We have just returned from a fantastic cruise aboard the Carnival Vista and much as the ship was amazing and there was plenty to do onboard, we were also keen to explore the destinations that we reached.
Our first port of call was Messina, Sicily, which perhaps the prettiest port we visited on our entire cruise with the spectacular golden statue of Madonnina del Porto statue that greeted us when we opened the curtains in our cabin.
It is a short walk of just five minutes from the port to the main attraction of the Cathedral and the Piazza del Duomo. The Norman cathedral forms one end of the wide Piazza del Duomo, Messina’s historic centre alongside the Bell Tower and Astronomical Clock.
The church was built in the 1100s by the Normans, who ruled Sicily at the time, but it was seriously damaged by an earthquake that devastated much of Messina in 1908. The cathedral was again severely damaged by World War II bombing, but has been reconstructed, remaining true to the original form and retained important later features such as the carved stone portals from the late Gothic period, medieval relief carvings on the lower facade, and three apses on the east side that date from its founding.
The 60-meter high bell-tower houses a stunning astronomical clock which, every day at noon performs a short 15 minute show with the figures moving and depicting scenes from the history of Messina.
Just behind the Bell Tower is the Madonna statue which is hidden by trees and we almost missed it.
Also in the Piazza del Duomo is the Orion fountain which was built in the 16th Century to celebrate the opening of the city’s aqueduct. It’s a great example of Italy’s highly detailed fountains but for me, an iron fence around it really spoils the view.
We just missed the La Vara festival which takes place on the 15th August, which involves more than two thousand people dressed in white and barefoot, carry a special votive machine built for the first time in 1535 in honour of Emperor Charles V, the “Vara”, around the city, however the Vara was still on display in all its glory in the square.
From the Piazza del Duomo we walked up what felt like a never-ending amount of stairs to the Santuario della Madonna di Montalto which offers commanding view of the city and harbour.
It was a truly spectacular building inside and out and enjoys wonderful views over the straight of Messina and any cruise ships docked in the port.
The Santuario della Madonna di Montalto was also praised by Pope John Paul II when he visited in 1988 and it bears a plaque stating this as well as a statue of the Pope looking out to sea.
We then continued along the Viale Italia for around ten minutes, which gives a fabulous, panoramic view over the city and its harbour. The walkways and boulevards run above the city, following the course of the old fortifications towards the Our first visit was to the Sacrario di Cristo Re.
The Sacrario di Cristo, or Shrine of Christ the King, houses the remains of the fallen of both World Wars I and II, most of whom were killed during the defence of Scicily and the bell rings at 6pm every evening in their memory.
Views across Messina are even more impressive from here and seeing our cruise ship moored in the docks was breathtaking.
As part of the La Vara festival, two colossal statues, riding on a white horse and on a black horse and whom depict the legendary founders of the city of Messina Mata and the moor Grifone were also on display, just by the port and could be seen clearly from the ship.
The Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) is based slightly farther north. It was created by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1557 and is located at the north end of a lovely park plaza, and depicts the god Neptune blessing the city of Messina
We only spent a small amount of time in Messina and would love to revisit in the future as I would like to explore slightly farther afield, in particular, Mount Etna!
Have you visited Messina?