Discovering the traces of ancient Christians in South-Eastern Sicily – Road.Travel

Discovering the traces of ancient Christians in South-Eastern Sicily

Road Trip Route. Uncommon itineraries, Discovering archaeological underground sites, Landscapes and nature, Traditional food.

Dear travellers welcome to Sicily! I'm Rosaria Andolina and I will guide you in the discovery of the traces of ancient Christians in the territory between Catania and Cava d'Ispica, in the south-east portion of Sicily. Our itinerary begins with a visit to the city of Catania, built on the slopes of Etna and deeply linked to its martyr, Sant'Agata. After, we will move to the Pantalica reserve with its pitted rocky ridges. We will stop in Syracuse, to discover the underground funerary tunnels and then we will move to the Hyblean plateau. We will visit the archaeological area of ​​Akrai and the Cava d'Ispica, the latter one in the Ragusa area. Finally we will conclude the itinerary in peace and among the magnificent colors of the Vendicari Reserve. It's time to go and discover wonderful treasures! *Credits: This tour was made by Rosaria Andolina, as a multimedia tourist and storytelling project for the "Laboratory of formal technical writing (storytelling and gamification)", under the coordination of Prof. Elisa Bonacini, within the ITS 2-years COURSE "Higher Technician for the management of tourist accommodation facilities and cultural activities", 2019-2021, founded by the ITS Archimede Foundation at the CUMO Eastern Mediterranean University Consortium, in Noto (Syracuse).*

💥 Try for Free, History and Culture, Adventure, Gastronomy. From: Catania

ITS Fondazione Archimede Turism&Culture. Travel Expert.

Travel Itinerary and Road Trip Route

Day 1: Discovering the traces of the first Christians in the city of Catania

The itinerary crosses the ancient historic center of Catania, discovering the first buildings that testify to Christian cults in the city. The city built in the strip of land between the slopes of Mount Etna, is linked to the cult of Saint Agatha, a young martyr who lived and died in Catania in the third century AD. You can admire the churches related to this cult and also a roman bath transformed into a Church, of which are barely visible pieces of frescoes and the remains of a mosaic floor. A tip: take a relaxing walk!

Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) (Aeroporto di Catania Fontanarossa)

Welcome to Catania Airport! Firstly, go and rent a car...a fantastic trip is waiting for you!


Welcome to [Catania](, the very famous city built and rebuilt for millennia, on the slopes of the [Etna Volcano](! Catania was founded by the Greeks in 729 BC, was a great and riche Roman city and here [Saint Agatha]( was born and martyrized, becoming one of the most worshipped Saints in the world. Here we will discover the very first traces of Christianity, which are strictly connected to Saint Agatha. If you want to discover some of the most important monuments of the city, here is a suggested izi.TRAVEL audiotour.

Osteria Antica Marina

First of all, start with you stomach full! A little walk from the b&b let you see the beautiful [Duomo square](,_Catania), with the [Cathedral of Saint Agatha](, a Norman church rebuilt in Baroque style after the [1693 earthquake](, becoming one of the monument declared World Heritage UNESCO site for its incredible architectural style. After this little walk, the Osteria Antica Marina is waiting for you with incredible fresh fish dishes!

Anfiteatro Romano

The [Amphitheatre of Catania]( was built in the Roman Imperial period, probably in the 2nd century AD, on the northern edge of the ancient city at the base of the Montevergine hill, where the upper part of the city was set, since the Greek phase. Only a small portion of the structure is now visible, below ground level, to the north of Piazza Stesicoro. If you want to see how it would appeared in the Roman times, [here is the 3D reconstruction](!

Chiesa di Sant'Agata al Carcere

The prison is one of the central places around which the story of the young [Christian Agata]( revolves. After the martyrdom of the breasts, Agata was taken to this prison and received a visit from St. Peter and the angel who healed her of her wounds. The Church of the Saint Jail or Saint Agatha at the Jail (Santo Carcere or Sant'Agata al Carcere) was built around 1760, on the place of a more ancient late medieval church. This temple includes the ancient jail where Saint Agatha was allegedly imprisoned during her martyrdom.

San Biagio Church in Sant'Agata alla Fornace

The church, with a single nave, was built in the eighteenth century after the terrible earthquake of 1693, on the place where, according to tradition, the furnace in which Sant'Agata suffered martyrdom was located.

Chiesa di Sant'Agata la Vetere

Considered, according to tradition, the first Cathedral of Catania, it stands on the site of the Roman praetorium where Agata was tried. Around the 8th century, the body of the martyr was brought here and a large cemetery area was also built around it (this portion was, in antiquity, outside the urban settlement). The current church, with a single nave, is the result of the 18th-century post-earthquake reconstruction, with traces of the previous one, and a crypt that partly incorporates Roman structures of a public building. Inside you can see the "Sarcophagus of Sant’Agata", which was an ancient Roman marble sarcophagus, reused in the Byzantine era and today used as an altar table.

Archaeological Complex Terme della Rotonda

The [Terme della Rotonda]( represent one of the most important archaeological remains of the city of Catania. The Roman bath structure, which was built starting from the 1st century AD and remained unchanged until the 6th AD, is made up of a large complex of quadrangular and circular areas interconnected with each other; according to archaeologist, when the bath stopped to be used, in this period was built the church of Santa Maria della Rotonda. Finally, in the 9th century, the area was enriched by a necropolis that will remain in use until the late Renaissance. It was Prince Biscari, in the 18th century, who advanced the hypothesis that it was a thermal environment from the Roman period. During the visit you can observe some medieval frescoes depicting: the Madonna and the bishops Nicola and Leone the Wonderworker.

Chiesa di San Gaetano alle Grotte

According to tradition, this was the very first Christian church in Catania, and was built in 262 AD, by the fourth bishop of the city Sant'Everio and dedicated to Santa Maria di Betlem. The underground church was built inside a lava cave, already used in Roman times. In the past there was already a building above the cave but it was damaged several times, firstly destroyed by the Muslims and then by the earthquake of 1693. The Church currently visible dates to the 18th century, but above the church a beautiful cult area cut in the rock is currently used for little ceremonies and dated back to the first Christianity.

La Dolce Vita S.r.l.s.

Walking along the Etna street you can taste the excellent desserts of the Catania pastry shop. Do you know the "minne di Sant'Agata"? they are a typical dessert made with marzipan and ricotta, the outside is white and above there is a candied cherry. They remember, in a sweet way, the tragedy of the martyrdom suffered by Agata with the cut of her breasts.

Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab

The city of Catania is very famous for its large port and fish market. We advise you to dine with a cone of mixed fried fish and a light, sparkling wine.

Day 2: Discovering rock churches in Pantalica and the traces of the first Christians in Syracuse.

After leaving the city of Catania, drive your car towards the Pantalica reserve, a fascinating place inhabited by man from the protohistoric to the medieval period, which has been declared World Heritage UNESCO site together with the Greek city of Syracuse. After visiting the rock churches and oratories carved into the rock, continue your itinerary, crossing the Hyblean area, towards the city of Syracuse. In the ancient Greek colony you can visit the many funerary tunnels of Christian use and the church dedicated to the cult of another young Sicilian martyr, Santa Lucia, born and died in Syracuse.

Pantalica: rock churches and oratory

The Pantalica area (the very famous [rock cut necropolis]( has been used since the Prehistoric times) was also used for residential, spiritual and funerary purposes also in the Byzantine period and in the following centuries. In this regard, you can admire some truly suggestive places, dug entirely into the rock. -**S. Micidiario**: near the entrance of Filiporto there is a village of about 150 houses with the small church of S. Micidiario on the edge of a chasm. Inside, faint traces of frescoes and wall inscriptions are still visible. However, we recognize the figure of the Pantocrator flanked by two angels and another figure, perhaps a saint. There are probably two layers of fresco, the lower reddish one and the upper blue one. -**S. Nicolicchio**: next to the Anaktoron (the ancient princely palace) there is a small village with the oratory of S. Nicolicchio, also decorated with traces of a very ruined fresco. However, Sant'Elena and Santo Stefano are recognized. The dating seems to be from the 7th century. -**Grotta del Crocifisso**: used as a church, has a rectangular apse with the remains of a crucifixion as well as the representation of St. Nicholas and an anonymous saint whose representation has been detached and kept at the "Paolo Orsi" Archaeological Museum in Syracuse.

Agriturism Pantalica Ranch

Continue your tour, surrounded by nature and make a stop at the Pantalica ranch. You can also go for a horse ride after lunch.

Catacomb of St. John in Siracusa

This is an incredible place to discover! The Catacombs in Syracuse hosted one of the biggest Christian community of the first Christianity and the extension of the Catacombs is second only to those in Rome. The [Catacomb of St. John]( was mostly excavated between 315 and 360 AD, and remained in use until the end of the 5th century. They are the best preserved and a guided tour is necessary here: you might get lost in the corridors and rock-cut tombs!

Catacomb of St.Lucy in Siracusa

A second important Catacomb in the city is the [Catacomb of St.Lucy]( They were excavated starting from the 4th century AD, and were frequented for many centuries; even after losing their original function as a cemetery, they welcomed small underground places of Christian devotion, among which the most important is undoubtedly the Sepulcher of [Santa Lucia](, the patron of the city, which today stands isolated but was once an integral part of the galleries.

Olivia Natural Bistrot

We suggest to have a relaxing dinner here, in this very nice bistrot, where you can eat genuine food...and drink very good birras!

Sikaru' Beerstro

And if you want an after dinner, here is the right place for you!

Day 3: Crossing the Hyblean plateau

Let's start this wonderful day with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Syracuse to discover the latest news: the early Christian sector, where the fascinating sarcophagus of Adelfia with its many decorations is exhibited. After we move to the Hyblean plateau to discover Akrai, an ancient city founded by the Syracusans. The archaeological area includes some quarries used as burial places in the Christian period. We end the evening at the Stallaini farmhouse, we can ask to the owners to visit the nearby necropolis!

Archeological Museum Paolo Orsi

Let's start the day, after a good Italian (or sicilian) breakfast, with a visit to the [Archeological museum "Paolo Orsi"]( It's really huge and interesting. In May 2014, the “Paolo Orsi” Regional Archaeological Museum in Syracuse opened a new exhibition sector (Sector F) dedicated to the Christian period and the catacombs of the city. In this sector are exhibited many finds including the famous **Sarcophagus of Adelfia**. If you want to have an idea of the Museum, here is an [interactive virtual tour]( for you! After the visit we will leave the city of Syracuse to admire the city of Palazzolo Acreide.

La Trota Restaurant

The road is so relaxing and not too long ... but it's time for lunch! We recommend you to have lunch at La Trota, a large restaurant where trout are reared and cooked. You can eat in the garden or in the restaurant inside the cave !

Latomia dell'Intagliata di Akrai

[Palazzolo Acreide]( has a very long history, we advise you to head towards the archaeological area of ​​[Akrai](, visit the theater and continue towards the quarries of the Intagliata and the Intagliatella. Here you can admire the refined tombs of the Christian and Byzantine periods.

Grotta di Senebardo

After visiting the Akrai archaeological area, continue driving your car to the north and admire the wonderful [Hyblean mountains]( landscape. and the Anapo valley and mount Etna in the background. Not far away is the "Grotta di Senebardo": a large Byzantine cave carved into the rock, with a skylight in the center, where there are canopy tombs.

Agriturism Stallaini

Walking along the Hyblean plateau it is possible to admire breathtaking views and discover small and rare realities such as the [Agriturismo Stallaini]( A magical place, where history, art and cuisine are mixed. The owners will welcome you but also some nice donkeys. Before dinner, ask the owners to take a walk to discover the landscape and the tombs of the nearby necropolis. A small note: this itinerary include a suggested overnight stay on the third day near this Agriturism. But if you want, I suggest you to spend a night between the stars and silence by staying at the Agriturismo Stallaini, by directly contacting them. All rooms have a private bathroom with shower and complimentary toiletries. The characteristics that distinguish them are: - Ceilings with exposed wooden beams - Classic Sicilian furniture - Terracotta floors

Day 4: Away from traffic: between the Hyblean quarries and the Ionian sea.

Last day dedicated to our tour, but there will be no shortage of wild and bewitching places to discover. Today we will move between the province of Syracuse and that of Ragusa and after a peaceful walk immersed in the Cava d'Ispica we will visit the Vendicari reserve.

Archaeological area of ​​Cava d'Ispica

Between [Modica]( and [Ispica]( there is a wide valley that tells a thousand-year history: [Cava d'Ispica]( In fact this area was already inhabited in protohistoric, then Greek and also Byzantine and medieval times. Many were the foreign travelers who visited this wild place. Walking and entering the various rooms dug into the rocks, go in search of the details! Have a good treasure hunt!

Agriturismo Vendicari - Tenuta Arangio

After this fascinating visit it is time to return to Catania, driving the way along the coast. Near the Riserva di Vendicari there is an oasis of peace, but with many comforts! Let's stop for lunch!

Trigona Byzantine Vendicari

Many know the reserve of Vendicari for the remains of the ancient tuna industry, the varieties of migratory birds and of course for the calm and uncontaminated sea. But in the south there is an important archaeological site: the citadel of the Maccari. You can visit some tombs, catacombs and the Trigona church. This is your last point of interest in this tour! Hoping you liked's time to go home! Drive to the Airport of Catania and drop off you car! See you soon again in Sicily!