While other towns, such as Catania, Ragusa and Noto endured a terrible earthquake in 1693, Messina has suffered diversity in all its forms. The first was in 1743 when nearly 50,000 inhabitants died in the plague. Forty years later an earthquake struck, destroying most of the town. After 125 years of relative respite, on December 28th 1908, another earthquake, combined with a tsunami once more laid the town to waste, killing over 60,000 people. Again the resilient townsfolk mourned their dead and rebuilt the city.
The last blow came in 1943 during Operation Huskey, the Allied Forces' liberation of Sicily. As US and British forces pushed hard through the island, Messina became the last bastion of German defences and suffered significant bombing, razing many of the recent constructions to the ground and killing thousands.
But Messina stands resurgent, capable of enduring anything the Gods may throw at it. It remains the gateway to Sicily and stands proudly on its eponymous Straits, surveying the Calabrian hills across the water. Hundreds of thousands of passengers are shuttled back and forth between Sicily and the mainland each year, especially during the busy summer months.
The ferry crossing takes just 15 minutes, making it perfectly viable, if you’re staying nearby, to make a day trip to the mainland to see the famous Bronzi di Riace in Reggio Calabria and other places of interest.
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is home to Messina's cathedral and its curious campanile (bell tower). Soaring 60m into the sky, the tower incorporates an astronomical clock, said to be the world's largest. Built in Strasbourg in 1733, it strikes at noon, setting in motion a procession of bronze automata that sets off a comical roaring lion and crowing cockerel. Facing the tower is the 1553 marble Fontana di Orione. Created by Florentine sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (pupil to Michelangelo), it commemorates Orion, the mythical founder of Messina.
Duomo di Messina
Messina's one great sight is the Norman Duomo (or at least a faithful replica of it). One of Sicily's finest cathedrals, its treasures include an impressive carved altar and a grand inlaid organ, the second-largest in Italy. Originally built in the 12th century and accidentally burnt to the ground in 1254, the cathedral was destroyed again in the earthquakes of 1783 and 1908, as well as by an incendiary WWII bomb in 1943.
Fontana di Orione
The pale marble Fontana di Orione (1553) depicts a lounging Orion, the mythical founder of Messina. The fountain was constructed by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (pupil to Michelangelo) to commemorate the construction of Messina's aqueduct – the city's houses were the first in Sicily to receive running water. The figures that adorn it represent the rivers Tiber, Nile, Ebro and Camaro.
Madonna della Lettera
Guarding Messina's harbour is the soaring golden statue of the Madonna della Lettera. A good spot to admire it and the harbour is from the seafront promenade directly opposite the Fontana del Nettuno.
Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani
This 12th-century church is a fine example of Arab-Norman architecture.