MESSINA may well be your first sight of Sicily, and – from the ferry – it’s a fine one, the glittering town spread up the hillside beyond the sickle-shaped harbour. Sadly, the image is shattered almost as soon as you step into the city, bombed and shaken to a shadow of its former self by plague, cholera and earthquakes. The great earthquake of 1908 killed 84,000 people, levelled the city and made the shore sink by half a metre overnight. Allied bombing raids in 1943 didn’t help, undoing much of the post-earthquake restoration.

Today, the remodelled city guards against future natural disasters, with wide streets and low, reinforced concrete buildings marching off in all directions. Not surprisingly, it’s a pretty dull spectacle, and there’s little point in hanging around for longer than you need to.

Indeed, poor old Messina is the place to be only on the feast of the Assumption, or Ferragosto (Aug 15), when a towering carriage, the Vara – an elaborate column supporting dozens of papier-mâché putti and angels, topped by the figure of Christ – is hauled through the city centre, followed by a firework display on the seafront.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Italy features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

13 striking pictures of Venice Carnival

13 striking pictures of Venice Carnival

With the 2018 carnival season about to kick off, Rough Guides author and photographer, Kiki Deere, revisits one of Europe's most colourful festivals: Venice…

25 Jan 2018 • Kiki Deere insert_drive_file Article
20 picturesque Christmas destinations

20 picturesque Christmas destinations

Dreaming of a trip this Christmas? We're here to help. From glittering cities to a few snowy escapes, here are 20 classic destinations for a festive break. …

12 Dec 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
Discovering Palermo: why you should give Sicily’s capital a chance

Discovering Palermo: why you should give Sicily’s capital a chance

A city of grit and forgotten grandeur, for too long Palermo has resigned itself to being a film set of crumbling palaces, sun-worn facades and pockmarked backst…

08 Dec 2017 • Olivia Rawes insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right