Paternò: a city of ancient origins and rich traditions

Paternò is a city in the province of Catania, Sicily, located at the foot of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Paternò has a long and fascinating history, dating back to prehistoric times, and a rich cultural heritage, expressed in its monuments, its festivals, its cuisine, and its crafts. In this article, we will explore the main aspects of this city, its origins, its development, its attractions, and its peculiarities.

The origins of Paternò

The area where Paternò stands today was inhabited since the Neolithic age, as evidenced by the archaeological findings in the nearby caves of San Teodoro and San Basilio. The first urban settlement was founded by the Sicani, an ancient people of Sicily, who called it Hybla Gereatis, after the goddess Hybla, protector of bees and honey. Hybla Gereatis was later conquered by the Sicels, another ancient people of Sicily, who renamed it Inessa, meaning “the inaccessible”. Inessa became a flourishing city, thanks to its strategic position and its fertile lands, and was involved in the wars between the Greek colonies and the native peoples of Sicily.

In the 5th century BC, Inessa was besieged and destroyed by the Syracusans, led by the tyrant Dionysius I, who wanted to punish the city for its alliance with the Athenians. Dionysius I then founded a new city on the ruins of Inessa and called it Aetna, after the volcano. Aetna became a Greek colony and was later ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Normans. The Normans, in particular, gave a new impulse to the city, building a castle, a cathedral, and a bridge over the Simeto river. They also changed the name of the city to Paternò, meaning “the father’s land”, in honor of Count Roger I of Sicily, who had granted the city to his son Jordan of Hauteville.

The development of Paternò

Paternò continued to grow and prosper under the successive dominations of the Swabians, the Angevins, the Aragonese, the Spanish and the Bourbons. The city became a feudal state, ruled by various noble families, such as the Alagona, the Moncada, the Branciforte and the Ruffo. Paternò was also a center of culture and art, hosting illustrious personalities, such as the poet Giovanni Meli, the historian Tommaso Fazello, the painter Pietro Novelli and the composer Vincenzo Bellini. Paternò was also a place of resistance and rebellion, participating in the Sicilian Vespers, the revolt of the Sicilian Parliament, the Sicilian revolution of 1848 and the Expedition of the Thousand.

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In 1860, Paternò joined the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, and entered a phase of modernization and industrialization. The city expanded its urban fabric, built new public works, such as the railway station, the aqueduct and the hospital, and developed new economic activities, such as the citrus cultivation, the sulphur extraction and the textile production. Paternò also faced the challenges and the problems of the contemporary age, such as the emigration, the social conflicts, the mafia, the earthquakes and the eruptions of Mount Etna.

The attractions of Paternò

Paternò offers many attractions for the visitors, who can admire its historical and artistic heritage, enjoy its natural and gastronomic resources, and experience its lively and colorful traditions. Some of the main attractions of Paternò are:

  • The Norman Castle, built in the 11th century by Count Roger I of Sicily, and later enlarged and modified by the subsequent rulers. The castle dominates the city from a hill, and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. The castle hosts a museum, where you can see archaeological and historical exhibits, such as the famous “Silver of Paternò”, a treasure of Greek coins and jewels found in 1909
  • The Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Alto, built in the 12th century by the Normans, and rebuilt in the 18th century in the Baroque style. The cathedral has a majestic façade, decorated with statues of saints and angels, and a bell tower, topped by a bronze statue of the Madonna. The interior of the cathedral has a Latin cross plan, with three naves, and houses several works of art, such as paintings, sculptures, frescoes and reliquaries.
  • The Bridge of the Saracens, built in the 12th century by the Normans, and named after a legend that attributes its construction to the Arabs. The bridge crosses the Simeto river, and connects the city with the nearby village of Sferro. The bridge has a single arch, supported by two massive pillars, and is considered a masterpiece of medieval engineering.
  • The Salinelle, a natural phenomenon that consists of small mud volcanoes, that emerge from cracks in the ground, and produce bubbles of gas and water. The Salinelle are located in the south of the city, near the archaeological site of Aetna, where you can see the remains of the ancient Roman baths, that used the mud of the Salinelle for therapeutic purposes
  • The Festival of Santa Barbara, the patron saint of Paternò, celebrated on December 4th. The festival is a mix of religious and folkloric elements, that attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists. The festival includes a solemn procession of the statue of the saint, accompanied by the faithful and the local authorities, a spectacular fireworks show, and a fair of local products and crafts.


Paternò is a city that has a lot to offer to the curious and the passionate, who want to discover its history, its culture, its nature and its people. Paternò is a city that preserves its ancient roots, but also looks to the future, with a spirit of innovation and creativity. Paternò is a city that welcomes and enchants its visitors, with its beauty and its charm.

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  • Where is Paternò located?
    • Paternò is located in the province of Catania, Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna.
  • How old is Paternò?
    • Paternò is one of the oldest cities in Sicily, founded by the Sicani in the prehistoric times, and later inhabited by the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and the Normans.
  • What are the main attractions of Paternò?
    • Some of the main attractions of Paternò are the Norman Castle, the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Alto, the Bridge of the Saracens, the Salinelle and the Festival of Santa Barbara.

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