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Catania, Sicily, Italy

Catania, Sicily's second largest city and capital of the eastern part of the island, sits at the foot of Europe's largest active volcano. Mt. Etna's slopes soar up over 10,800 feet, its flanks covered with scores of cones and craters. Like many other Mediterranean islands, Sicily has endured an endless series of occupations. Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and Normans have all governed the island and left reminders of their varied cultures. Some traces of the classical past remain, including the Roman theater and a smaller odeon. More impressive, however, are the medieval and baroque palaces and churches, evidence of Catania's 18th-century prosperity. Several earthquakes and eruptions of Mt. Etna caused massive destruction, resulting in frequent rebuilding and a fairly modern city with a well laid out, spacious center. Thirty miles to the northeast, perched on a terrace overlooking the sea, is the enchanting storybook village of Taormina. Renaissance palazzi and an impressive Greek theater are among the attractions. This tourist mecca features numerous small shops offering fine quality embroidery, ceramics and lace to tempt shoppers.