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When you arrive in Catania on a cruise ship, or when – even better – you glide towards the airport, you will surely admire the expanses of black rock along the city’s waterfront. A first taste of the volcanic landscape that you will see if you take an excursion on Mount Etna. You can do it with us, with our guide who will come to welcome you right at the landing point. The long black cliffs that you have admired are in Ognina, a small seaside village that has been gradually absorbed by the city as one of its neighborhoods.

Cliff of Ognina, story of an eruption

Catania has experienced several eruptions and has repeatedly been threatened or lapped by the lava of Etna. In 1169, a violent lateral eruption originating from the Arsi Craters, above Mascalucia, began to vomit rivers of lava. They ended up invading the coastal area from Catania to Acicastello.

OGNINA cliff02
rocks sculpted by the erosion

After passing the hills, the lava reached the sea following the course of the Longane river around which stood the village of the same name (Longane, L’Ognine, Ognina). The river was completely buried and in the encounter with the sea the lava underwent several explosions. As it solidified, some caves formed which today are underwater grottos much loved by diving enthusiasts.

The cliff rises a few meters above the sea level between Acicastello and Ognina. Then it lowers to the marina. It rises again right under Catania seafront road and then slopes down again and becomes the pebble beach of San Giovanni Li Cuti. The erosion of both sea and wind has created fascinating shapes and sculptures, which you can admire from the seafront. In some places, the waves have dug real “pools” in the rock. In other points you can see arches, stacks and, as mentioned, underwater grottos.

The beauty of the seabed

The cliff of Ognina is accessible, in summer, thanks to the beaches and wooden walkways organized by the Municipality of Catania. Many people, however, dare to venture among the rocks, challenging nature to find private and beautiful corners.

Many divers do choose this reef for diving. Not only to go and explore the grottos – some of which are connected to each other by underwater tunnels – but also to admire the seabed. Here, it is very rich in marine flora and fauna. Or they dive to find, where permitted, the delicious seafood.

Lava rock allows many types of algae to take root and become habitat for various species of mussels and fish. This ecosystem ensures that the water is always kept clean by a change of oxygen given by plants and animals. This is why this corner of the coast is truly one of the most beautiful in Sicily.

Ognina, the village and the cliff

Where the cliff drops to form a natural basin, man has today built a small landing place for small and medium size boats. This is the port of Ognina, also known as the “Port of Ulysses”. The marina is separated from the village by the wide road along the seafront. Few houses form a modern neighborhood that no longer remembers much of its ancient medieval past.

Yet Ognina existed before the Middle Ages as a fishing village. It continued to be a fishing area even in the following centuries. After the construction of a military tower it also became a defense point. In 1356, in fact, a devastating naval battle took place here between France and Spain. It had seriously endangered the local population and Catania as a whole. Over time, the military tower became the bell tower of the church of Santa Maria di Ognina. After the earthquake of 1693, however, both church and tower collapsed and the building that can be seen today was rebuilt in a late Baroque period.

Between 1830 and 1866, the railway cut the town in two. Fishing activities decreased greatly in favour of other types of work (sulfur extraction, trade, finally tourism). After the Second World War, the city and its buildings reached and absorbed Ognina. Today, seaside tourism has moved further, towards San Giovanni Li Cuti and Piazza Europa. Ognina now lives off little fishing, many activities related to underwater sports, trade and excellent food industry. Being a crossing point between Catania and Acicastello, it remains a lively and very populated center.

How to get there, where to stay

If you want to choose Ognina as a place of your stay to move easily between Catania and the Cyclopes Coast you can easily get there. In fact it is located along the State Road SS 114 which connects Catania to Messina and Catania itself to the port and airport. In Ognina you can stay at the Hotel Meditur, at the Hotel Baia di Ognina. Or, in the immediate area, book your stay at the more elegant and prestigious Suite Sul Mare and Hotel Nettuno. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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