Was the ancient harbour of Catania (Sicily, southern Italy) buried by medieval lava flows?

Original Paper


The question about the existence of an ancient harbour at Catania is a matter of debate between ancient and modern scholars. No decisive information has been found so far, although numerous hypotheses have been proposed in literature. Since the fifth century BC, historians have documented that numerous naval armadas landed in the port of Catania. However, the current morphology of the Catania coastline has not any protected inlet that could have offered a shelter to hundreds of ships. Starting from historiographical descriptions of the Catania harbour and of the different lava flows occurring since 2500 BC, we sought to infer the most probable area of landing. To address this purpose, literary sources and historical iconographic documentation, combined with geological data and archaeological records, were collected and analysed, in order to verify whether historical documents were consistent with the palaeotopography of the area. The analysis suggests that the main harbour of Catania was probably located north-east of the town, between the S. Giovanni Li Cuti inlet and the Ognina bay, before being filled with some medieval lava flows (during 1100–1400 AD). The apparent silence of the local historical sources on the destruction of the port may well be related to the 1169 earthquake that devastated Catania (causing 15,000 fatalities) and a large part of eastern Sicily. It is therefore likely that the few survivors paid little attention to the lava flow invading the harbour.


historical source paleotopography landing place Mt. Etna historical eruption 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Sezione di Geomagnetismo, Aeronomia e GeofisicaRomeItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche e AmbientaliUniversità di CataniaCataniaItaly

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