The Benedictine Monastery, a jewel to discover in Catania

January 15, 2022 By Bellarome Travel

No more than a 10-minute walk from the Cathedral of Catania lies the Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena, a jewel of the late Sicilian Baroque and one of the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe. 

Born in the 16th century, the monastic building has developed up to the present day and is an example of architectural integration between the eras. Characterized by multiple transformations, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seat of the DiSUM (Department of Humanities) of the University of Catania, it houses a Roman domus, cloisters and a splendid hanging garden.

The Benedictine Monastery of Catania is undoubtedly a jewel of the late Sicilian Baroque era. The complex was founded by the Cassinesi monks in 1558. Shocked by natural disasters, destroyed and rebuilt, the Monastery is an example of integrations between the historical periods. Visits may see the changes undergone by the lava flow first and the earthquake after it, but also by the civil uses to which it was destined immediately after the unification of Italy.

The first plant was born in a square shape with an internal cloister defined as the “Marbles” (later redefined Chiostro di Ponente), due to the presence of the precious Carrara marble in the elegant seventeenth-century colonnade, in the quadrilobate fountain in the center and the decorations Renaissance that softened its appearance more.

The seventeenth century in Catania is linked to the lava flow of 1669 and the catastrophic earthquake of 1693. On March 8, 1669, after repeated seismic tremors and deafening roars coming from Mt Etna, two deep fissures opened from which lava came out. The flow reached the city walls around the end of April, reaching the walls of the sixteenth-century monastery. The city had been strenuously defended using walls to divert the river of fire that besieged it.

The monastery was saved, but the church annexed to it was not: it was shattered by the arrival of the casting. The appearance of the land adjacent to the Benedictine Monastery changes greatly. The sciara is about 12 meters high and has devoured the crops leaving behind a lunar landscape.

The great Sicilian architects participated in the Benedictine construction site: Ittar, Battaglia, Battaglia Santangelo, Palazzotto. The workers are called from all the provinces: Palermo, Messina, Syracuse. Among the most important architects is Giovan Battista Vaccarini, to whom we owe the realization of the kitchens and the large Refectory, as well as the project of the Library (today Libraries Riunite Civica and Ursino Recupero). 

The architect from Palermo had studied in Rome, thus coming into contact with great architects such as Fontana, Michetti, De Sanctis. His points of reference and inspiration remained Bernini and Borromeo whom he had studied with passion and to whom he often referred.

With the guided tour, visitors have the opportunity to get to know and discover one of the largest convents in Europe. The guides reveal, in fact, the myths, legends and controversial history of an architecture that was an ostentation of the power and taste of the Cassinese order.

Discover Catania by incorporating it into your Classic Sicily itinerary. Rish in food, history and scenery, it is sure to delight all the senses.