In 1239 the lava stone elephant of Catania became the official symbol of the city, thanks to an old legend. During the Upper Paleolithic Times, a dwarfed elephant lived in Sicily. According to the legend, this elephant protected the first population of Catania from all fierce and dangerous animals. People from Catania erected a statue in honour of this elephant. They called it u Liotru.
The name derives from the indialect of Heliodorus. He was a catanian erudite of the eighth century who was burnt alive in 778 by the Bishop of Catania Saint Leo II the Miracle-Worker. He was killed because he disturbed some sacred ceremonies with his various magic enchantments, one of which supposedly made the stone elephant walk.
Some scientists made different hypothesises to explain the origin and the meaning of the peculiar stone statue. The most authentic one is the assumption made by the twelfth century Arab geographer Idrisi. Between 1145-1154 he described Sicily following the order of Roger II, King of the Normans.
According to Idrisi, the elephant of Catania is a magical statue, a real talisman, that was built during the Byzantine period out of lava stone, in order to protect Catania from the dangers of Etna