The second largest city in Sicily by population, Catania spreads out over the Plain of Catania, between the Ionian Sea and the slopes of Etna. The surrounding countryside, which the volcanic eruptions have made very fertile, is mainly given up to the cultivation of citrus fruit. The close link between the city and the volcano is also visible in the buildings, many of which are constructed in lava stone.
According to Thucydides, Katane was founded after 729 BC by the Chalcidian settlers from Naxos, on the hill now known as the "Colle dei Benedettini". In the 7th c. the legislator Caronda gave the city a moderately inspired government, half- way between oligarchy and democracy. In 476 BC Catania was conquered by Hieron of Syracuse, and the inhabitants were deported, only to return after 15 years. During the Punic Wars the town was conquered by the Romans (263 BC) and it succeeded in maintaining a position of considerable affluence until the Imperial Age. After the decadence caused by the invasions of the Barbarians and the Byzantine conquest, the town was occupied by the Arabs, who redistributed the land and promoted agriculture and commerce. In 1071, after the Norman conquest, construction began on the cathedral, and numerous country villages were founded, each under the jurisdiction of a monastery . Under the Swabians, Frederick II built the Castello Ursino here, in order to complete his fortifications in this part of Sicily. The arrival of the Aragonese in Catania, which the Court often chose as a centre for its activity, led to the foundation of the Siculorum Gymnasium, the first prestigious Sicilian university. The great eruption of 1669 and the terrible earthquake in 1693, which affected all East Sicily and destroyed most of the city, annihilated an economy that was already in a critical state. It was elected provincial capital in the 19th c. and again began to expand towards new zones, until it achieved in our own days its present-day image of a modern city.
Catania, after Palermo, is the second economic and industrial hub of Sicily. The city is famous for its mainly petrochemical industry, and the extraction of sulphur. In the late-19th century and early-20th century, Catania began to be heavily industrialised, with its several factories and chimneys, often to the extant that it was compared to Southern Italy's Manchester. The economy of Catania suffered heavily from
the bad effects of World War I, and was marked by an economic crisis and recession that culminate in the 1920s. Ever since, the city began to lose its industrial and entrepreneurial importance. By the 1930s, Catania remained a small fishing town with derelict and disused industries. However, after World War II, Catania's economy began to re-grow in the late-1950s and early-1960s. The rapid economic growth provided a great amount of Sicilians living in the more rural areas, or smaller towns such as Enna, Ragusa and Caltanissetta to move to the city to seek new jobs.
Today, Catania, despite several problems, has one of the most dynamic economies in the whole of Southern Italy. Despite it still has a strong industrial and agricultural sector, it has a fast-growing tourist industry, with several international visitors coming to visit the city's main sights and the nearby Etna volcano.
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