Catania was founded by Greek colonizers in 729 BC and named Katane. Due to the significance of the Mediterranean as a trading route during this period, and Catania's strategic position, it became a bustling commercial port. The city has been destroyed several times by the ferocity of Etna's eruptions and subsequent lava flows. There are a number of buildings that represent the earliest period in Catania's history: the theatre, being the oldest, has been remodelled several times by the Romans; there is the Odeon, the Roman Forum, thermal baths and a Roman and Greek Necropolis but the most important is the amphitheatre second only to the Roman Coliseum. Among its more recent historical architecture there is the Castello Ursino built by Federico II of Svevia.
Under the Spanish domination of the Aragon dynasty this castle served as the parliament and residence of the king. Palazzo Biscari is worth a visit being one of the most famous buildings from the 18th century. Every visitor must have their picture taken under the elephant named "U Liotru" (the symbol of the city) in Piazza Duomo where Catania's most important church is situated. This magnificent cathedral dedicated to St Agatha was originally constructed in 1093 and has been remodelled several times since. For those especially interested in religious architecture there are many beautiful churches in Catania; in particular Via Crociferi has a variety of baroque churches. Another interesting destination in Catania is the fish market close to the Cathedral in the direction of the Triton fountain. This historical market is not limited to selling just fish; virtually anything under the sun can be purchased here.
Under the market runs a little river called the Amenano that feeds the Triton fountain. For those who are seeking peace and quiet away from the busy city streets Villa Bellini is an ideal oasis. Situated right in the centre of the city just off Via Etnea this villa’s beautiful gardens offer an escape that is both spectacular and elegant. Once a popular summer venue for musical and theatrical entertainment it has developed another important function: Sicilians are very fond of their little snacks known as rosticceria which can be purchased to take away at their typical coffee bars and cafes; the villa is an excellent spot to enjoy a rosticceria or to bring the children for some free time. Typical of most Mediterranean cities there is a particular atmosphere that develops in the evening around historical centres; "La Dolce Vita" comes to mind!