The History

Catania against the Swabians It was a very controversial relationship that between Catania and the Swabian dynasty: thirty years from the terrible earthquake of 1169 which destroyed the ancient Greek colony, Catania still had the strength to resist to Henry VI alongside the last heirs of the Altavilla; despite the exemplar Imperial punishment, Catania also rebelled against Frederick II in 1232, undergoing a second devastating pillaging. A warning handed down through the centuries Proof of this sad story is the 13th-century portal of the Church of St. Agatha al Carcere, wanted by the Emperor in memory of the repressed revolt of the city: the portal, dated 1236, presents sculptures and symbols whose meanings are still shrouded in mystery, despite in the centuries closer to us several scholars tried to interpret them. Several are the emblematic figures that should have served as a warning to the people of Catania and to wayfarers, figures to be placed right at the entrance of the Cathedral-fortress of Catania. The enigmatic symbols of the portal Among these, the representation on the leftmost column: the Emperor comfortably sitting on his throne with his right hand stroking his beard, instead of taking the sword or scepter, as a symbol of pride and prestige. The second column shows a choked bird, which is the Eagle emblem of the Norman House. Next to the sitting Emperor, on the second left hand column, there is the Hydra with many heads, with its chest on the ground and again strangled. This represents all the Sicilian cities, which, like Catania, were pacified by Frederick. On the third arch, over the columns, there is another allegory: a monkey with a ball in its mouth representing the man who doesn’t reach his intent. St. Agatha’s intercession The story goes that, in order to sign the surrender, the emperor sent ambassadors around town who were rejected in the first instance. Subsequently, entering Catania and putting to flight the whole population, the Swabians fled to the Cathedral where, in the meantime, most of the commanders had taken refuge. Tradition says that Frederick, having issued for them the order of death sentence, would personally enter the sacred Temple and, opening a Missal, see appearing in letters of fire the known sentence “do not offend Agata’s homeland, because she is the avenger of insults against her”; such a strong and intimidating sentence that Frederick II decided to commute corporal and mourning punishment to be imposed to Catania to that of humiliation and repentance. Freedom conquered tanks to the enemy Yet, to the grandson of Barbarossa the Sicilian city owes its emancipation from the jurisdiction of the Bishop-Abbot wanted by the great count Ruggero at the beginning of the Millennium and the transformation in royal-city; a few years later, thanks again to Frederick II, it was acknowledged as Municipality and invited to elect representatives to Parliament. The third sister of the reign In the medieval and Renaissance period the third sister among the cities of the Kingdom (along with Palermo and Messina) recorded a strong growth and expansion and in 1434 the first and only University for a long time in Sicily was also founded. In ‘600, however, the city seemed to lose its dynamic image and a strong earthquake in 1693 gave it a serious blow. Architecturally, however, 1693 is its year of birth, as Catania was completely reconstructed: to resist were only some parts of the walls, the Castle built by Frederick II and the Cathedral with the admonition of the Swabian Emperor. Sources: