Messina, Italy

Messina is called the “Doorway to Sicily” because it is only about three miles from the toe of Italy’s boot. It was created from a Greek god, blessed by the Virgin Mary, ruled by numerous countries and ravaged by disasters and wars. It is also a delightful city to explore.

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1 Strait of Messina in Messina, Italy

From the town of Messina, there is only 3.2 miles of water separating the Island of Sicily from the tip of the boot of mainland Italia. For centuries, the Strait of Messina has been a channel for seagoing vessels and ferries. It also welcomes about a half million cruise ship passengers each year. Although this channel is narrow, it has been the source of Greek myths for millenniums. Adorning the breakwater on the right is a golden Virgin Mary statue that the locals often call Madonnina.

Via S. Raineri 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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2 Cityscape and History of Messina, Italy

When Messina was founded during the 8th century BC, it was called Zancle after its first king, Zanclus. According to mythology, he and the giant Orion built the city. Since then, Messina has been ruled by several nationalities including the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish. The street along the small boat quay is Via Vittorio Emanuele II. It honors the first leader of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until 1878. The namesake for the parallel road is Giuseppe Garibaldi. He is called the “father of the fatherland” for his military role in unifying Italy during the mid-19th century. Seen here in the Piazza Unification of Italy is the Palace of the Prefecture. Despite being ravished by wars, earthquakes and tsunamis plus the Black Death plague, Messina has prospered as the “Doorway to Sicily.”

Viale della Libertà, Batteria Masotto, 98121 Messina ME, Italy
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3 Municipio Town Hall in Messina, Italy

Messina’s Town Hall is commonly called Municipio, the name emblazoned on the pediment. Above it is the image of Queen of the Pelorus flanked by two mermaids. The formal name is Palazzo Zanca or the Zanca Palace in honor of the architect, Antonio Zanca. This Neoclassical structure looks older than its completion date of 1924. The original building was replaced after two devastating earthquakes in 1783 and 1908.

Piazza Municipio, 1, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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4 Giants Mata and Grifone in Messina, Italy

These huge equestrian statues wearing cloth costumes stand between the Palazzo Zanca (city hall) and the harbor. They are the giants of Mata and Grifone (the male soldier), the legendary founders of Messina. Several times a year during religious festivals and especially in mid-August for the multi-day celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, they are part of citywide processions. The oldest version of these papier mâché statues dates back to 1723.

Piazza Unione Europea Via G. Garibaldi, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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5 Messina Earthquake Victim Memorial Statue in Messina, Italy

This statue of Messina in Piazza Unione Europea facing the Straits of Messina is a memorial to the victims who died on December 28, 1908. The initial 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed at least 40,000 people and some estimates exceeded 100,000 casualties. Then even more perished from the 40 foot tsunami waves that followed. 90% of the buildings in Messina were destroyed. This memorial was gifted by the Rotary Club in 1998 on the 90th anniversary of the disaster. Its name is Statuta Messina Riconoscente della Concessione del Porto Franco.

Via G. Garibaldi, 120, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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6 Cathedral of Messina in Messina, Italy

The gorgeous Gothic façade of the Cathedral of Messina is an architectural history book. The basilica was originally built in the 12th century by the Normans. The entrances date back to the early 15th century and the tympanum was finished a few decades later. The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta was extensively rebuilt after successive damage from a 1908 earthquake and then WWII bombings. The astronomical clock was installed in 1933.

Piazza Duomo, 14, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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7 Astronomical Clock in Messina, Italy

The Cathedral of Messina’s tower is 197 feet tall. The original was constructed in the 16th century and rebuilt after an earthquake. Each day at noon, mechanical bronze figures on the front of the tower portray the city’s historical events during a fifteen minute performance. When this astronomical clock by the Strasbourg Firm of Ungerer was added in 1933, it became the world’s largest. This side facing the basilica’s entrance features an angel who points to the day, month, year and moon phases.

Piazza Duomo, 14, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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8 Tesoro del Duomo in Messina, Italy

In 2000, a museum opened in the atrium on the south side of the Cathedral of Messina called the Treasure of the Cathedral. In four rooms of the Tesoro del Duomo you’ll find over 400 works of art and artifacts dating back to the 10th century. One room is dedicated to the Madonna of the Letter. The centerpiece is the “Manta Gold.” It is an exquisite sculpture of a faceless Virgin Mary holding the Christ child. The masterpiece was created in 1668 by Innocenzo Mangani.

Via S. Giacomo 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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9 Orion Fountain in Messina, Italy

According to Greek mythology and as portrayed by Homer’s Odyssey, Orion was a giant hunter. Among his many accomplishments, Orion is credited with building Messina’s harbor and hills. Zeus transformed the hero into a heavenly constellation. This mid-16th century fountain was designed by Francesco Maurolico and placed at the site of an ancient temple to the god. It is now the Piazza del Duomo in front of the Messina Cathedral.

Piazza Duomo 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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10 Sculpture Detail on Orion Fountain in Messina, Italy

If the design and craftsmanship of this bearded statue looks familiar, it should. It was sculpted by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli who was a Michelangelo protégé from 1521 until1534. This sculpture is one of four allegories for the rivers Tiber, Nile, Ebro and Camaro. They are among several female forms, dolphins and tritons surrounding the Orion Fountain in Messina, Italy.

Piazza Duomo 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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11 Via Primo Settembre in Messina, Italy

Most of the major sites to see in old town Messina are in a pie-shaped wedge formed by Via Giuseepe Garibaldi, which is parallel to the harbor, and Corsa Cabour to the west. The third major street is Via Primo Settembre shown here. Its name honors September 1, 1848, when Neapolitan’s fleet began bombarding Messina in retaliation for the Sicilian revolution for independence. During the next five days, the Bourbons proceeded to level the town.

Via I Settembre, 144 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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12 One of Four Fountains in Messina, Italy

From 1666 until 1742, the Four Fountains were constructed at the intersection of Via I Settembre and Via Cardines. They were designed by Giacomo Calcagni yet carved from marble by different sculptors. After the 1908 earthquake, only two of La Quattro Fontane were partially restored and reinstalled. This one is decorated with tritons and dolphins. Note the eagle on top. This represents the Spanish insignia. The Spanish period in Sicily began in 1479 and extended through the 18th century.

Via I Settembre, 116, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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13 Side View of Annunziata dei Catalani Church in Messina, Italy

This side view of the Annunziata dei Catalani Church in Messina is curious because it seems to have been built below the street level. Instead, it sunk during the devastating 1908 earthquake and the town was rebuilt on top of the neighboring devastation. However, most of the church’s façade from the late Norman period (which ended in 1194) and the early 13th century survived unscathed.

Via Cesare Battisti, 23 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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14 Western Façade of Annunziata dei Catalani Church in Messina, Italy

Calling the western façade of the Annunziata dei Catalani Church magnificent is an understatement. This is a masterful blend of Byzantine, Moorish and Romanesque architectural elements. It was built in the late 13th century on top the Temple of Neptune. It received its current name, Saint Annunciation of the Catalans, during the Aragonese period (14th – 15th centuries) when the official language of the royal court was Catalan.

Via Cesare Battisti, 23 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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15 Don John of Austria Statue in Messina, Italy

The highlight of the short life of John of Austria – he died at 31 in 1578 – was when he was the commander of the Holy League fleet of Christians. They defeated the Ottoman Empire during the naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In appreciation, this bronze statue was created two years later by sculptor Andrea Calamech. The monument is in Catalani Square.

Via Lepanto, 7 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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16 Antonello Square Buildings in Messina, Italy

Four noteworthy buildings grace Piazza Antonello, a major square in Messina. They were all constructed in the early 20th century as part of a major rebuilding effort after the 1908 earthquake. This is the backside of Palace Zanca or Town Hall (1924). Across the street is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III (1929). On the other two corners are the Palace of the Province (1918) and finally the former Central Post Office (1915) which is now part of the University of Messina.

Piazza Antonello, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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17 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III in Messina, Italy

The namesake for this building is Victor Emmanuel III who became the King of Italy in 1900. His effective reign ended in 1943 when Fascist leader Mussolini was ousted as Prime Minister and Italy sided with the Allies during WWII. By 1946, the Kingdom of Italy was finished and became a republic. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III was built in 1929 on the Piazza Antonello square.

Piazza Antonello, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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18 Interior of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III in Messina, Italy

In 1929, the Palace of the Gallery was sponsored by the General Electric Company of Sicily and designed to become “the center of city life … day and night” with offices, shops, cafes and residences. The interior of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III is best described as warm, rich and ornately appointed with mosaic floors and a golden hue created by the stained-glass canopy. In 2000, it was declared to be an artistic and historic site.

Piazza Antonello, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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Hanging Beach Laundry in Messina, Italy

Judging from this laundry hanging from a balcony, it looks like a mom had a perfect day at the beach with her two daughters. That is easy to do in Messina, especially during the summer months when the average high is above 80s Fahrenheit and the sun is almost always shining. A few of the most popular beaches are Giardini, Roccalumera and Isola Bella.

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19 Detail of Fountain Falconieri in Messina, Italy

In 1842, in recognition of the 1800th anniversary of the Virgin Mary sending a letter to Messina, the Senate commissioned Carlo Falconieri to create this fountain that bears his name. After surviving the 1908 earthquake, Fontana Falconieri was stored until 1957 and now sits in Basildon square. This cast iron raptor is one of several figures of animals, dolphins and marine monsters surrounding the octagon-shaped pool.

Via Santa Pelagia, 4 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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20 Inside of Monte di Pietà in Messina, Italy

Messina’s pawnbroker, who helped imprisoned debtors, began in 1541. Construction of the Palace of the Pawnbroker was started in 1616 but only the first floor was completed. In 1741 this elegant double staircase designed by Antonino Basile was added. Most of the structure was destroyed during the 1908 earthquake and WWII, leaving only the façade and this open-air courtyard. Monte di Pietà is now rented out for cultural events yet is also available to tour.

Via Santa Pelagia, 1, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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21 Fountain Statue of Abundance at Monte di Pietà in Messina, Italy

In the center of the staircase of the Monte di Pietà is a water fountain with this statue of a woman. She is called Abundance. This work was designed by Campolo and sculpted by Ignatius Buceti in 1741. It was damaged by an earthquake and bombings during World War II.

Via Santa Pelagia, 1, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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22 Switchback Staircase in Messina, Italy

After Charles of Anjou became the King of Sicily in 1268, walls were constructed leading up the Caperrina Hill. His rule was crushed during the Sicilian Vesper uprising in 1282 and Messina was the scene of the last battles in Sicily to oust the French. You can almost feel this history as you trudged up the hill to see the Sanctuary of Montalto and Church of Christ the King. Their terraces also provide panoramic views of the city and the harbor. This switchback staircase called Scala Montevergine is near the Cloister of St. Eustochia and Monastery of Montevergine along XXIV Maggio street.

Via XXIV Maggio, 161B 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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23 Madonna Della Lettera in Messina, Italy

The gilded statue on a 197 foot pedestal is Madonna della Lettera. Since it was erected in 1934 on a breakwater at Forte del Santissimo Salvatore, the 23 foot monument has been a proud testament to the Virgin Mary. In 42 AD, she sent a Holy Letter to Messina citizens after they were converted to Christianity by Apostle Paul and then followed him to Palestine to visit her. The inscription at the base was the last sentence of her letter. It means, “We Bless You and The City.”

Via S. Raineri 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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24 Church of Christ the King Bell in Messina, Italy

The Church of Christ the King overlooks the city from a hill that once was the site of a Roman acropolis and later a Norman castle dedicated to Richard the Lionheart. Unfortunately the magnificent octagonal dome of Sacrario di Cristo Re was covered with scaffolding during my visit. The neo-baroque structure was built in 1937 as a memorial to WWI casualties. It contains the bodies of about 1,000 soldiers. Next to the church is this 130 ton bronze bell. It was cast from melted down enemy cannons and it sits on a tower from the ruins of the Roccaguelfonia fortress. It has an inscription from the Virgin Mary’s Holy Letter in 42 AD: “We Bless You and The City.”

Sacrario Cristo Re 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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25 Shrine of Our Lady of Montalto in Messina, Italy

In 1282, the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to a friar named Nicholas. During the apparition she promised to send a white dove to the Caperrina hill where she wanted a church built in her name. The cornerstone for the Shrine of Our Lady of Montalto was laid in 1295 by Queen Constance of Sicily. It was a monastery for Cistercian nuns from 1389 until 1866. The Santuario della Madonna di Montalto was severely damaged during the 1908 earthquake and rebuilt in 1930. This view of the bell tower gives you a hint at the beauty of this Gothic and Romanesque structure.

Via Dina e Clarenza, 16, 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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26 Stucco Falling Off Building in Messina, Italy

In Messina it is not uncommon to see stucco falling off around second-story windows and their tiny balconies. Even the flowers in the pots have seen better days. Why does this look charming in Europe but never acceptable at my house?

Via I Settembre, 144 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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27 Church of Saint Francis of Assisi Immaculate and Statue in Messina, Italy

The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi Immaculate was established in 1254, 26 years after its namesake was canonized. This bronze statue was erected in 1963. The Catholic friar significantly influenced the life of Saint Francis of Paola. He was born in 1416 to elderly parents because they prayed to the Italian saint. After living in a cave for several years, he founded the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi and established several monasteries. Among his miracles occurred in 1464 when he crossed the Strait of Messina while standing on his robe. Saint Francis of Paola is a patron saint of sailors.

Piazza San Francesco d' Assisi 1, 98122 Messina, Province of Messina, Italy
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28 Rose Window on Saint Francis of Assisi Immaculate Church in Messina, Italy

The first Saint Francis of Assisi Immaculate Church was built in Messina during the 13th century and embellished in the 16th century. The structure was destroyed by a 1783 earthquake and rebuilt in 1826. 58 years later, however, it was significantly damaged by a fire and then another earthquake in 1908. Fortunately, when it was reconstructed in 1928, the builders were able to incorporate this gorgeous rose window from the previous structure.

Piazza San Francesco d' Assisi 1, 98122 Messina, Province of Messina, Italy
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29 Fountain of Neptune in Messina, Italy

This is the marble derriere of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. When this fountain was created by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1557, the deity surprisingly faced the city and not the harbor. After being severely damaged, it was recreated in 1934 and rotated 180 degrees. At the base of the Neptune Fountain are two female sea monsters. They represent navigation threats in the Strait of Messina that caused countless shipwrecks. Scylla was a rocky cliff and Charybdis was a giant whirlpool. This mythological story created a Greek idiom that translates to “between a rock and a hard place.”

Piazza dell' Unità d' Italia 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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30 Venetian Architecture in Messina, Italy

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. You would expect this was a palazzo along the Grand Canal. Instead, the building is wedged inside a gate on a triangle of land overlooking the Fountain of Neptune. I could not learn anything about it. If you know, please send me an email with the details.

Via Gran Priorato, 495 98122 Messina ME, Italy
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31 Immaculate Virgin Mary Statue in Messina, Italy

This statue of the Immaculate Virgin Mary was sculpted by Giuseppe Buceti in 1758. The Madonna is the patron of Messina. Two huge festivals honor her each year. The Our Lady of the Letter is on June 3 and the Feast of the Assumption is celebrated over three days starting on August 13.

Piazza Immacolata di marmo 98122 Messina, Province of Messina, Italy
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