Although Messina is both the capital and the largest city by population of the province of the same name, it is not the main tourist attraction. Unlike, say, Taormina and the Aeolian Islands, the city has only a small stretch of beach and, moreover, everything outside the center is disorderly and fairly polluted.
Messina city guide
Tourist office: Palazzo Satellite, piazza della Repubblica – 98100 Messina (tel. +39 090 7723704 or 090 7723701. Province: The former province of Messina is now called Città Metropolitana di Messina. Region: Sicily.
By car/public transportation
By car: Messina is the starting point of the A20 freeway to Palermo. The A18 motorway leads directly to Catania.
Public transportation: The Central Station of Messina is the second most important one of Sicily. The second station is called Messina Marittima and is there for connections with mainland Italy. There are ferries to both Reggio Calabria and Villa San Giovanni.
Public transportation within Messina: Most public transportation in the city is by bus, althought there is one, almost 8 kilometers long, tram line. A normal ticket costs 1.50 Euro and is valid for 100 minutes from the time of stamping. It is recommended to buy this ticket in advance, otherwise the price is 2 Euro. A ticket that is valid for two times 100 minutes costs 2.50 Euro. It must be stamped twice. A day ticket costs 4 Euro, a 72-hour ticket 10 Euro and a weekly 20 Euro. If you first take a train within the city and then a bus or streetcar you pay 2 Euro. (NB: Tickets can only be bought from the driver when the bus is standing still at the starting point).
What to see
Unlike most Sicilian cities, Messina has only a small strip of beach, no more than 600 meters. Unfortunately, it is rarely cleaned.
The historic center does have some interesting attractions though, starting with the Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, this church has a beautiful astronomical clock.
The Annunziata Church dates from the same era and shows a mixture of influences. The architecture is characterized by Byzantine, as well as Romanesque, Arabic and Norman elements.
The Santa Maria Alemanna Church was erected by Teutonic knights in the 13th century.
The San Francesco Church dates from the 15th and the Montevergine Monastery from the 18th century.
Only ruins remain of the Santa Maria della Valle Church (aka the Badiazza).
The Orion Fountain was designed by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1547. The Neptune Fountain dates back to 1557.
A brief history of Messina
Before Messina received its current name, the city was called Zánkle. This meant “crescent” and referred to the shape of the bay on which the city was founded. The first inhabitants were the Sicanians. This people was succeeded by the Sicels. Around 730 BC, the Chalcidians founded a Greek colony. This was later taken over by the Messenians who originated from the southwestern part of the Greek Peloponnesus. It is to this people that Messina owes its name.
Later the city was conquered first by Carthage and then by Syracuse. After this it was the turn of the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines invaded, followed by the Arabs.
From 1061 Messina was ruled by the Normans. The city enjoyed a period of prosperity and high culture. In 1198 it became a free port.
During the Sicilian Vespers, a popular uprising that took place in 1282, the city sided with the House of Aragon.
In the 17th century a period of decline began. Between 1674 and 1678 another revolt took place, this time against the Spanish rulers.
Also under Vittorio Amedeo of Savoia and, hereafter, Charles VI of Austria the situation did not improve. In 1783, a severe earthquake caused even greater problems.
In 1908, there was another earthquake, which killed 60,000 people.
In 1943, the city was heavily bombed and partially reduced to rubble.