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Copyright Enrico Massetti 2015
Published by Enrico Massetti
All Rights Reserved
An incredible fusion of races, civilizations, and systems of government; a fantastic interweaving of customs and habits; and an ever-changing and astonishing variety of landscapes with volcanoes and forests, seas and mountains are the attractions which await the tourist on his long journey from the tip of Italy to the wonders of Sicily.
From REGGIO CALABRIA where we can arrive by air or driving we take the ferry across the straits, and land at MESSINA.
Messina: a few hours will suffice to visit this city which was almost destroyed and rebuilt twice in this century: after the earthquake in 1908 and the bombardments in 1943, Of the original Norman structure of the Cathedral (1168) only the lower part of the facade and the magnificent Gothic portals have remained (inside, remains of ancient mosaics in the apse).
Nearby is the church of SS. Annunziata dei Catalani, an elegant combination of Romanesque and Arab-Norman architecture, with a remarkable Apse. We should also visit the critical National Museum in the former church of San Gregorio. Noteworthy are: a Polyptych by Antonello do Messina, works by his pupils, two beautiful paintings by Caravaggio, works by Mattia Preti, ancient, medieval, and Renaissance sculptures, among the latter some by Lantana.
The church dated back to the second half of the 13th-century and was founded, together with an adjacent hospital, by the Teutonic Knights, thus explaining the name "Alemanna," by which it is still known.
The Knights set up their priory here and used the hospital to receive and tend veterans from the Holy Land. Only a small trace of the ancient hospital remains, in the form of a lancer arch and a fragment of the wall near the apses of the church. The church itself, abandoned by the knights at the end of the 14th-century, was struck by lightning at the beginning of the 17th-century and was further damaged in the earthquake of 1783, which caused the facade to collapse.
Today it is under restoration, after having been dismantled stone by stone to allow consolidation. The regional museum contains an excellent portal from this church which is the purest example of Gothic architecture in Sicily since it was built using entirely German methods.
The knights' hospital, which later passed to the Confraternita dei Rossi, admitted a famous patient after the battle of Lepanto in 1571, in the person of the great Miguel Saavedra Cervantes.
The church of the "Annunziata dei Catalani" stands on one of the most historically significant sites of the Straits. Nearby, there was once the Byzantine shipyard, guarded by the fortress of Castellammare. The church was built between 1150 and 1200 on the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to Neptune. It is an exciting example of how various architectural styles were added to a late Byzantine construction typical of those built by the Basilian Order of monks. The blind loggias and the play of color created by the exterior stonework, along with the two-tone arches of the interior and the elongated layout of the church, are all indications of Islamic and Byzantine influence, and also reflect contemporary architecture on mainland Italy.
The original length of the naves was almost double their present length: they were shortened, and the facade was redone following a flood in the Middle Ages, which caused the front section of the church to collapse.
The church has been known by the name "Catalani" ever since the 16th-century when the Senate of Messina gave it to the powerful guild of the Catalan merchants. The guild made it their headquarters and placed the coats of arms of Catalonia on the main entrance. The significant difference in height between the ground level of the church and that of the surrounding streets and buildings is due to the piles of rubble caused by the earthquake of 1908, which were later leveled for reconstruction.
The church was originally built in Norman times, but only in 1197, in a ceremony presided over by Henry VI of Swabia ( the father of Frederick II, who lived and was buried in Messina), was it dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Nothing of the Norman construction remains today except the general layout and the overall exterior appearance which, after the 1908 earthquake, the architect Valenti reconstructed from ancient documents.
Since at least the 14th-century the Cathedral has undergone various structural changes.
Guidotto de Tabiatis, the bishop whose tomb, sculpted by Goro di Gregorio in 1333, can be admired in the transept- ordered the construction of an additional section, along with the south front of the cathedral, decorated with black and white stone bands and beautiful mullioned windows.
The 14th-century also saw the addition of the baptismal font by Florentine Gaddo Gaddi and the mosaics in the vaults of the apses. These depict, from south to north: St Giovanni between St Nicola and St. Basilio; Christ Pantocrator; and the Virgin and Child between, Archangels, St Lucia and St Agata. The three portals of the Cathedral facade, with their elaborate decorations in polychrome bands and sculpted features, date from the same period. The central entrance is by Baboccio da Piperno and shows figures of kings and saints, cherubs intently observing a mystic harvest, heraldic devices, and symbols of the Evangelists. The triangular roof with God the Father at the top and a tondo depicting Christcrowning the Virgin were added in 1468 by Pietro di Bonate. The statue of Madonna and Child, in the lunette of the portal, is from 1534 and is the work of Giovambattista Mazzeo.
The 16th-century saw radical intervention also inside the building: Montorsoli designed a marble inlay floor and the arrangement, along with the walls of the side naves, representing the Apostolate.
The sculptor from Carrara, Andrea Calamech, sculpted the marble pulpit, and Jacopo Lo Duca built the chapel of the Sacrament in the north apse. The canopy in wood and copper and the high altar in mixed marble act as a kind of theatrical device to focus attention on the painting of the Madonna della Lettera (patron saint of Messina), and date back to the 17th-century. The altar, designed by Simone Gulli – who was also responsible for a unique series of buildings along the port known as the "Maritime Theatre," was begun in 1628 and finished at the end of the 18th-century. A large number of artists collaborated on its construction, including the great goldsmiths of the Juvarra family, who also made the other altar, in silver and gold, built into the modern one at the center of the transept, depicting the Virgin handing over her letter to the ambassadors of Messina.
In 1930, the Cathedral became home to what is the largest organ in Italy and the third largest in Europe: 5 keyboards, 170 stops, 16000 pipes arranged in both sides of the transept, behind the altar, above the leading portal and above the triumphal arch.
Duomo Bell Tower
At the beginning of the 16th-century, Martino Montanini planned what was to be, at 90 meters, the highest bell-tower in Sicily.
Struck by lightning in 1588, it was rebuilt by Andrea Calamech in around 1575. The base of the belltower initially housed the city archives, which were taken by the Spanish in 1678 and transported to Seville, where they remain to this day.
The old bell-tower, damaged in the earthquake of 1783, was demolished soon afterward. The present tower, designed by Valenti, imitates the forms of its predecessor.
It was built after 1908, and in 1933 became home to the largest animated clock in the world, work of the Ungerer brothers from Strasbourg.
Fountain of Nettuno
The beautiful monumental fountain representing Nettuno was built in 1557 by Fra' Giovanni Angelo da Montorsoli, on the commission of the Senate of Messina and in close collaboration with the great humanist and local mathematician Francesco Maurolico.
The fountain of Nettuno is an assimilation of the dominant style of Michelangelo in sculpture. The figure of the god rises calm and invincible, holding his terrible trident with its power to shake the earth; the monstrous Scilla and Cariddi chained at our feet, hurl animal screams.
The fountain, which in the 16th-century was situated only a few feet from the sea, with Nettuno turned towards the city, was designed to be seen with the blue backdrop of the harbor, as if the figures had just risen from the water, and as if the god was laying claim to the city.
The Galleria inaugurated in 1939; the building represents the primary work of the local civil engineer and architect Camillo Puglisi Allegra, an essential figure in the various school of architecture.
This building is one of only two examples of its kind in the south of Italy, the other being the gallery in Naples. Puglisi Allegra, who personally designed all the decorations (sculpted by the artists Bonfiglio and Lovetti), drew inspiration from 18th-century Sicilian Art.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
The beautiful effect was completed by the decorations in wrought iron, multicolored windows, and carefully designed lighting, based on lamps hidden behind cornices to give an impact of sheet light.