Catania is the second largest metropolitan city of Sicily. Over the centuries, it has faced earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, it has undergone alternating dominations and urban transformations.
Here it is, at the beginning of the third millennium, with its vitality and its hardworking determination, ready to surprise you and make you fall in love, submerging you in intense flavours, Baroque stuccoes of UNESCO heritage and a myriad of unforgettable surroundings.
The symbol of the city is u Liotru, or the Fontana dell’Elefante, assembled in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. It portrays an ancient lavic stone elephant and is topped by an Egyptian obelisk from Syene. Legend has it that Vaccarini’s original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, Vaccarini appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue.
The Sicilian name u Liotru is a phonetic change of Heliodorus, a nobleman who, after trying without success to become bishop of the city, became a sorcerer and was therefore condemned to the stake. Legend has it that Heliodorus himself was the sculptor of the lava elephant and that he used to magically ride it in his fantastic travels from Catania to Constantinople. Another legend has it that Heliodorus was able to transform himself into an elephant.
The presence of an elephant in the millenary history of Catania is surely connected to both zooarcheology and popular creeds. In fact, the prehistoric fauna of Sicily from the Upper Paleolithic, included dwarf elephants. Paleontologist Othenio Abel suggested that the presence of dwarf elephants in Sicily may be the origin of the legend of the Cyclops. Ancient Greeks, after finding the skulls of dwarf elephants, about twice the size of a human skull, with a large central nasal cavity (mistaken for a large single eye-socket) supposed that they were skulls of giants with a single eye.
The Catanian Museum of Mineralogy, Paleontology and Vulcanology holds the integral unburied skeleton of an Elephas falconeri in an excellent state of conservation. The first inhabitants of Etna molded such lavic artifact to idolize the mythical proboscidian.