Messina was founded by the Calcidesi settlers of the Island of Eubea and named Zancle. In the V century b.C., after the invasion of the Messeni, the name was changed to Messanion. Conquered by the Romans in 264 b.C., the city submitted over the centuries the domination of Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Hohenstaufen Suebi, Anjous, Aragons and Spanish.
Known as the "doorway to Sicily" and divided from the Italian peninsula by only 5 kilometers of sea, the city was completely destroyed in 1908 by a terrible earthquake with tidal waves.
The most important site of the city is the Cathedral, which preserves its Norman plan even though completely refurbished after the earthquake of 1908. The façade features a wonderful portal in Gothic style. The interior has a nave and two equally long aisles divided by files of 28 columns; some of the decorative elements are from the original edifice. Beside of that of Conrad IV, the tombs include those of Archbishop Palmer (died in 1195), Archbishop Guidotto de Abbiate (14th century) and Antonio La Legname (16th century). The mosaics in the apse are reconstructions. Noteworthy is the Chapel of the Sacrament (late 16th century), with scenographic decorations and 14th century mosaics. The bell tower remarkably holds the largest astronomical clock in the world, built in 1933 by the Ungerer company of Strasbourg. A popular touristic attraction is represented by the animated mechanical statues which every day at noon narrate important events of civil and religious history of the city.
The original structure of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is of the XIII century, formerly a chapel of Teutonic Knights. The building was commissioned by Federico II with the grants of the North European reigns and is a rare example of purely Gothic church in Sicily.
The Church of San Francesco d'Assisi, completely rebuilt in 1908, preserves its original shapes with one main nave and two aisles, arose window as main feature of the façade and two portals. The interior was enriched by masterpieces of the apprentices of Antonello da Messina; paintings of Mariano Riccio, Alonso Rodriguez, Deodato Guinaccia and one that features San Francesco, that the traditions attribute to Salvatore degli Antonii, father of Antonello.
The Church of SS. Annunziata dei Catalani rises, by the local traditions, on the ruins of a temple entitled to Neptune. The plan is a Byzantine basilica has a cylindrical apse and a high dome emerging from a high tambour. Noteworthy is the external decoration of the transept and the dome area, with a series of blind arches separated by small columns. It clearly reflects Arab architectural influences.
Monte di Pietà is an old manor, with a large stair-case in front, seriously damaged by the earthquake in 1908 when the top floor collapsed. Completely rebuilt it is actually seat of the local Auditorium.
The principal fortifications of the city are: the Gonzaga Castle, a project of Ferramolino, built in early XV century; the Real Cittadella, a star shaped plan fortress, built after the rebellion of the locals against the Spanish rulers; the Forte San Salvador, situated on the extreme land point of the port area which exposes a votive statue of the Madonna della Lettera on the alarm bell tower; and the Castello Roccaguelfonia or Matagrifone, founded and enlarged at the same pace of the growth of the city.
The fountain of Orione, at the centre of the Cathedral's square, is a masterpiece of the Tuscany architect Montorsoli and commemorates the opening of a waterworks, entitled to the four rivers Tevere, Nilo, Ebro and Camaro. The water of this last river feeds this fountain.