An elephant is the symbol of Catania, but not many people know its real story. They only know that it was built by the architect Gian Battista Vaccarini in 1737, as part of the reconstruction of the city after the terrible earthquake of 11 January 1693. The eyes of the elephant are in white stone, while the rest of the body is in lava stone. The base is made up of a white marble pedestal located in the center of a basin, also made of marble, into which jets of water fall from the base, in a wonderful joke of colors. On the base two sculptures reproduce the two rivers of Catania, the Simeto and the Amenano. It was probably brought to Catania during the crusades by Syene and then placed on top of the obelisk. However, just in the 12th century, the inhabitants of Catania considered the pachyderm a symbol of protection against the eruptions of Mount Etna. There is also no reliable data on who and when u’Liotru was made. From this point of view, there are many interpretations: the monument was made in memory of a war between Carthaginians and Libyans, but it could be the idol of a religion of which all traces have been lost. The name “Liotru” derives from Eliodoro, who was the son of a noble family and whose strong desire was to became the bishop of the diocese of Catania. When he failed to realize his dream, he abandoned the Catholic religion and devoted himself  to magic. So he sculpted the elephant giving it life and riding it through the streets of the city while frightening the inhabitants. Today the pachyderm sites in front of the Cathedral of Saint Agata and if you come to Catania for a short or a longer period, a stop in front of elephant is a must! It stays at the centre of the large square looking at the tourists and its citizens.

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Gabriele Conti


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