The third largest settlement on the island of Sicily, Messina is an interesting mixture of old and new architecture, as much of the city had to be rebuilt following earthquakes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Be sure to visit the Piazza del Duomo to see Orologio Astronomico, the world's largest astronomical clock.

Founded by Greek colonists in the eighth century BC, Messina was originally called Zancle, from the Greek word for "scythe," because of the shape of its natural harbor. Messina has always been a strategically important port, and a focal point during many critical parts of ancient and modern history. Crusaders departed from there for the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, and it was a vital link between Europe and the Orient: Silk worms brought from China helped establish Italy's textile industry. The spice trade was also a thriving source of commerce. Unfortunately, the black plague was also brought to Europe from a ship returning to Messina.

In 1908, Messina was destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern coast of the island and caused extensive damage on both sides of the strait through to Calabria. Messina practically had to be rebuilt from scratch, with very few buildings surviving the quake. Today Messina has evolved into a cosmopolitan city filled with fascinating pieces of history, art and culture.

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