Paternò: A Historic City at the Foot of Mount Etna

Paternò is a city in the province of Catania, Sicily, with a population of about 45,000 inhabitants. It is located in the eastern part of the island, at the foot of the active volcano Mount Etna. Paternò has a long and rich history, dating back to the ancient times, and boasts a remarkable artistic and cultural heritage. In this blog post, I will explore some of the main aspects of Paternò, such as its origins, its monuments, its traditions, and its attractions.

The Origins of Paternò

The name Paternò derives from the Greek term Paeter Aitnaion, meaning “the Fortress of the Etnaeans”. The Etnaeans were a population of Sicilian origin that inhabited the area around Mount Etna. The site of Paternò was settled before 3500 BC, and was probably influenced by the nearby civilizations of the Sicani and the Sicels

The first historical evidence of Paternò dates back to the 5th century BC, when it was a city of the Sican people, called Hybla Gereatis. It was conquered by the Greeks, who renamed it Inessa, and then by the Romans, who called it Aetna. Paternò was involved in the wars between the Syracusans and the Athenians, and between the Carthaginians and the Romans. It was also a centre of medium importance in the Roman era, as attested by the archaeological remains of baths, villas, and coins

The modern city of Paternò was founded in 1072 by the Normans, who built a castle on a hill overlooking the Simeto river. The castle became the residence of the counts of Paternò, who ruled the city until the 14th century. Paternò was then part of the royal domain of the Aragonese kings, and later of the feudal domain of the Moncada family, who elevated it to a principality in 1565. Paternò followed the historical events of Sicily, from the Spanish domination to the Bourbon rule, from the unification of Italy to the present day

The Monuments of Paternò

Paternò has a rich and varied artistic and architectural heritage, that reflects its history and its culture. Some of the most notable monuments of Paternò are:

  • The Norman Castle: It is the symbol of the city, and one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture in Sicily. It was built by Roger I of Sicily in 1072, and enlarged by his successors. It has a rectangular plan, with four towers at the corners, and a central courtyard. It houses a museum, where you can admire paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and weapons
  • The Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Alto: It is the main church of the city, and a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque. It was built between the 17th and the 18th centuries, on the site of a previous Norman church. It has a majestic façade, with three portals, statues, and a rose window. The interior has a Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles, decorated with frescoes, stuccoes, and marble. The main altar has a painting of the Madonna dell’Alto, the patron saint of the city.
  • The Basilica of San Vincenzo Ferreri: It is a 16th-century church, dedicated to the Dominican saint and preacher, who visited Paternò in 1399. It has a simple façade, with a portal and a bell tower. The interior has a single nave, with a wooden ceiling, and a rich altar, with a painting of the saint. The church also preserves the relics of the saint, and a wooden statue of him.
  • The Aqueduct of Valcorrente: It is a remarkable engineering work, built in the 18th century, to bring water from the Simeto river to the city. It consists of 114 arches, spanning over 2 km, and reaching a height of 25 m. It is considered one of the most beautiful and impressive aqueducts in Italy.

The Traditions of Paternò

Paternò has a lively and colorful cultural life, that expresses its identity and its values. Some of the most important traditions of Paternò are:

  • The Feast of Santa Barbara: It is the main religious and folkloric event of the city, celebrated on December 4th. Santa Barbara is the patron saint of Paternò, and the protector of the Etna area. The feast consists of a solemn procession, where the statue of the saint is carried through the streets of the city, accompanied by music, fireworks, and prayers. The highlight of the feast is the “cannalori”, a spectacular display of fireworks, that simulates the eruption of the volcano.
  • The Carnival of Paternò: It is one of the oldest and most famous carnivals in Sicily, dating back to the 16th century. It is characterized by the presence of the “abbatazzi”, masked figures that wear colorful costumes, and carry wooden sticks, called “abbatazzi”. The abbatazzi chase and hit the spectators, in a playful and harmless way, as a symbol of social satire and rebellion. The carnival also features parades, dances, games, and shows.
  • The Sagra della Salsiccia: It is a gastronomic festival, held in October, in the hamlet of Sferro. It celebrates the sausage, one of the typical products of Paternò, made with pork meat, spices, and fennel seeds. The festival offers the opportunity to taste the sausage, cooked in various ways, and accompanied by bread, wine, and cheese. The festival also includes music, entertainment, and exhibitions.

The Attractions of Paternò

Paternò is a city that offers many attractions for visitors, who can enjoy its history, its art, its nature, and its cuisine. Some of the main attractions of Paternò are:

  • The Salinelle: They are small mud volcanoes, that emerge from cracks in the ground, in the area of the Simeto river. They are a natural phenomenon, caused by the interaction of water, gas, and clay. They produce bubbles, fumes, and noises, creating a suggestive and unique landscape. They are also an archaeological site, where you can see the remains of Roman baths, that used the mud for therapeutic purposes.
  • The Etna Park: It is a natural park, that covers the territory of the Etna volcano, the highest and most active in Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Biosphere Reserve. It offers a variety of landscapes, flora, and fauna, that change according to the altitude and the season. You can explore the park by hiking, biking, horse riding, or skiing, and admire the craters, the lava flows, the forests, and the villages. You can also visit the Etna Museum, where you can learn about the history, the geology, and the culture of the volcano.
  • The Piazza del Duomo: It is the main square of the city, and the heart of its social and cultural life. It is surrounded by elegant buildings, such as the Cathedral, the Town Hall, and the Palazzo Moncada. It is also the venue of many events, such as the Feast of Santa Barbara, the Carnival, and the Christmas market. It is a lively and charming place, where you can relax, have a drink, or enjoy the view.


Paternò is a city that has a lot to offer to its visitors, who can discover its ancient and modern history, its artistic and architectural beauty, its traditional and folkloric culture, and its natural and gastronomic wonders. Paternò is a city that deserves to be visited, and that will not disappoint you.


How far is Paternò from Catania?

    • Paternò is about 18 km from Catania, the capital of the province and the second largest city in Sicily. You can reach Paternò from Catania by car, by bus, or by train.

What is the origin of the name Paternò?

    • The name Paternò derives from the Greek term Paeter Aitnaion, meaning “the Fortress of the Etnaeans”. The Etnaeans were a population of Sicilian origin that inhabited the area around Mount Etna.

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