Good afternoon everyone. It's a little past lunchtime on Wednesday 10th February and time for my daily update. I've just refreshed the home page with a more detailed breakdown of the current restrictions in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. I'll keep that page up to date each day with not only the latest rules, but also the numbers of new infections and a comparison to the previous day.
Yesterday in Italy there were 10,630 new positive cases confirmed, an increase of 2,660 from the previous day (7,970). The number of people currently infected with the virus in Italy dropped by 5,637 to an overall figure of 413,967.
The main emphasis in the newspapers is ever so slightly starting to shift away from the story of Mario Draghi and his attempts to form the latest new Italian government. There are a number of headlines today concerning the vaccination rollout with calls for Italy to sanction use of the Russian Sputnik vaccine in order to speed things up. Much criticism remains around the EU's handling of the vaccination programme with the word "bureaucracy" cited several times; a familiar barb that the EU finds hard to shed.
Away from the virus and a quick look at the good old weather once again shows the city of Turin in Piedmont as the coldest part of Italy right now with a maximum temperature of 4° Celsius and cloudy overhead. Things couldn't be more different however in Sicily, with the island's second city of Catania enjoying sunshine and a beautiful 21° Celsius today.
With most of us living in winter conditions and the virus constantly gnawing away at us, let's treat ourselves and have a look at what sunny Catania has to offer. Well firstly, it's a big city by Italian standards with a population of just over 300,000, making it Sicily's second most populous and the 13th in the list of Major Cities of Italy. It can boast a UNESCO World Heritage listing: grouped along with a number of other cities and towns in Sicily under the heading 'Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South Eastern Sicily)".
The UNESCO listing is in relation to the reconstruction of Catania and the other towns on the list, after the 1693 earthquake that devastated the local area. The late Baroque style of the day is well-regarded by UNESCO for its architectural and artistic achievement. This is most prevalent in Catania's main square: called Piazza del Duomo. Just a word on the name of the square: there are dozens of Piazza del Duomos in Italy which just translates as "Cathedral Square". At the centre of Catania's Piazza del Duomo you'll find a statue of an elephant, somewhat surprisingly, but this is in fact the symbol of the city.
The elephant is known locally as Liotru and there are a number of theories as to why it takes pride of place in the city, ranging from the existence of dwarf elephants around Mount Etna to a wizard called Eliodoro (perhaps a derivative of Liotru which is in Sicilian dialect) who could transform himself into an elephant, which could be quite handy on occasion I suppose. Whatever the reason, you will find lots of colourful elephants (fake ones unfortunately) dotted around the city and it also adorns the badge of Calico Catania, the city's football team who are currently languishing in the lower reaches of the country's league system (Serie C).
Other sights in Catania include its beautiful Cathedral which puts even Liotru the elephant into the shade, and the 13th century Swabian castle: Castello Ursino. It can also boast one of Italy's most beautiful city parks called Villa Bellini.
Catania is an important travel hub for southern Italy: it has a ferry port from which you can sail to Naples or the city of Salerno at the eastern edge of the Amalfi Coast. There are also sailings further afield: to Valletta in Malta. Even more advantageous than its maritime port, Catania Airport is located just five kilometres outside the city centre and connects with a number of major international cities, including London. You can also fly from Catania to the Sicilian islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa with its wondrous Spiaggia dei Conigli beach.
I'll leave you with some of the highlights of Catania for today's images and I'll be back with more tomorrow.
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My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.