Today the seat of the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania, the Benedictine Monastery is the second largest Benedictine monastery in Europe, after that of Mafra in Portugal.
Expanded and rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, it is part of the Baroque circuit, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Founded by the Cistercians in 1558, it had a square plan and only one cloister, known as the Marble Cloister, today the Cloister of the West.
The first major transformation dates back to 1669, following the volcanic eruption that reached the walls of the western part of the city, all the way up to the large garden of the Benedictines.
Today, remains of the lava front can be seen from the entrance on Via Biblioteca.
This catastrophe, which totally destroyed the nearby church of San Nicolò La Rena, was followed, just under 30 years later, by a great earthquake.
It left the monastery with only the first floor and the basement remaining intact, with 14 columns of the cloister still standing.
The following reconstruction marks a profound transformation for the monastery.
It was expanded with the construction of the cloister of Levante, an eclectic caffeaos and community areas such as kitchen, library, novitiate and the choir at night.
The lava bench is used as a hanging garden.
This architectural phase was followed by the greatest architects of the time, from Ittar to Battaglia and Vaccarini.
He entrusted the construction of the refectory, the kitchen and the design of the library, now the Ursino Recupero Library.
Deconsecrated after the unification of Italy, it was transformed into a barracks and school, to be the subject of careful restoration directed by Arch. De Carlo in the late ’70s.
After the monastery was acquired by the University.
The restoration works have made the building suitable for its new designation; enhancing the obvious historical significance of its interior without coming into conflict with its new public use.
The church of San Nicolò
The fate of the adjacent church of San Nicolò, never completed, is different.
The façade is characterized by eight enormous truncated columns divided into three compartments, recalling the three internal naves, 105 meters long.
The construction was interrupted in 1796, initially due to a dispute between monks and suppliers, then due to the suppression of the nearby monastic community and the subsequent deconsecration of the church after the Second World War.
Inside there is a dome made by Ittar, and an organ (1767) by Donato del Piave, composed of 2916 pipes, 72 registers and 5 orders of keyboards, mentioned by Goethe during his trip to Catania in 1787. The church was again consecrated and returned to the Benedictine order in 1989.