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Important cities of Sicily

Important cities of Sicily: Messina

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Messina (originally ZANKLE, or sickle, referring to the shape of the harbour) was settled from Cumae about 730 BC, then by Naxos and later by settlers from Euboia in Greece (the island north west of Athens).

It helped to found Rhegion across the straits of Messina (Rhegium to the Romans, Reggio di Calabria today) and the two towns were always closely connected. It was renamed Messana by a ruler of Rhegion in 493 BC, Anaxilas.Himilco, a Carthaginian, sacked the town in 397BC; Syracuse later rebuilt.
Then it was occupied by the Mamertines (sons of Mars) a group of mercenaries who controlled much of Sicily until they were conquered by Hieron II, from which point Messina became a Roman ally.
In 843 AD it was captured by the Saracens, and then in 1061 fell into Norman hands.
In 1190-91, the English king, the Lion-hearted, attacked the town and then rebuilt the castle of Matagrifone. By the end of the 15th century, Messina was a very prosperous port, famous for its monasteries. In the 17th century the town fell to the Spanish who decimated the local population. This marked the beginning of a long series of disasters: in 1743 the plague wiped out 40.000 people; In 1783, a terrible earthquake flattened the entire city; in 1848 the Bourbons quelled a Sicilian independence rebellion, with massive bombardaments from the sea.

A cholera epidemic broke out in 1854, and it was followed by another serious earthquake in 1894; then in December, the strongest earthquake experienced in the region struck in the early morning hours and left 80.000 people dead.
The city took protective measures against future quakes, by constructing wide avenues and low buildings, aided by international organizations. Allied bombs killed 4500 more people during World War II. After all these disasters, today’s Messina is the most modern town on the island.

The medieval Duomo or Cathedral was built in 1131, by Roger II.
It was almost all reconstructed according to the original style. It is still a Basilica with three aisles, three apses and a tall transept. The 12 side altars in the aisles and the statues of the Apostles are copies; only that of Saint John the Baptist, by Anonello Gagini, is original (1525). Of the façade, the lower part is the oldest, and the three wonderful portals date from the 15-16th century. The three side doors are also noteworthy; one dates from the Renaissance and the other is a pointed 15th century entrance with decorative mosaic strips.
The interior is in the piazza in front of the Duomo is a high clock tower or Campanile (213ft) with the largest astronomical clock in the world, built by a Strasbourg firm in 1933.
At noon there is a twenty minute action as the bells chime: to the sound of Schubert’s Ave Maria, the lion roars, the cock crows, a dove representing the Holy Spirit, flutters as the church rises, representing the resurrection of Christ and the founding of the Church, and Mary is encircled by apostles and angels.

Next to the Duomo is the marble Fountain of “Orion” by G. Angelo Montorsoli, a very elegant representation of Messina mythological founder, surrounded by the allegories of the four main rivers.
Another beautiful Church is “Annunziata dei Catalani”, a particular fine 12th century Norman construction. In the 13th century it was badly damaged by an earthquake.
The façade and three portals date from this period, while the transept, the charming cupola and the apse, all with beautiful blind arcading, are original 12th century.
Neptune Fountain, also built by Montorsoli (1557) is another fine work of art in white marble, along the Messina “promenade”, in front of the port.

The Regional Museum of Messina was founded to house works saved from the last earthquake. The archeological department is still being reorganized, but exhibitions of medieval and modern art give you a good idea of the town’s artistic heritage. Of a note among the works displayed at present are: Madonna degli Storpi, 1330 by Goro di Gregorio, a Senese sculptor; The Polypthyc of Saint Gregory by Antonello da Messina (1473); the Circumcision by Girolamo Alibrandi (1519) and two paintings by Caravaggio, Adoration of the Shepherds and Rising of Lazarus, which he painted during his stay in Messina in 1608-09.
There are interesting collections of minor works, such as the nine gilt paintings dating from the beginning of the 19th century, that illustrate the legend of the “Sacred Letter”.

The National Archaeological Museum, in the town of Reggio di Calabria.
It contains an important collection of Greek and Roman artefacts. The most famous are the fine Greek bronze statues dating from 460 BC and 430 BC. They have become known as the Riace Bronzes.
They may have been in shipwreck in ancient times, while they were being transported, or abandoned by looters of an ancient wreck, in this area, shortly before they were brought to public attention.

Very few original bronze statues survive from Greek times, because the metal was melted down and re-used in later times.
The best art work was in bronze rather than marble, and the surviving Roman copies of pieces that were famous in Roman days are in marble. The effect is always different from the original. The statues originally had shields on their left arm, with their left hands grasping the shield grip, and holding javelins in their right hands. Probably one of the two had a wreath on his head, while the other wore a helmet.
The warriors may represent heroes of the past. There have been many ideas about their identity, but so far no theory has had enough evidence to be convincing. The added copper on the lips and nipples, and the infill for teeth and eyes have been lost in most statues that survive from the Classical period.
You can see the veins on the hands, the casually relaxed pose and the power of athletically toned bodies reflecting the ideal beauty of the Greek (male) body. The statues were hollow cast, using wax for the model, which was melted out in the process.

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