Under Liotru’s Balls: Catania’s Elephant Fountain Legend
The most fun part for me is to tell someone: Let’s meet under the elephant’s balls… ( In Sicilian: “Ni viremu sutta i baddi do Liotru!” )
Considering Catania is in Sicily, an island with no visible connections to elephants, I’ve always found it fascinating that the city’s symbol/mascot is an elephant! How the hell did that come to be? And not only is it a symbol, it’s basically DOWNTOWN Catania at Piazza Duomo. I mean we’re talking smack city center, in the shadow of Sant’Agatha!
Well, as far as we know, this is how the story goes:
The Elephant’s fountain or even “Liotru’s fountain” was built by Gianbattista Vaccarini in 1757, who was inspired by the elephant of Minerva in Rome designed by Bernini.
The Palermo architect built the fountain using some historical relics of the city as symbol of rebirth after the eruption and the earthquake in 1669 and 1693.
Legend has it that Vaccarini’s original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, Vaccarini appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue.
There are other legends about the origin of the civic symbol of Catania. Some people believe it was a symbol of victory against the Carthaginians (No concrete evidence though), others as a symbol of an indefinite Eastern religion, others believe that in the Byzantine age it was built as a talisman, and more traditionalists believe that the symbol derives from a Catania legend about a dwarf elephant, whose species lived on the island in prehistoric times, has defended the nascent city from wild animals.
Either ways, when it’s not #covid19 times, take a walk to Piazza Duomo, sit at one of the cafes around, get a coffee or a granita and watch the city come alive.