In my totally biased opinion Messina is often over-looked, but wrongfully so! Messina has it all! Mountains, sea, history, FOOD, and so much more! I spent nearly two months here and I can proudly say I LOVE MESSINA! There is so much to see that you won’t see if you’re just here for a few hours from off the cruise ship. I was fortunate to have my lovely other half show me around his city along with his friends. I was able to feel the Sicilian sense of hospitality, eat wayyyy too much amazing food, and swim in some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll be more interested in seeing this city that has stolen my heart!
Messina isn’t the most well-known city in Sicily, but it is still important for many reasons. Most notably because it connects Sicily to Reggio Calabria, aka mainland Italy. There are many things to see, but arguably the most well-known thing to see in Messina is the Duomo di Messina. This duomo has an astronomical clock and the various signs of the zodiac that rotate on the Eastern side of the main clock. I was shocked to see that the years actually continue through to this year. By the looks of it, it’s quite old. Hence my shock upon seeing 2017. This duomo isn’t only unique with the zodiac and astrological clock, but at noon something quite special happens every day.
Every person I’d met in Messina asked me if I went to the Duomo at noon, and I finally made it our there after a few weeks. I’d arrived at 11:45 and the square went from empty to full in less than 5 minutes. I pulled out my phone and went “live” on Facebook waiting for whatever was supposed to happen. Initially the golden lion on the top of the clock began to roar and move.Then the rooster started to cluck and move! Then the music started. The famous “Ave Maria” began to sound throughout the Piazza and everyone was silent. We all watched the golden figurines dance and move with the music. It was beautiful and definitely a Messina must-see.
Just a 5 minutes walk from the Duomo is the Old Byzantine church. About a hundred years ago there was a huge earthquake that destroyed most of Messina. Slowly everyone built the city back up, but they seemed to build around this church. Of course it needed restorations, but it was mainly still in-tact. It’s cool because if you look at it, it’s below the rest of the street. It’s still on the original street from before the earthquake, and the rest of the city seems to be above it. Anyway, I found it really neat.
There are two icons of Messina: La Madonna Della Lettera and Fontana del Nettuno. The very large golden Madonna stands proudly guarding the port of Messina with blessing in Latin while Neptune stands boldly signifying strength.
If you’d like you can pay a small price to go to the top of the church for pictures, I chose not to because I just drove up to the top of one of the mountains to a church called Cristo Re where you can get a perfect panoramic.
For another great panoramic of the Strait of Messina, and Reggio Calabria, you can drive to Condom Square. There’s a sign that says something along the lines of “panoramic photo zone” or something of the like. I however only know that it’s notorious for young lovers to do the dirty in their cars while parked at night. How romantic. In all seriousness it is a pretty great view.
If you keep driving past Condom Square, you’ll wind up in Litoranea beach street. Here all the people come out, even during the weekdays, to drink with their friends at one of the many beach-front bars and restaurants. There’s just something fancy about dressing nice and going to one of these fancy, open resto-bars. I love it. One of the most popular bars is called Lucky bar, a crowd of people stand around the entrance and the street at this bar. If you keep driving, you’ll eventually end up in Torre Faro. You’ll know you’re there because there is a very tall red and white pillar marking the beach.
Apparently the strait of Messina, where you swim, inspired the world-famous story Ulysses from the Odessy. In summary Ulysses was torn between leading his ship to the 6-headed monster Scylla (rock shoal on Italy’s side) or, Charybdis, a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. This is also the origin of the phrase “Between a rock and a hard place.” The reason why this is important is because there is a very strong current in the straight and if you swim at Torre Faro you must be very careful. There are also jellyfish, but the current is more dangerous. When I went, everyone just stood in the water and only a few swam near the shore.
I spent nearly every day at the beach here in Messina, but not at Torre Faro. We went to a place called Torre Bianca, which is in front of a friend’s house. This is just on the other side and I find that the water is calmer, there are more fish and things to see under the water, and it’s super clear! I’m from Florida, and the only time I’d ever seen water this clear it was at the Springs, never the beaches!
Dishes a la Messinese
You can’t leave Messina without trying each of these!
Cassata cake is a traditional deliciously moist and flavorful cake made with ricotta, chocolate chips, and topped with a beautifully decorated glaze. The place to get it is from Irrera. which is Messina’s famous bakery. You can click that link and take a closer look at how they make it!
If you want amazing an amazing Cannoli, you need to go to Bar Messina. It’s located not too far from Torre Faro and is definitely worth the drive!
As I’ve said in another post, Messina is the king of Granitas. There are many places that do it really well throughout Messina, including Irrera, but the best by far is a locally famous bar called Eden over by the beach Torre Faro. You must also order one of their fresh and warm Brioches, they go together like cookies and milk.
If you’re looking for some salty comfort foods or just fast food because you wanna have some quick eats, then you need to try Arancini with the original flavor of ragu and Focaccia with sardines. Sardines on/in dishes is very typical in Messina.
Vara and Ferragosto
I arrived in Messina in August, which turns out to be a holy month. I remember seeing these two giant figures being pulled by the people and then seeing them appear in front of the Municipio. I asked Giulio who these figures were and what they meant and he said it’s part of Messina’s history. These two giant figures named Mata and Grifone, are said to be the founders of Messina. Apparently the female, Mata, married Grifone to keep the peace throughout the land. They are quite impressive to see, and they are on display nearly all of August through September.
There is also the giant Madonna who is surrounded by children. This is the main piece in the celebration. The people of Messina would pull this trolley, from one end of the main street, to the other. Every year they would hold a lottery and place children onto the float, but after too many were inured they had to make fake ones. The day that this giant parade and celebration happens, is called Ferragosto which lands on August 15th. Ferragosto marks the beginning of the summer holidays as well as religious holiday. In Sicily many people celebrate Ferragosto in Messina, because they want to see Vara. However, Giulio hates Vara, so he took me to Palermo instead. I didn’t mind because I could still see the giant structures without the huge crowds.
Grazie a tutte le persone meravigliose che mi hanno mostrato amicizia a Messina e hanno fatto questa estate la più memorabile che abbia mai avuto. Non vedo l’ora di tornare!
(Huge thank you to all the wonderful people who showed me friendship in Messina and made this summer the most memorable one I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back!)