâché.
Even with all the different versions of the story, the most credible one reports that the Muslim leader, hopelessly in love with Mata, is convinced to convert to Christianity in order to have her.
From August 1st, following one another, the preparations of the Vara, a large float that takes up the theme of Mary and her ascension into heaven. This was released in 1535 to celebrate the triumphal entry of Charles V in Messina. Today it presents itself as a huge wagon, with the angels and cherubs at the feet of Christ who rises Mary into heaven. Hundreds of faithful, with strong ropes, carry la Vara in procession. The procession ends in front of the Cathedral, packed with cheering people who celebrate the ascent of Mary into heaven. In the evening, spectacular fireworks light up with bright colors the waters of the Strait.
Messina is a city that has always had numerous dishes based on fish, some also adopted from the culinary traditions of other cities.
The dish par excellence is the Stockfish of the greedy: it is big cod dried in a natural way, the rapier in fact, stuffed with potatoes, olives and capers.
The mussels are among the shellfish most chosen by tourists: the famous pepper here assumes a different flavor thanks to the renowned mussels of Ganzirri.
The blue fish of the strait, served flaming, comes pan-fried and is eaten still smoking, with the fish crispy enough as not to even remove the scales.
Finally, a special mention goes to the swordfish, of which act of fishing it itself is considered an art.
Its meat is one of the most delicious as much as to be praised since Greek times. It can be served grilled, seasoned with olive oil and fresh parsley, breaded cutlets or baked, wrapped in a roll or stewed, making it possible to create the right mix of condiments and side dishes.
Historical Background of Messina
The origins of the foundation of Messina are so ancient as to be confused with the legends of the Greek myths: Its creation dates back to the will of God Saturn, but it is more likely that Messina was founded by settlers from central Greece, with the name of Zancle (in ancient Greek , sickle) during the eighth century BC.
Rechristened into Messene in the fifth century BC and having been involved in bloody battles many times: the Carthaginians reduced it to ruin in the war of 396 BC. The help of Syracuse, a staunch ally of Messene, played a significant role in the rebirth of the city. The first center of Sicily conquered by the Romans in 263, Messina grew in importance and prestige, becoming one of the main ports of the Empire.
In 407 AD, the city was elected the main city of the Empire, a title given to the equal of Constantinople. Its fame will remain intact for centuries, in which the ancient Messana always managed to stand out in maritime trade.
It was the Arabs, who conquered the mighty walls of the city in 843, beginning a period of decay and decline for the Scythe of Sicily.
Reinvigorated by the Norman dynasty, it regained all its prestige, enough to be selected as the venue for the celebrations of great leaders of its military exploits: Charles V, and later his son Don John of Austria, were honored by the crowd after the campaigns against Muslims.
A bourgeois town during the Renaissance, rich in churches, palaces, and commemorative works it was always at the center of thoughts of the noble families who alternated in power in Sicily. It was damaged by the first earthquake in 1783, devastated by the earthquake of 1908 and battered by the bombs of the Second World War.
Always lively and rebellious, Messina, keeps in its history, flashes of the charm and magic of its glorious past.