A Greek colony
founded by the Chalkidians of Naxos during the second
half of the 8th c. B.C. (ca. 729). During the archaic period the city enjoyed complete autonomy and lived intensely both politically and intellectually. At the beginning of the 6th c. B.C. it adopted a law code drafted by
From the early 5th century B.C. the city was under
Syracusan control; in 475 B.C. Hieron invaded it, expelled
the Chalkidians, and repeopled the city with 10,000 Donans; the name of the town was changed to Aitne. The
Chalkidians returned there in 461 B.C. During the Sicilian expedition the city favored the Athenians. It was
occupied by Dionysios in 403 and remained within the
sphere of Syracusan politics. It was conquered by the
Romans in 263 B.C. Throughout the 2d and 1st c. B.C.
it was civitas decumana; it became a Roman colony
under Octavian and progressively gained an importance
that it retained until the Byzantine period. At the beginning of the war against the Goths it was invaded by
Belisarius. The Emperor Maurice Tiberius (582-602)
established a mint there which functioned for ca. 50
years. It was one of the earliest and most important
Christian communities in Sicily, as attested by rich and
interesting epigraphic material.
The first Greek colony must have settled on the hill
that always remained the city's acropolis, presently occupied by the Benedictine monastery. The area has
yielded proto-Corinthian sherds slightly later than the
foundation date. In 1959 a chance find led to the fortunate discovery of a rich votive deposit (6th-4th c. B.C.)
at the foot of the S side of the acropolis, in the Piazza di
San Francesco; the deposit was probably connected with
a sanctuary of Demeter.
During the Roman period the city must have expanded
considerably toward S and E into the plain. The major
civic monuments belong to this phase. The theater, which
together with the nearby odeion rests against the S slope
of the acropolis hill, has been recently cleared of the
modern structures that crowded over the cavea and the
area of the stage building. Of the original Greek construction only a large wall remains under the level of
the cavea; the extant portions of the building date from
the Roman period. The cavea was divided into nine
cunei by means of eight stairways, and its lower section
rests against the slope of the hill, while the upper section
is supported by three concentric corridors which give
access to the seats; the uppermost corridor opens outwards into a portico with piers. In the interior, a colonnaded portico crowned the cavea; orchestra and seats
were revetted with white marble, while the euripos and
the stairways were built of lava.
The odeion was joined to the W side of the theater,
and its orchestra opened toward the S at the same level
as the theater's uppermost corridor. The cavea, built in
small blocks of lava, was supported by a structure resting on 18 radial walls sloping toward the interior of the
building and connected to one another by a series of
barrel vaults; two stairways divide the auditorium into
three cunei. The radial walls formed 17 units opening
outwards. The building, revetted by lava blocks, was
crowned by a simple cornice.
On the NE slope of the hill of the acropolis and separated from it by a narrow passage was the amphitheater;
its N end is partly visible in Piazza Stesicoro, while
to the S its corridors lie under the foundations of modern
buildings. The preserved portion of the amphitheater is
built on two concentric corridors connected by radial passageways.
There are numerous remains of baths. Under the cathedral some units of the Achellian Baths are still visible,
their vaults finely decorated with stucco reliefs; a large
square hall supported by four pilasters and flanked by
a corridor is still preserved; the building continues under
the level of present Piazza Duomo. Not far from there
other baths (Terme dell'Indirizzo) in the Piazza Currò,
with ca. 15 units, both large and small, are preserved up
to their original height including their vaulted ceilings. On
the acropolis hill, to the N of the theater, one can see the
Rotunda Baths, so called because of a large circular hall
that was later transformed into a Christian church. To a
bath complex belong the ruins of seven rooms in Piazza
Dante, opposite the Benedictine monastery. Remains of
many other buildings of this type have been identified
within the city area.
Under the level of the Via V. Emanuele, where it meets
the Via Transito, lies a large rectangular podium delimited
by two steps and a fine molding, which local tradition
calls the Arch of Marcellus. There are numerous remains of a large aqueduct which brought the waters
from S. Maria di Licodia.
The NE border of the city must have coincided with
the edges of the acropolis, and with the approximate
course of the Via Plebescito and the Via Etnea (S of the
Piazza Stesicoro). This is shown by the fact that within
this line only structures of a civic nature have been
found, while outside of it lie several funerary buildings
and cemetery areas.
In the N section, a large rectangular tomb of the Roman period is preserved near the Via Ipogeo, while another is to be found in the Modica estate, along the
Viale Regina Margherita. To the NE of the amphitheater, within the present caserina Lucchese-Palli, is the
so-called Tomb of Stesichoros, a funerary structure probably belonging to the Classical period. A group of graves
of Roman date is preserved in the basement of the
Rinascente store, and represents a portion of the cemetery complex uncovered in the Via S. Euplio and extending up to the area presently occupied by the Post
Office building. A subterranean tomb with remains of
inhumation and cremation can also be seen in Via Antico
Corso, where it is incorporated into one room of the
building erected by the Istituto delle Case Popolari.
The most important group of graves has been uncovered along the Via Androne and in the area crossed
by Via Dottor Consoli. The continuity of this burial
ground is attested from the Hellenistic into the late Roman period, and offers a good example of a pagan necropolis which slowly became transformed into a Christian cemetery. It contains numerous mausolea, cist
graves, hypogaean (underground) chambers; a grave
with wall paintings and barrel vault is preserved under
the level of Via Dottor Consoli. In some places the
graves were contained within precincts surrounded by
low walls and interconnected: these were mostly graves
characterized by an abundance of Christian inscriptions;
in some precincts the graves were built above ground
level in several stories.
In the largest precinct yet discovered, along the Via
Dottor Consoli, an Early Christian funerary basilica was
found superimposed on the level of the graves; a large
polychrome mosaic with figured scenes covered the floor.
The mosaic (20 x 10 m), which is at present in the Museo Comunale, can be dated to the middle of the 6th c.
A.D., and is to be attributed to an Oriental workshop.
Of the basilica only the apse is preserved, and can be
seen under the Lombardo dwelling.
To the same period can be attributed a large trichora
uncovered and preserved under Via S. Barbara, and the
small Basilica of Nesima.
The finds from excavations and accidental discoveries
within the city of Catania are housed in the Museum of
Castello Ursino, where are also gathered the collections
once in the Museo Biscari, the Benedictine Museum, and
the Antiquarium Comunale.
A. Holm & G. Libertini, Catania Antica
(1925) with previous bibliography; G. Libertini, “Catania. Basilichetta bizantina nel territorio di Catania,”
(1928) 241-53; id., “I principali problemi intorno
all'antico teatro di Catania,” Rivista del Comune
(1929) 9-18; id., Il Museo Biscari
(1929); id., “Catania.
Scoperte vane,” NSc
(1932) 367-72; id., “Catania
nell'età bizantina,” Arch. St. Sic. Or
. 28 (1932) 142-66;
id., “Catania. Scoperta di un sepolcreto romano. Avanzi
romani nel cortile del Palazzo del Governo,” NSc
75-82; id., Il Castello Ursino e le raccolte artistiche
comunali di Catania
(1937); id., “Scoperte recenti riguardanti l'età bizantina a Catania e provincia. La trasformazione di un edificio termale in Chiesa bizantina
(La Rotonda),” Atti VIII Congr. Int. studi biz
166-72; id., “Catania. Necropoli romana e avanzi bizantini nella via Dottor Consoli,” NSc
G. Rizza, “Mosaico pavimentale di una basilica cemeteriale paleocristiana di Catania,” BdA
(1955) 1-11; id.,
“Necropoli romana scoperta a Catania in Via S. Euplio,”
Arch. St. Sic. Orientale
54-55 (1958-59) 249-51; id.,
“Stipe votiva di un santuario di Demitra a Catania,”
(1960) 247-62; id., “Un Martyrium paleocristiano
di Catania e il sepolcro di Julia Florentina,” Oikoumene
(1964) 593-612; id., Scavi e scoperte archealogiche a
Catania nell'ultimo decennio
(1964); S. Lagona, “L'acquedotto romano di Catania,” Cronache di Archeologia
3 (1964) 39-86.