Updated: Mar 4, 2021
I love a city with street art, and Catania, Sicily has found a place right up there at the top of my list. During these times when travel is restricted and most museums and tourist attractions are closed, how do we quench our thirst for adventure while maintaining our social distance? I recently took to the streets of Catania to answer this question, and found an amazing collection of industrial silos that tell the stories of Greek gods and legends.
Silos at the City Port
On my first venture into Catania, the bus ride took me past the city port, where I immediately noticed a row of industrial silos that were painted from top to bottom with stunning works of art. Intrigued by how and why this came to be, I learned that the eight painted silos were created in 2015 by a collaboration of nine internationally renowned artists. The installment was created as part of the Emergence International Public Art Festival under the direction of Portuguese artist Alexandre Farro (aka Vhils).
The collection also includes a work by Farro himself across the back side of the silos which, at 10 stories tall, is the largest wall painting in the world. The silos display eight individual works, each one representing a different myth or legend relating to the history of Catania and Sicily. I certainly do not claim to be an expert on Greek mythology or Sicilian history, but this is my understanding of each mural.
1. “The Minotauro”, by Danilo Bucchi
In traditional Greek mythology, when King Minos of Crete failed to sacrifice a bull to Poseidon, the god caused Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, to lust after the animal. In true Greek mythological fashion, she conceived a child with the snow-white bull and gave birth to the Minotaur, a monster with a bull's head and a man's body. Thus the name, which translates to Minos’s bull.
2. “La bella di Bellini”, by Okuda
This work references the famed Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, who was known as "the Swan of Catania” for his beautifully flowing operas. There is a lot going on here that I don't understand, but I have to admit it makes me want to go see one of Bellini's operas.
3. “Oraculo” by Rosh333
Oraculo depicts dramatic explosions erupting from Mount Etna and the energy they release into the atmosphere. According to Greek legend, Hephaestus (the god of fire) created forges inside of volcanoes in order to fashion thunderbolts for Zeus. You could tell the location of his forges and when he was using them by the eruptions.
4. “The Perpetual Motion of Scylla & Charybdis”, by Microbo
This piece represents the intertwining forces of the two elements (air and water) that gave rise to the myth of the monsters in the Strait of Messina that sits between Sicily and mainland Italy. In the Greek myth of Scylla and Charybdis, the two sea monsters were believed to live on opposite sides of the narrow waterway, so that if ships strayed too far to avoid one of them, they would fall victim to the other. Charybdis was particularly dangerous, as she was able to swallow up huge amounts of water, which created whirlpools that sucked ships under the water. I'm not sure how the things that look like onions relate to this?
5. “Barattoli”, by Vlady Art
The design of this piece was inspired by the curved shape of the silos. A unique interpretation, it depicts a series of stacked can inside of which mythical creatures, as well as the artist's ego, are trapped. Mermaid chunks for lunch, anyone?
6. “The Unwritten History of Colapesce”, by B0130
The inspiration for this design was the mythical character Colapesce who, as the story is told, would replace one of the 3 columns supporting Sicily so the island would not sink. This work depicts Colapesce’s re-emergence in modern times as, feeling the weight of the island increase from the increase of immigrants. It is meant to invite tolerance towards refugees and other illegal immigrants, as it shows Colapesce talking to them.
7. “Triskelion and “The Escape of Ulysses from Polyphemus”,
by Interesni Kazki
This work was created by a duo of artists on two sides of the same silo. “Triskelion” (on the front) shows the myth of Perseus and Medusa enriched by triskelion symbology. A triskelion is a being with 3 legs, and is the origin of the Trinacria symbol of Sicily.
The story of Perseus is that he tracked down Medusa in a cave, and using a shield of gold in order to view her reflection, was able to approach her safely and cut off her head. As we all know, Medusa would otherwise have turned Perseus to stone for looking at her. I’m not sure why everyone in this mural is naked, but cutting off the head of a gorgon is an impressive feat either way!
The Escape of Ulysses from Polyphemus is on the back side of the silo, which I was not able to get to but will try again on my next visit. This tells the story of Ulysses who, after making Polyphemus drunk and blinding him by plunging a burning stake into his eye while he lay asleep, escaped by clinging to the underside of a sheep. These Greek characters were definitely creative in their escapes, you have to give them that.
8. “The Chestnut of the Hundred Horses”, by Lucamaleonte.
This mural on the far left of the row of silos has either faded over time, or is in the process of being redone. It is difficult to see, but base on my research it represents a legendary chestnut tree of Etna that was believed to be hundreds of years old. The story, and thus the name of the mural, claims that the tree was so large and foliage so grand that it sheltered a queen and her entire court of 100 knights.
9. “In September”, by Vhils
Painted across the back side of all eight silos is my most favorite part of this art installment. I was not able to get around the back side for a close enough view to take a picture, but the work purposely faces the opposite direction of the other murals so that it is looking towards the sea, in the direction of Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Syria. It is paying tribute to the lands that have shaped the identity of Sicily. The people who, over time and across the seas, have come to create the culture, history and charm of this fascinating island. I have read that Vhils plans to create a second work in Lebanon, looking in this direction to create an imaginary bridge across the Mediterranean. I don't like to use pictures that are not my own, but this mural can be seen on the official website of the Emergence Festival.
Catania is a city rich in history, culture and art, and has a wealth of stories through which they share these with the world. I feel that I have just barely scratched the surface, and I look forward to exploring more of this beautiful city as I continue to discover its hidden treasures and stories.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this, please check out my other articles on Sicily and my experience here!