Acireale is a town near the coast of eastern Sicily north of Catania - the medieval town has been established here since before the 16th century.
It was towards the end of that century that the town was extended with new buildings at that time including the Annunziata Church and the Basilica, built in 1608, and the high point in the cultural life of Acireale was in the 17th century, so most of the imposing buildings you see when you visit Catania date from that period.
Italy This Way comment: while Acireale is not a major tourist destination, the two basilicas and the cathedral are close together in the centre so a short visit is very interesting.
The centre of Acireale is the Piazza del Duomo, onto which many of the most important buildings of the city face, amongst them the Cathedral, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Municipal Palace, and the “Modò” Palace. The basilica and the cathedral are next to each other.
Acireale Cathedral is dedicated to "Maria Santissima Annunziata", but is consecrated to the cult of "Santa Venera," the patron saint of the town. The original church dates from the 15th century but it was renovated in subsequent centuries, and the cathedral interior is quite impressive because of the frescoes that cover the columns and ceiling.
Inside the cathedral there are works by Pietro Paolo Vasta (1697-1760) and other artists of the 17th-19th centuries such as Antonio Filocamo, Giuseppe Sciuti, Francesco Patanè, Vito D'Anna and Giacinto Platania.
The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was built in the mid-16th century and rebuilt in the first decade of the 17th century in a typically Baroque style. The interior has a single nave, decorated with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta and Giacinto Platania, two of the most famous painters of Acireale.
Pietro Paolo Vasta
When looking at the churches of Acireale the name of Pietro Paolo Vasta is important: Vasta was an important artist who left an indelible imprint on the town. Educated in the Roman artistic background, Pietro Paolo Vasta worked at Acireale in the first half of the 18th century, embellishing the town that was being rebuilt after the severe earthquake of 1693.
Pietro Paolo Vasta did not have great originality, but he was a great "mannerist", attentive to detail and extremely consistent with his Roman models. Various of Vasta’s works are visible in the churches of Acireale and also in the annexed Art Gallery in the "Zelantea" Academy, a cultural institution of great prestige.
The Zalantea Art Gallery in Acireale, with the attached collection of archaeological finds, holds paintings by many local artists, and besides Pietro Paolo Vasta there are works by other 1th and 18th century artists such as Giacinto Platania, a realist painter with a strong realistic and landscape trend; Matteo Ragonisi; Emanuele Grasso; Antonio Bonaccorsi and others.
The archaeological collection of the Zalantea Art Gallery also has significant historical value, with the Corinthian pottery particularly worthy of consideration.
The Town Hall of Acireale, also in the Baroque style, was designed in the mid-17th century and rebuilt after severe earthquake damage. Artistic highlights include the balconies and wrought ironwork.
A short distance west of the Piazza del Duomo you can visit another interesting religious building, the Basilica of San Sebastian. The basilia dates from the 18th century and has a façade combining multiple orders preceded by a balustrade and incorporating numerous decorative elements.
The interior of the basilica has many frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta depicting the story of the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastian: here also the scale and colour of the paintings creates an impressive spectacle.
Other frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta can be seen in the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, one of the oldest churches in Acireale, in the 18th century Church of “Santa Maria del Suffragio”, and in the Church of “San Camillo”.
There is a small harbour and a few houses on the coast in Acireale but this is not a part of the town of interest to most visitors. For vsitors who love nature, the Timpa is a nature reserve on a promontory on the coast at Acireale with volcanic rocks and thick vegetation and the territory of the reserve is well preserved and in some parts untouched.
The town is also known for the Acireale Carnival, a traditional festival dating back to the late 16th century. This is now one of the main carnivals on Sicily. Between admiring the floats you can also enjoy the local pastry such as the so-called "zeppole" with rice and honey or the "crispelle" of St. Joseph, and the “cannoli” [horns] filled with cream. Food enthusiasts will also enjoy the fresh fish, used in typical Sicilian recipes.
Places to visit near Acireale
See also Acireale history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.