I didn’t expect much from this harbour city, to be honest. I knew they have a great beer – Messina cristali di sale: a great Sicilian beer brewed since 1923 and one of the most loved Italian beers.

 It is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, and the 13th largest city in Italy. Located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina – it is an important access terminal to the Calabria region.

The history of this place is namely the history of all the cities around Italy: Founded by¬†Greek¬†colonists in the 8th century BC, the city was¬†sacked in 397 BC¬†by the¬†Carthaginians¬†and then reconquered by¬†Dionysius I of Syracuse. At the end of the¬†First Punic War¬†it was a free city allied with Rome. After the fall of the¬†Western Roman Empire, the city was successively ruled by¬†Goths¬†from 476, then by the¬†Byzantine Empire¬†in 535, by the¬†Arabs¬†in 842, and in 1061 by the¬†Norman¬† count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King¬†Richard I (“The Lionheart”)¬†stopped at Messina en route to the¬†Holy Land¬†for the¬†Third Crusade¬†and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to¬†William the Good, King of Sicily. In 1345¬†Orlando d’Aragona, the illegitimate son of¬†Frederick II of Sicily¬†was the¬†strategos¬†of Messina.

In 1347, Messina was one of the first points of entry for the black death into Western Europe. Genoese galleys travelling from the infected city of Kaffa (Crimea) carried plague into the Messina ports. Kaffa had been infected via Asian trade routes and siege from infected Mongol armies.

The Christian ships that won the Battle of Lepanto (1571) left from Messina: the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who took part in the battle, recovered for some time in the Grand Hospital. You can still see the placard in front of this historical hospital.

The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe.

Two earthquakes (in 18n and 19th century) destroyed the city twice, killed people and vanished the historic origins. However, it continues to be.

Arriving in the city in the early afternoon, it was a time for a good coffee and arancini. Not much impression was held in that moment, it was not even that much dirty as I expected. Even though it’s a port city. So we continued towards the downtown and stumbled upon the Chiesa di San Giulio from 14th century. Unfortunately it was locked so I couldn’t see it from the inside.

Messina has¬†two of the oldest and most important sanctuaries in Italy dedicated to the Mother of Jesus Christ. The first is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Montalto. Its history is also related to the war of the ‚ÄúSicilian Vespers‚ÄĚ in 1282. The story tells that French men (under the rule of French-born king Charles I) robbed some local women. During the Easter mass, the church bell started to ring (Dina and Clarenza chimmed the bells) for danger so the local people gathered immediately to rebel. The¬†Sicilian Vespers was a successful rebellion on the island of¬†Sicily. Within six weeks, approximately 13,000 French men and women were slain by the rebels, and the government of Charles lost control of the island. This began the¬†War of the Sicilian Vespers.

Continuing down the Via Garibaldi: a splendid of venetian facades. This Venetian architecture in Messina, Italy, pleasantly surprised me. It reflects the classic style that began in Venice during the 14th century including the Gothic arches plus Byzantine and Moorish elements.

Unfortunately, when I was in Bologna , I lost the chance to see Fontana del Nettuno as it was under construction. Turns out, Messina has one too ūüôā The statue dates from 16th century and it tells a classical mythology. The basin of the fountain contains the depictions of Scilla and Charybdis, the two sea monsters in female form. In classical mythology,¬†Scylla was a horrible six-headed monster who lived on a rock on one side of a narrow strait.¬†Charybdis was a whirlpool on the other side. When ships passed close to Scylla’s rock in order to avoid Charybdis, she would seize and devour their sailors. It is said, these characters are placed at the Strait of Messina in Ancient Greek mythology.

The choice between Scylla and Charybdis is not about the difficulty of certain choices. It is about the fact that in the midst of making difficult choices, every one of us would prefer to choose Scylla, but we should choose Charybdis. We are the captains of our lives.

Au contraire to the ancient myths, as the Sicilians are very religious people (although not always respecting God’s commands: don’t steal or clean after yourself – thank you Filippe from Catania, I know clean after yourself is not an actual God’s Command), nowadays, at the Strait of Messina there is a statue of Virgin Mary which says: I bless you and your city. The Madonna della Lettera that dominates the port of Messina is the Patron Saint of the city, celebrated on 3 June.

According to legend, Messina’s ambassadors were sent to Jerusalem to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary, and received a letter from her, granting the city her benediction. At midday, an angel hands the letter to the Madonna.¬†

Una Passeggiata a Mare Messina.It is actually a cool park with locals hanging around, fishing, playing chess, smuggling goods.. etc. Kids playing around, all natural…

My favourite part was visiting the Temple of Christ The King on the hill of Messina. Built in Sicilian Baroque style, this temple was often used by Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.

Inside the shrine, there is a monument to the Unknown Soldier of World War l. The bell chimes the hours in memory of the fallen in all wars.

It is definitely worth to visit as the breeze cools you off with this beautiful view on the port of Messina and Calabria. But first you need to climb some stairs.

Heading down to downtown again, we passed nearby many churches. But this one got or attention: Church of Saint Mary of the Carmel. We stopped the car and decided to enter. It was much more impressive from the outside though. It is a 20th century church with classical architecture.

At the main square: Piazza del Dumo, there is a Cathedral and Fountain of Orion, but under construction. So my circle of Fountain from Bologna is closed. Eye for an eye, said the Universe to me.

The¬†Cathedral¬†(12th century), contains the remains of the king¬†Conrad, ruler of¬†Germany¬†and Sicily in the 13th century. The building had to be almost entirely rebuilt in 1919‚Äď20, following the devastating¬†1908 earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original¬†Norman¬†structure can be recognised in the apsidal area.

The¬†bell tower¬†holds the¬†Messina astronomical clock, one of the largest astronomical clocks in the world, built-in 1933 by the Ungerer Company of¬†Strasbourg. The belfry’s mechanically-animated statues, which illustrate events from the civil and religious history of the city every day at noon, are a popular tourist attraction.

The side of the campanile facing the square has the following displays, described from bottom to top:

  • The carousel of the days of the week. Each day is represented by its classical deity, in a chariot pulled by an animal:
    • Sunday:¬†Apollo, driving a horse
    • Monday:¬†Diana, driving a deer
    • Tuesday:¬†Mars, driving a horse
    • Wednesday:¬†Mercury, driving a panther
    • Thursday:¬†Jupiter, driving a chimera
    • Friday:¬†Venus, driving a dove
    • Saturday:¬†Saturn, driving a chimera
  • The carousel of the ages of life. Four statues represent the ages of man: a child, a young man, a warrior, and an old man.
  • Biblical scenes. A different biblical scene appears in each quarter of the liturgical year:[5]
    • Christmas to Epiphany: the¬†Adoration of the Shepherds. The shepherds pass and bow before Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus.
    • Epiphany to Easter: the¬†Adoration of the Three Kings. Led by a comet, the kings, each accompanied by a servant, adore the infant Jesus, held by Mary.
    • Easter to Pentecost: the¬†Resurrection of Jesus. Two soldiers keep watch over Jesus’ tomb, from which Jesus rises.
    • Pentecost to Christmas: the¬†Descent of the Holy Spirit. The twelve apostles surround the Virgin Mary. A dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, flies over the apostles; flames appears on their heads, while they raise their arms.
  • The Madonna of the Letter, patron saint of Messina and St Paul – bowing his head to her.
  • Dina and Clarenza. According to legend, Dina repelled an attack on Messina by rolling rocks while Clarenza rang the bells of the campanile to alert the city, during the¬†Sicilian Vespers¬†in 1282. They ring the quarter hour bells. Between them, at midday, the rooster flaps its wings, raises its head and crows three times – also Biblical.
  • At the top, the crowned lion (symbol of the Province of Messina) carries the flag of Messina. At midday, it waves the flag, moves its tail, turns its head and roars three times.

To be honest, I have totally enjoyed reading the stories, learning about the city and its legends and connecting the dots of history, politics religion, philosophy, while enjoying my Il Cardinale cocktail. Created in 1950 by Giovanni Raimondo at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome, based on Negroni. First served to a visiting cardinal summoned to Rome by Pope Pius XII for the Jubilee.

Walking further along, the sun started to disappeard the city got this magical golden hour. The facades became a bit more sparkly and the city just rolled into serata.

Among the various legends of this city, there is one of the giants¬†Mata and Grifone. Mata, dialect version of the name Marta, was a busty girl from Messina.¬†Griffin, whose original name was Hassan Ibn-Hammar, was a Saracen giant of Muslim faith at the head of an army dedicated to piracy and violent raids. Around 964 AD, the army led by Grifone conquered the city. During one of his raids, he saw Mata and fell madly in love with her so much that he went to ask her to marry her father, but both the father and Mata herself refused the proposal of the Saracen giant. Despite being subjected to various tortures, Mata persisted in rejecting Gryphon’s proposal and so she realized that the only way to win her heart was to repent and change her life. He then abandoned the role of criminal and after converting to Christianity and being baptized with the name of Grifo (later Griffin due to his size), he dedicated himself to the cultivation of the land and to charitable works. Mata, struck by this striking gesture of love, began to look at him with different eyes until she fell in love with it. Their union was blessed by numerous children, so much so that the popular Messina tradition identifies the Giant and the Giantess as the progenitors and founders of the city of the Strait.

This statue of Messina in Piazza Unione Europea is a memorial to the victims who died in 1908 7.5 magnitude earthquake which killed at least 40,000 people. Then even more perished from the 13 meters tsunami waves that followed.

And that’s it. The dinner was not worth to be mentioned. As usual, if you choose some posh place for wining and dining, you will make a mistake. They don’t know this concept. But they do know to charge big prices. Instead, go for cheap street food – you will eat better. Crudo e bollicine.

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