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Messina ( , Sicilian: Missina) is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italymarker, and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of c. 240,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 500,000 in the metropolitan area.

It is located near the North-East corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messinamarker, just opposite Villa San Giovannimarker which is itself north of Reggio Calabriamarker across the straits, on the mainland.

The main economical resource of the city is the port, both commercial and military, with several shipyards. Agriculture includes cultivation of lemons, orange, mandarin oranges and other fruit, vegetables and wine.

The city has been a Roman Catholic Archdiocese and Archimandrite seat since 1548 and is home to a locally important International Fair.


Founded by Greekmarker colonists in the 8th century BCE, Messina was originally called Zancle, from the meaning "scythe" because of the shape of its natural harbour (though a legend attributes the name to King Zanclus). A comune of its province, located at the southern entrance of the Strait of Messinamarker, is to this day called 'Scaletta Zanclea'. In the early 5th century BC, Anaxilas of Rhegium renamed it Messene in honor of the Greek city Messenemarker ( ). (See also List of traditional Greek place names.) The city was sacked in 397 BC by the Carthaginiansmarker, then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse.

In 288 BC the Mamertines seized the city by treachery, killing all the men and taking the women as their wives. The city became a base from which they ravaged the countryside, leading to a conflict with the expanding regional empire of Syracusemarker. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines near Mylaemarker on the Longanus River and besieged Messina. Carthagemarker assisted the Mamertines because of a long-standing conflict with Syracuse over dominance in Sicily. When Hiero attacked a second time in 264 BC, the Mamertines petitioned Romemarker for an alliance, hoping for more reliable protection. Although initially reluctant to assist lest it encourage other mercenary groups to mutiny, Rome was unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and encroach on Italy. Rome therefore entered into an alliance with the Mamertines. In 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian peninsula.

At the end of the first Punic War it was a free city allied with Rome. In Roman times Messina, then known as Messana, had an important pharos (lighthouse). Messana was the base of Sextus Pompeius, during his war against Octavian.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively conquered by the Goths, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I stopped at Messina en route to the Holy Land and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William the Good, King of Sicily

Messina was most likely the harbour at which the Black Death entered Europe: the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Caffa in Crimeamarker. In 1548 St. Ignatius founded here the first Jesuit College of the world, which later gave birth to the Studium Generale (the current University of Messina).

The Christian ships that won the Battle of Lepanto marker left from Messina: the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who took part in the battle, recovered for some time in the Grand Hospital. The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XIV, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the University, the Senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants, and Messina decayed steadily. In 1743, 48,000 perished from plague in Messina. In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle the cultural life of Messina.

In 1847 it was one of the first cities in Italy where Risorgimento riots broke out. In 1848 it rebelled openly against the reigning Bourbons, but was heavily suppressed again. Only in 1860, after the Battle of Milazzo, the Garibaldine troops freed the city. One of the main figures of the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Mazzini, was elected deputy at Messina in the general elections of 1866.

The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern and rational plan. Further damage was added by the massive Allied air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousands of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.

In June 1955, Messina was the location of the Messina Conference of western European foreign ministers which led to the creation of the European Economic Community

Not well known to the community of railfans, Messina has a light rail system that was opened on April 3, 2003. This line is 7.7 kilometers and links the city's central station with city center and harbour. Low floor double-ended trams built by Alston Ferroviaria.


Main sights

Religious buildings

  • The Cathedral (12th century), containing the remains of Conrad, king of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. After the earthquake of 1908, the cathedral was almost entirely rebuilt in 1919/1920. It had to be rebuilt a second time in 1943, after a fire following Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be seen in the apsidal area. The façade has three late Gothic portals, the central one probably dating from the early 15th century, with noteworthy decorations. The architrave is decorated with a sculpture of Christ Among the Evangelists and representations of human figures, animals and plants. The tympanum is from 1468. The interior has a nave and two equally long aisles divided by files of 28 columns; some of the decorative elements are from the original edifice. Beside of that of Conrad IV, the tombs include those of Archbishop Palmer (died in 1195), Archbishop Guidotto de Abbiate (14th century) and Antonio La Legname (16th century). The mosaics in the apse are reconstructions. Noteworthy is the Chapel of the Sacrament (late 16th century), with scenographic decorations and 14th century mosaics. The bell tower remarkably holds the largest astronomical clock in the world, built in 1933 by the Ungerer company of Strasbourg. A popular touristic attraction is represented by the animated mechanical statues which every day at noon narrate important events of civil and religious history of the city.
  • The Annunziata dei Catalani (late 12th-13th century). Dating from the late Norman period, it was transformed in the 13th century when the nave was shortened and the façade added. It has a cylindrical apse and a high dome emerging from a high tambour. Noteworthy is the external decoration of the transept and the dome area, with a series of blind arches separated by small columns. It clearly reflects Arab architectural influences.
Santa Maria degli Alemanni (probably from the early 13th century), which was formerly a chapel of Teutonic Knights. It is a rare example of purely Gothic church in Sicily, as is witnessed by the arched windows and shapely buttresses.


Porta Grazia (by Domenico Biundo and Antonio Amato)
  • The Fountain of Orion, located in the Cathedral square, built by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1547.
  • The Fountain of Neptune, looking towards the harbour, built by Montorsoli in 1557.
  • The Senatory Fountain (1619)
  • The Four Fountains, though only two elements of the four-cornered complex survive today.
  • Palazzo Calapaj, near the Cathedral, an example of 18th century Messinese architecture which survived to the 1908 earthquake.
  • The San Ranieri Lighthouse (or Tower), from 1555.
  • The Botanical Garden "Pietro Castelli" of Messina's University
  • The Regional Museum, which hosts, among others, paintings from Caravaggio and Antonello da Messina.
  • The Pylon, built in 1957 for a 220kV-overhead powerline across the Strait of Messina. At the time of its construction, the two pylons were the highest in the world. This powerline has since been replaced by an underwater cable, but the pylons still remain, protected as historical monuments, and freely accessible by tourists since 2006 summer.

Notable people

Literary references

Numerous writers set their works in Messina, including:

See also


  1. Epidemiology of the Black Death and Successive Waves of Plague. Samuel K Cohn JR. Medical History.
  2. The Messina Declaration 1955 final document of The Conference of Messina 1 to 3 June 1955 - birth of the European Union

External links

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