This city is an example of renaissance and transformation, a shining jewel among all precious treasures of Sicily. It’s an essential destination for art, architecture, history and landscape: welcome to Messina.
Messina: where and what
Splendid Sicily is almost like a continent rich in peoples, tastes, nature, sensibilities where everything expands to infinity. A sweet and harsh land, soft and rough, bright and veiled: a world full of art and history. And today I’m taking you with me to one of the unique places on the island. I’m talking about the spectacular Messina and their 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
Meanwhile, let’s define where we are: here we are, near the extreme northeastern point of Sicily called Capo Peloro. It is squeezed between the Peloritani and two seas, the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea. From the harbor, it looks at Calabria: this is Messina. All around, any visitor can see a unique and incomparable scenery that seems to summarize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the rocky promontories, the clear stones, the long beaches…
And now let’s discover some curiosities!
Did you know that it is called “The City with two cathedrals” because the one of Santa Maria is Catholic and the one of Santissimo Salvatore was the seat of the Greek Orthodox archimandrite? Did you know that while remaining within the same municipality it is possible to rise from sea level to the Mount Dinnammare (over 1,100 meters)? And have you ever heard that the myth of Scylla and Charybdis, the frightening monsters that used to attack the ships in the strait? Dante talks about them in La Divina Commedia! You will be amazed to see Greek remains, sixteenth-century fountains, ancient sanctuaries, lakes, volcanic islands and endless beaches coexist!
From an artistic and architectural point of view, Messina has a style coming from the 20th century…do you know why? In December 1908, one of the most catastrophic events of the 20th century took place. A huge earthquake followed by a tsunami with some waves over 12 meters high destroyed 90% of the buildings. The city that at that time had 140,000 inhabitants lost over two thirds of them…but those who survived had the strength to rebuild it!
Messina: how and when
It was inhabited in ancient times by the Sicilians who called it Zancle that it means ‘the sickle’ due to the shape of the San Raineri peninsula that protects the port. It was founded again after 750 BC. By the Greek colonists, Cumaean and Chalcidian, and then was renamed Μεσσήνη around 500 BC. The Romans conquered it in 264 BC. after they won the first Punic war and renamed it Messana. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantines came here, then the Arabs and in 1061 it was conquered by the Normans.
Thanks to the rise of the Kingdom of Sicily in 1130 under the Altavilla, Swabian, Anjou and Aragon dynasties, it became very prosperous. It suffered serious damages from the earthquake of 1783 and then from joining the Sicilian revolution of 1848 against Ferdinand II of Bourbon. It enthusiastically became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 after Garibaldi’s expedition. Unfortunately, in 1908 the city suffered another terrible earthquake and in the Second World War was devastated by bombing. But, despite Messina has suffered so much, it has always been able to be reborn and renew itself: it is truly exceptional!
10 wonders to see in Messina: let’s find out the top three!
Well now you know enough to go further and as I promised, I will list one by one 10 wonders to see in Messina: let’s discover them!
1 – Piazza Duomo: the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Astronomical Clock and the Fountain of Orion
Let’s start our day visiting the main attraction in Messina: Piazza Duomo. Here we are in the historic center, in a spectacular combination of different architectural works. Let’s start by visiting the Cathedral named after Santa Maria who really lived many incredible lives. It was built around 500 in the Justinian era, then it was turned into a mosque during the Arab domination. It was modified by the Normans, then was destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1908 and was rebuilt in the ‘20s. But there’s more to know, because in 1943 it went up in flames due to an air raid during the war. Then, it was rebuilt. Again. Inside, in addition to the second largest pipe organ in Italy, there’s the Treasury: the “Madonna manta d’oro” is the most precious artwork of the collection.
Next to the Cathedral, it stands the bell tower for over 60 meters with the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world inside. Every day at noon, the statues on the facade start playing for a 12-minute harmonic dance. After having enjoyed this show, let’s look at the sixteenth-century Fountain of Orion. Do you want to know who the four statues at the corners represent? They represent four rivers: the Nile, the Tiber, the Ebro and the Camaro. It’s a set of sculptures that makes this fountain one of the most impressive and beautiful in Sicily!
2 – Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani
And now we continue our visit, let’s walk for a few minutes and we get in front of the Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani. They say that it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Neptune the God of the sea. Let’s take a look at it: from an architectural point of view, it has different styles…almost a mix of Arab, Norman and Byzantine art! In fact, this is one of the very few works that were saved from the earthquake in 1908. Do you know why the church is five meters below street level? It is the original level before the earthquake!
3 – Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III (the Arcade) and Theater Vittorio Emanuele II
In Piazza Antonello here is the main entrance of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III (the arcade). There’s a central colonnade consisting of a huge arch and it recalls the arcade Umberto I in Naples, with stained glass windows and the shopping area. It was built in Art Nouveau style and was inaugurated in 1929: the three-armed interior has a ceiling with colored skylights and a glass dome. After some shopping time around the arcade, let’s go to admire the Theater Vittorio Emanuele II that is the largest in Sicily. At the very beginning of the second half of the 19th century, during the Bourbon period, the citizens created an opera and symphonic house: hurray, the music!
10 wonders to see in Messina: let’s find out three more!
4 – Shrine of Christ the King
And now, I’ll take you to know the Shrine of Christ the King. It was built in 1937 as a monumental sepulcher to celebrate 1,288 fellow citizens who died during the Second World War. In the past, here there was the castle Rocca Guelfonia that in 1191 hosted the crusaders of Richard the Lionheart headed to the Holy Land. In the octagonal tower, you will find the third largest bell in Italy made by melting the cannons of the enemies stolen during the First World War. After observing the neo-baroque style of the building, come to the panoramic viewpoint to enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the Strait!
5 – Forte San Salvatore and the Madonna della Lettera on the port
Anyone who arrives by the sea from Calabria, and every time Sicilians return to their Island of light, experience a unique emotion. In fact, the Madonnina del Porto, a true symbol of the city, watches people crossing the Strait and welcomes the travelers. On the very end of San Raineri peninsula that protects the harbor, in 1540 Charles V of Habsburg decided to make the San Salvatore Fort build. Right on its huge cylindrical bastion there is a 35-meter-high stele. At the top, there’s the 7-meter-high gilded bronze statue depicting the Madonna della Lettera: Vos et Ipsam Civitatem Benedicimus is her blessing! Another curiosity: unreal cities appear right on the sea in the strait. This is the phenomenon of Morgan le Fay that you will find here.
6 – Regional Museum of Messina
And after admiring all these spots, it is time to discover an important institution in the city. I’m talking about the Regional Museum of Messina that is located at the north end of Viale della Libertà. The exhibition of sculptures, paintings and artifacts is organized in 13 rooms offering a chronological idea of the rich artistic and anthropological history of the city. Moreover, it’s interesting to visit the permanent exhibition of silverware created over the centuries by the skilled hands of local artists. Don’t miss the paintings created by two prestigious painyers such as Antonello da Messina and Caravaggio. Regarding Michelangelo Merisi as known as Caravaggio, did you know that he lived and painted in Sicily?
10 wonders to see in Messina: let’s find out more and more!
We visited 6 out of 10 wonders to see in Messina! Now it’s time to get to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
7 – Milazzo: the Castle, Capo Milazzo and Piscine di Venere
Now it’s time to take a car to go to one of the most evocative areas of the Tyrrhenian side of the province of Messina. 40 kilometers away from the city center, we get to Milazzo and can visit the Castle, the Cape and the splendid Piscine di Venere. Let’s start from the ancient heart of the village and from the fortified citadel called ‘Il Castello’. After a few kilometers we are on the cliffs of Capo Milazzo, 8 kilometers by the blue sea. During hot days, I recommend a small trekking route that will take you through breathtaking views up to the Piscine di Venere: don’t forget your bathing suit at home! Well…if you feel a ‘ghostbuster’ and can’t wait to feel a cold shiver, be aware that these places host some…spirits!
8 – Aeolian Islands
If we want to do something really special and create a unique memory, let’s take the hydrofoil from Milazzo to go and discover the Aeolian Islands as known as ‘The 7 sisters’. It’s an archipelago that has a volcanic origin: there are two active volcanoes on the islands of Stromboli and Vulcano, while the others are now ‘quiet’: they are Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Alicudi and Filicudi. Cobalt blue sea, smoking volcanoes and wild nature make it the favorite destination for sea and nature lovers but also for luxury tourism. Are you interested in exploring the places where our oldest ancestors lived and where civilizations were born? Lipari is one of the 7 prehistoric sites in Sicily!
10 wonders to see in Messina: let’s find out the last two ones!
9 – Taormina
Among the 10 wonders to see in Messina, we cannot avoid talking about Taormina as known as the Pearl of the Mediterranean. So let’s go… we have to drive only 30 minutes from the center of Messina to arrive here, in a magical place full of history, culture, art, beautiful landscape and entertainment. Taormina surprises us with their crooked streets, the shops with international brands, the archaeological remains, the artistic spirit. Do not miss the walk along Corso Emanuele, the ancient Greek Theater, Palazzo Corvaja, the Cathedral and the wonderful Isola Bella.
10 – Beaches
Do not forget that like many other Sicilian cities, even Messina – economically speaking – ‘lives’ thanks to the sea and so does all the coasts of the province. The beaches expand for miles and miles. Mostly free and largely uncontaminated coasts: fine sand, clear pebbles, lava rocks. So, enjoy e choose according to your personal preferences: I recommend you try as many as possible!
However, I would like to point out some of them. Let’s start from those characterized by fine sand such as San Gregorio in Capo d’Orlando and Testa di Monaco near Brolo and Marinello in Patti. In the surroundings of Taormina there are the beaches of Mazzarò, Spisone, Villagonia, Mazzeo and Sant’Alessio Siculo. Each of them is really amazing thanks to the crystal-clear water. The beaches of the Aeolian Islands are truly unique: black sand in Stromboli, white pumice in Lipari, volcanic rocks in Salina!
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Messina? Don’t think that’s all! Sicily is much more than this: come and discover it thanks to the itineraries organized by Dimensione Sicilia. One of the best ideas? Eco-tours by electric cars! These itineraries are customizable itineraries according to your time and budget to enjoy 8 days in Western and Eastern Sicily or 14 days, if you prefer. You will visit the most beautiful places on the island such as 10 UNESCO sites of Sicily including Messina and its surroundings. Or if you want to enjoy the beauties of the island in a different way, pick one of the tours suggested by Sicilian Secrets. In safety we trust, let’s go!
See you soon!
Translated by Gaia Guarino