A Quick Stop in Messina, Sicily

Sicily map from About.com’s European Travel Guide, James Martin
Some guidebooks I’ve seen advise readers to pass quickly through Messina, the port city at the northeastern tip of Sicily and your likely first stop if you’re coming from Calabria across the Strait of Messina.

I got a different impression of this bruised and battered place, though, and I plan on going back for a more thorough look around; lucky for me I know a few people, including one of P’s sisters, who live there.

In case you’re wondering, we got to Messina pretty easily, taking the train from Lamezia Terme to Villa San Giovanni for the traghetto–no thanks to the conductor on the train, mind you. As our tickets only said “Messina” with no information on changing trains, etc., I asked him what we’d have to do to get to Messina. He said to get off the train, walk under the “sottopassaggio” and get on the boat. Or swim.

Witty, wasn’t he?

He neglected to mention, of course, *where* we’d have to get off that train, but luckily we knew that the ferries ran from Villa San Giovanni, so everything went smoothly from there; we even made fast friends with a nice Italian man who, upon hearing us speaking English, told us that he had lived in Connecticut for 17 years.

We only spent a morning touring Messina and my camera batteries were dead, so I don’t have *too* much photographic evidence for you (at least not of my own), but I hope you enjoy this quick virtual tour through Messina anyway.

* Basic facts about Messina *

Messina was founded way back in the 8th century B.C. by the Siculans who named the city “Zancle” or sickle because of its peculiarly-shaped harbor. The Greeks took over in the 5th century, and later, Anaxilas, tyrant of Reggio, gained control and changed the city’s name to Messene in honor of his homeland, Messenia.

As all of southern Italy, Messina endured many rulers including Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Greeks, Arabs, and Normans, but the history of the city is probably best summed up in one word: disaster.

From the Bubonic Plague (1743) to cholera (1854) to earthquakes (1747, 1894, 1908) to war-time leveling (1848, 1943), Messina has been the victim of an enormous amount of malocchio. See, and you wonder why guys grabbing their crotches for protection is such a big deal round these parts.

Other protection is Messina comes in the form of its patron saint, the Madonna della Lettera (Madonna of the Letter), who is said to have sent the citizens of Messina a letter promising them eternal protection for their recent conversion to Christianity.

A gilded Madonna blesses each new arrival into the port of Messina from her spot of honor atop one of the towers of Forte San Salvatore, built in 1546 by Spanish viceroys.

Madonna della Lettera, Port of Messina, Sicily on Flickr

You can read more about the Madonna della Lettera at Cherrye’s place.

* Favorite things I saw in Messina *

OK, like I said, we didn’t get to see too much, but here are three of my favorite things that I saw in Messina:

* The Bell Tower of the Cathedral of Messina *

Bell Tower of Cathedral of Messina, Sicily (brochure) on Flickr

Yes, that’s a brochure (remember: dead camera batteries), and no, we weren’t allowed to go up inside “the biggest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world” because we were told it was too windy (was a perfectly lovely day). It was still pretty cool from the outside, though, especially at noon when the theatrics started.

The lion roared, the cock crowed (or at least he tried to–technical difficulties), and all of the biblical scenes were set into motion, including one representing the Madonna della Lettera, to the tune of “Ave Maria.” Every inch of this clock, which was installed in 1933, symbolizes something.

If you’d like to read more about our clock experience, check out Cherrye’s post “The Ding Dong, The Lion’s Roar, and the Ave Maria.” Also feel free to contact me and I can send you a scan of the brochure with all the details.

* The Fountain of Orion & the Fountain of Neptune *

OK, these are really two things, but since they’re both fountains, I’ve grouped them together.

Fountain of Orion/Fontana di Orione, Messina, Sicily (postcard) on Flickr

La Fontana di Orione, the Fountain of Orion, is found in front of the Cathedral and was done by Florentine Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1547. Orion is Messina’s mythical founder, and the fountain was built to honor both him and the city’s first aqueduct.

La Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), Messina, Sicily on Flickr

La Fontana di Nettuno, the Fountain of Neptune, is found, not surprisingly, overlooking the sea. If it looks to you like he’s telling the waters in front of him to calm down, well, your eyes aren’t deceiving you–that’s precisely his role in this disaster-ridden city.

The current fountain is actually a replica of Montorsoli’s original one, created in 1557, that has been heavily damaged. You can find the original marble Neptune at Messina’s Museo Regionale.

* La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III *

Messina, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele by jampius on Flickr

La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III was constructed between 1924 and 1929 under the guise of Messina’s own Camillo Puglisi Allegra. It’s a one of a kind building in the south of Italy with shops and restaurants surrounded by beautiful architectural and decorative elements.

A very special grazie to Vanessa for playing tour guide and hostess, and a ciao to our new friend Hilary (she of the *delicious* cheesecake)!

Also be sure to check out my Flickr Sicily 2008 Photo Collection; I’ll be adding photos daily!


[tags]messina, sicily, sicilia, neptune, madonna della lettera, bell towers, campanile, fontana di Orione, fontana di nettuno, galleria vittorio emanuele III[/tags]

24 Beans of Wisdom to “A Quick Stop in Messina, Sicily”
  1. 03.03.2008

    Messina is under rated…much like Calabria! All the guide books say little about either of these places. It is lovely in Messina at night time when you can see the bright lights of Calabria just across the waters.

    Leanne’s last blog post..Lalala… Becoming fluent in Italian

    What can I say, Leanne? I was just as stricken by the magic of “far away” Calabria viewing it from across the Strait as well. She’s just so beautiful from any angle πŸ˜‰

  2. Joanne

    Messina has a special place in my heart. My dad is from those parts and my grandfather is buried there. It may not be the the most famous Sicilian city, but it always feels a little like home to me. And I have always loved to just sit and stare at the clock tower! Thanks for bringing back some lovely memories!

    Joanne’s last blog post..A little something to think about

    Thanks so much for sharing that Joanne! I really enjoyed Messina, so I hope that this will encourage others just “passing through” to stop and have a look around as well.

  3. 03.03.2008

    Thanks for the arm chair tour πŸ˜‰ How long did it take you to get there from your home Michelle???

    My Melange’s last blog post..Video Endorsements

    We took an 8:10 a.m. train from Lamezia and arrived in Messina around 10:30. I had stayed over Cherrye’s in Catanzaro the night before and then her father-in-law drove us to the station, which cut probably about an hour of public transportation out of my trip.

  4. 03.03.2008

    oh fun! I’m having a good time traveling through Sicily with you and Cherrye

    erin’s last blog post..morning earthquake

    There’s much more to come Erin! Stay tune!

  5. ally bean

    I’ve always been an armchair traveller and your info on what you see and do in Italy is great for me. I knew nothing about Messina prior to reading this. Love the idea of a statue that calms the waters. Could we get a few of those sort of statues here to calm traffic snarls?

    More calming statues would be nice just about anywhere methinks…glad to have you aboard Ally. Hope that armchair is comfy because there’s a lot of Sicily to come!

  6. 03.03.2008

    I saw the photos following the 1908 earthquake and you had to ask, why did they rebuild in exactly the same place that had visited disaster and death twice? It was the tsunami, apparently, that swept the city and thousands of residents away. The strait there is powerful, narrow and deep. I formed an opinion that they ought to harness that power and make electricity and send up to the Messinesi at a new place, a safer place. No one ever listens to me.

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Summer 2008 trousers

    Oh Giusi…Sicilians don’t listen to anyone you know. Almost as testa dura as the Calabrese πŸ˜‰

  7. 03.03.2008

    i have bookmarked this for my southern tour planning!

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..playing catch-up…

    Plenty more to come! You’re going to love your southern Italy tour πŸ™‚

  8. 03.03.2008

    I *love* the parts of southern Italy I’ve been to so far and can’t wait to see and hear more from you guys! Southern Italy just is not well covered in a lot of guidebooks (well, okay they cover it but always with lots of forewarnings).

    Homebody at Heart’s last blog post..Hadrian’s Villa

    Oh those forewarnings *drive me crazy*!!!!! I think they’re so very overblown; I feel so much safer down here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived except for my tiny hometown in PA (and I feel just as safe in my village now). Mah.

  9. 03.03.2008

    Another educational and informative post from you. I love the virtual traveling I get to do when I visit here, thanks Sognatrice!

    Karina’s last blog post..Fun Monday – Candid Karina, This is Your Life

    You’re very welcome Karina πŸ™‚

  10. I don’t know much about Messina. Thanks for the virtual tour!

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Me + Advanced Italian = molto confusione, Rossellini’s Stromboli

    Truly a pleasure πŸ™‚

  11. Hilary

    Wow! You make Messina sound like such a lovely place. It does have a bad reputation, but as you pointed out, we have some nice things to see too. Glad you liked the cheesecake!

    Oh but it *is* a lovely place! And yes, the cheesecake was definitely a nice surprise taste of home πŸ™‚

  12. 03.03.2008

    Oh, those were great places! ahhh…

    And, Hilary – the cheesecake was to DIE for!! I gotta get me a bimbi! (you know what I mean?!?)

    Cherrye’s last blog post..The Ding Dong, The Lion’s Roar, and Ave Maria

    Hah! I almost forgot about the Bimbi….

  13. annie

    Michelle, Thanks so much for the tour. I’ve only been to Italy once and it was in the Northern part. Great history and beautiful photos! My grandmother was originally from the south but later moved north. I never got to ask her about her experiences there, so this was a wonderful testimony.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this Annie; I hope you’ll stick around for lots more of Sicily!

  14. 03.03.2008

    Hi Michelle, looks like you guys had a great time on your trip. I was in Messina a few times but don’t remember much… I do remember the bell tower though and loved it! We stayed at a hotel called Altafiumara in Villa San Giovanni, which is an old castle converted into a hotel. This was in 1996 and it had just opened…. I just checked, not sure I can afford to stay there again πŸ™‚ Hope you’re well. Joe

    Joe’s last blog post..This or That

    That’s too funny about the hotel–guess business in booming in Villa San Giovanni πŸ˜‰

  15. 03.03.2008

    Wow. How much of a bad-ass do you have to be to get a title like “Anaxilas, tyrant of Reggio?” MUCH cooler than “Smindyrides, creep of Sibari.”

    yay travelogues! I can’t wait to read the next installment…

    Paolo’s last blog post..The triumph of Kultur

    My guess? Pretty darn bad ass. Much more travelogue-ing to come….

  16. 03.03.2008

    This was fascinating. What a tragic history, and yet some of the architectural elements are so absolutely beautiful. I’d sure love to see that clock. I love mechanical clocks of that ilk.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – the Beatles and William Shatner

    Messina is definitely a different kind of Italian city since so much of it is actually new. And yes, that clock is *definitely* something.

  17. have i mentioned how jealous i am? because i am. very jealous.

    michelle @ thursday night smackdown’s last blog post..Eating Out: Marco & Pepe

    No need; you’ll be here before you know it πŸ™‚

  18. Gil

    All I can say is Thank You for sharing. Funny thing about Messina, we got off the ferry, had a snack and then headed to Sciacca (sp?) without exploring Messina.

    There’s always next time Gil!

  19. kt

    I love your way of relating facts about Italy you make it oh so interesting and fun to “travel” along. Thanks for sharing! kt

    kt’s last blog post..Moss on sidewalk (green week, day 2)

    So glad you’re along for the trip KT!

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Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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