Piazza del Duomo is the monumental baroque heart of Acireale, containing its most impressive attractions. Filled with gelato parlors and cafes, the square is dominated by its cathedral, the Duomo. Originally built in the late 16th century, the church has suffered abuse from Etna, and the present building has been vastly altered and reconstructed. Note the lavish tiled and cusped bell towers and the fine baroque portal, which leads into an interior with frescoed vaults. At the east end are beautiful frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta (1697-1760), a homegrown artist. In the right transept is the Cappella di Santa Venera, dedicated to the patron saint of Acireale. Hours are daily 8am to noon and 4 to 7pm; call tel. 095-601797 for more information.
Another important church on the square is Basilica dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, identified by its landmark bell tower. Although it was constructed in the 17th century, its facade is from the 18th century. The church's greatest artworks are by Pietro Paolo Vasta. Open daily 8am to noon and 4 to 7pm. For more information, call tel. 095-601834.
The 17th-century Palazzo Comunale is a rather bizarre example of the Spanish/Sicilian baroque style. Its wrought-iron balconies are held up by monsters and gargoyles. The entrance to the palace is on Via Lancasteri, right off Piazza del Duomo. Admission is free; hours are Monday to Friday 8am to noon.
A final church worth visiting is Basilica di San Sebastiano, Piazza Vigo (tel. 095-601313), one of the loveliest of all the baroque churches on the island. We prefer it to the treasures of the Duomo. It boasts a magnificent balustrade facade, adorned with statues representing scenes from the Old Testament. In the transept and chancel are frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta (there's that name again) that depict episodes from the sad life of St. Sebastian, the saint to whom this church is dedicated. Get to the church by way of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, just beyond Piazza del Duomo. Open daily 8am to noon and 4 to 8pm.
After Piazza del Duomo, the next most impressive baroque square of Acireale is Piazza San Domenico, at the end of Via Cavour. Dominating this small square is the splendid baroque facade of the Church of San Domenico. The most beautiful building here is the 17th-century Palazzo Musmeci, celebrated locally for its graceful balconies and rococo windows.
Since the days of the Greeks and most definitely the Romans, the sulfur-rich Etna "volcanic waters" have lured visitors to Acireale. The tradition continues at Terme di Acireale, Via della Terme 47 (tel. 095-7686111). Every illustrious person passing through Sicily in the 18th and 19th centuries seems to have taken the waters here, which are said to have miraculous powers to treat rheumatism, gynecological disease, skin diseases, and periodontal diseases. You can also come for massages and mud treatments, each costing 15€ to 30€ ($20-$39). There is talk -- so far, just that -- of modernization. Open daily from 7am to 12:30pm.
The Images of Lost Dreams
Although the art of Sicilian puppetry is rarely seen today, Acireale still carries on this ancient tradition, and the town is known for its puppet shows and theater. Sicilian families journey here to give their kids a treat (most adults enjoy the shows, too). Shows are staged at Teatro dell'Opera dei Pupi, Via Galatea 89 (tel. 095-606272), from July to September on Thursdays and Sundays at 9 and 10:30pm. Tickets, which cost 10€ ($13), must be purchased just before the show, as there is no box office open during the day.
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