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Messina, Italy - Tuesday 18 October

We have visited Sicily may times but this was our first visit to Messina, although Queen Victoria had halted for an emergency transfer to hospital in October 2014 during the cruise "Wonders of the Mediterranean". From Deck 9 the city had looked interesting and we were pleased to have the chance to visit it properly. The usual tours from Messina are to the medieval tourist resort of Taormina and its Greco-Roman theatre, and to Mount Etna which we did on the QE2 before the days of our writing up on the internet.

The harbour was busy as we arrived and several high speed ferries had to wait while the Queen Elizabeth turned around into her mooring. Messina has had a tragic history, culminating in the great earthquake of 1908 which claimed about two thirds of the population. By the 1930s Messina had recovered but then the Allied bombing in 1943 reduced much of the reconstruction to rubble. The city is now restored and substantial public buidings and many churches were visible from the dock.

We crossed the busy main road and our first challenge was to avoid the ticket-sellers for the various buses and tourist train and visit the cathedral. Originally built in 1092 it has been rebuilt many times and the ceiling restored. The 60 metre tall bell-tower was rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake and in 1933 was fitted with a mechanical device from Ungerer of Strasbourg. The figures move every day at noon and the pictures were taken when we returned then and the light was good. To begin the two girls ring their bells, then the lion moves its head and wags its tail and roars three times, the cock crows and flaps its wings three times, the dove flies over a rising model of the church of Montalto, and a group of figures preceded by an angel pass in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is a major tourist occasion which the street venders took advantage of to sell trinkets, "murano" glass and pashminas. Entry inside the bell tower is by ticket and there is a joint ticket to also visit the Treasury. The famous fountain of Orion by Montorsoli (1547) was opposite the cathedral.

Looking for a good viewpoint down onto the port we headed in the direction of the Sanctuary of Christo Re, collecting a map of Messina from the very helpful Tourist Information Office. The map has a suggested walking route which they also marked up with further recomendations which we used to walk to the Piazza Antonello and then climb up the steps to the Sanctuary of Montalto, rebuilt in 1930, and then walk along the Viale Principe Umberto to the Christo Re.

The main reason that people climb up to the Christo Re is because of the superb views. We were pleased that both places were open to visit; we had been warned that the Sanctuary of Christo Re would probably be closed but it was open although only a few people had discovered the entrance. It was built in 1937 and contains a tomb to commemorate the fallen in the wars. One side states "Et nomen eorum vivit in generationem et generationem" and the other side "Corpora eorum in pace sepulta sunt". Each wall is covered with plaques with names of those who died, mainly in 1942 and 1943. We then descended to the coast, passing the Municipio and the Theatre of Vittorio Emanuele because we had been advised that the church of San Giovanni di Malta, built in 1588, was interesting. We eventually found it behind the Prefecture building, but it was closed at that time. That gave more time to admire the nearby fountain of Neptune, also by Montorsoli (1557). Walking back twards the centre, we passed the Aquarium which was also closed, but it was in a nice park so we sat and planned the rest of our walk. Then we found a coffee shop and to our surprise it was only 0.50 euros for a very small but very strong cup of espresso coffee. Refreshed we found the entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III which we had noticed from the ship and mistakenly thought was a covered market. The shape of the glass roof was very typical and was magnificent in the sunlight and made it one of the highlights of the visit which we very nearly missed . Inside it was largely empty, except for tables from the cafes. There are four similar buildings on the sides of the Piazza Antonello, of which this is the prettiest. The others are public administration and university.

We had not yet explored the southern part of Messina so continued down the Corso Cavour to the Piazza Masuccio. The dome of the church Sanctuary of Mount Carmel ("Carmine" on the maps) had been visible in the distance from the Corso Cavour. It is a modern church, designed by Cesare Bazzani and inaugurated in 1931. It was closed but the dome clearly has a circular window on each side and is surmounted by a square lantern. This area of Messina was for Law and Justice with one University building opposite carved Justitia over its entrance. The Nicola Fabrizi street opposite was home to a number of legal firms and led to the Piazza Cairoli, a large open green space with trams, not far from the Railway Station. It is also close to the port and our final destination was the 12th century church of the Annunziata dei Catalani. We passed the church of Saint Catherine on our way. The church of the Annunziata dei Catalani is below street level in very simple Byzantine-Norman style. Its date of building is uncertain and earthquakes between 1169 and 1295 are said to have reduced the size of the original basilica. It then became the royal chapel and got its present name from its handing to the Brotherhood of Catalan merchants in 1611. Earthquakes in 1783 and then in 1908 and subsequent restoration work of the dome and transept has also released the foundations from the neighbouring streets, which means the entire remaining building is visible. In the square behind, and looking down on the church, is the monument to Don John of Austria (Calamech, 1572) admiral of the fleet that defeated the Turks in the battle of Lepanto (1571).

On departing the port on Queen Elizabeth we passed close to the 7 metre tall, golden statue of the Madonna della Lettera guarding the city and the port from the top of a high column with the base inscribed with the words “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It is believed that the Apostle Paul came to Messina to convert the Sicilians to Christianity and that some of the converts accompanied him to Palestine. Here they met with the Mother of Christ and persuaded her to send a letter to the citizens of Messina. The letter, which was written in Hebrew in 42 AD, was alleged to have been rolled and tied with a lock of her hair. She said that their devotion was appreciated and she granted them perpetual protection. The letter ended with the words “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus” which loosely translates as “We bless you and your city”. Nineteen centuries later these words were inscribed on the old fort San Salvatore which serves as a plinth for the 60 metre tall octagonal column carrying the statue. The light was perfect for a pictures in the direction of the statue but we found our pictures of the waterfront from the last visit were superior so we have reproduced some of them here.

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