Acireale is situated on the coast of eastern Sicily, north of Catania and was a well established medieval town here before the 16th century (described as being similar to many muslim cities).
It was towards the end of that century that the town was extended with developments at this time including the “Annunziata” Church and the construction of the Basilica in 1608.
The high point in the cultural life of Acireale was in the 17th century, as demonstrated by its cultural and academic institutions.
The centre of Acireale is the Piazza del Duomo, onto which some of the most important buildings of the city face, amongst which are the Cathedral, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Municipal Palace, and the “Modò” Palace.
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.
Inside are works by Pietro Paolo Vasta (1697-1760) , Antonio Filocamo (1669-1743), Giuseppe Sciuti (1834-1911), Francesco Patanè (1902-1980), Vito D'Anna (1718-1769) and Giacinto Platania (1612-1691).
The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was built in the mid-16th century and rebuilt in the first decade of the 17th century.
It has 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 outstanding artist, who left an indelible imprint on the urban fabric of 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 was not a talent that shone for originality, but he was certainly 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, is a place which must not be overlooked. It holds paintings by many local artists, and besides Pietro Paolo Vasta (1697-1760) are works by Giacinto Platania (1612-1691), a realist painter with a strong realistic and landscape trend, Matteo Ragonisi (1660-1734 ), Emanuele Grasso (1789-1853), Antonio Bonaccorsi (1826-1897), Paolo Leonardi (1845-1922), Francesco Mancini (1863-1948) and Vito D'Anna, who was a follower of Pietro Paolo Vasta.
The archaeological collection of the Zalantea Art Gallery has significant historical value, with the Corinthian pottery particularly worthy of consideration.
The Town Hall of Acireale, also of Baroque style, was designed in the mid-17th century and rebuilt after severe earthquake damage. Artistic highlights include the balconies and wrought ironwork.
You can continue your review of artistic Acireale with a visit to other religious buildings of interest, such as the Basilica of San Sebastian, dating from the 18th century and with a façade combining multiple orders preceded by a balustrade.
The interior holds many frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta depicting the story of the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (the "Glory of St. Sebastian," "St. Sebastian kneeling at the feet of Pope Caius," and the "Death of St. Sebastian").
Other frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta can be seen in the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua [one of the oldest churches in Acireale, with frescoes and paintings also by Alessandro Vasta [1724-1793] (son of Pietro Paolo Vasta )], in the 18th century Church of “Santa Maria del Suffragio”, and in the Church of “San Camillo”.
Nature around Acireale
For tourists who love nature, Acireale is justly famous for the "Timpa", a promontory near the coast. The Timpa is a nature reserve characterized by volcanic rocks and thick vegetation and the territory of the reserve is well preserved and in some parts untouched.
These areas are especially enjoyable in summer but also very pleasant in the wintertime.
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 chocolate 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.