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Catania is the often overlooked city of the Sicilian Island. It's more industrial than both Siracusa and Palermo, and its economy isn't as tourist driven as its closer neighbor - the small town of Taormina. However Catania is worth visiting and if you're planning on seeing the east coast of Sicily there isn't a better place to use as your base of operations.
Catania is a relatively young city compared to the others in Sicily. Destroyed as recently as 1693 in an earthquake (a mere fourteen years after being engulfed in the lava of the incredibly nearby Mount Etna) the center of the city was built in the early eighteenth century in the baroque style. Catania is a dark town, the lava-stone supplied by the volcano making a cheap, but robust (most of the buildings are still standing) material for the reconstruction of the town. It's not depressing though, Catania benefits from the mediterranean climate (though itself on the Ionian Sea) which means lots of bright light. And the light isn't as harsh, blending with the dark rock gives the city a much softer feel.
Mount Etna is Catania's biggest tourist attraction and rightfully so. It dominates every view from the city and is Europe's largest and most active volcano. The volcano itself isn't dangerous and won't destroy the city without at least a few weeks warning. It's not that type of volcano. Mount Etna offers skiing, fantastic walks and many companies offer tours to the mountain's main attractions.
The University of Catania also adds to the feel of the city, enriching it with culture, music, theatre and literature. Everyone in Catania is an artist, whether a gifted painter, a jongleur or someone who just likes to abuse the guitar and sing in badly accented English on the beach at three o'clock in the morning. Street theatre, people selling small booklets of poetry or girls twirling fire-lit sticks through the air outside the pubs during the weekend in the summer are an integral part of the city.
The nearby towns of Acitrezza and Acicastello are also worth the drive out to see. Perched on the sea, these quiet little fishing villages have their rocky beaches with the crystal clear water of the Ionian Sea inundated with locals during the summer. Sicilians have learned it's not the sand that makes the beach, it's the water. The small piazzas and streets of these little towns are bustling with small pubs, cafes and restaurants with views that rival those of Taormina, but with none of the hype, or the prices.
Catania's ruins aren't as clearly marked as those in other cities, you can be walking next to roman baths and won't notice them until someone points them out. Across the square in piazza stesicoro from the local McDonalds, hidden away below ground level until you look over the railing is a section of a roman amphitheatre. The rest of which is still buried under the new city.
Catania is also the main nexus of the east coast. Taormina, Enna and Siracusa are within a couple of hours drive and easily accessible as day trips from Catania itself.