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U Liotru, the symbol of Catania

History and legends about the elephant of Catania

Wheter you come to Catania for a weekend or for a longer period, it is a must a stop in Piazza Duomo: take a coffee while admiring the cathedral dedicated to St. Agatha and the elephant with his trunk facing the facade of the church for a moment of relaxation, why not? The elephant, U Liotru in dialect, is the symbol of the city: how many of you know its history?

The elephant statue in piazza Duomo in Catania
U Liotru

History and structure of U Liotru

The elephant symbol of the city of Catania dates back to an indefinite period, but between 1735 and 1737 was taken up by Vaccarini, in the period of rebirth of the city after the terrible earthquake of 1693 and is the main element of the work located in the center of Piazza del Duomo, which is more correctly called Fountain of the Elephant. The base is made of white marble and rests on a fountain, also made of marble, inside which the water coming out of the base is collected, where two sculptures reproduce the two rivers of Catania, the Simeto and the Amenano. Above the base is the statue of the elephant carrying a drape on the sides of which you can see the emblems of St. Agatha. On the back of the elephant was placed an obelisk just over 3 meters high decorated with figures of Egyptian style. Even higher up, above the obelisk, there is a globe and a metal tablet that bears an acronym for a phrase dedicated to St. Agatha: MSSHDEPL (Healthy and sincere mind for the honor of God and the liberation of his country). Finally, above all else, there is a cross.

Legends about U Liotru

It is said that the name Liotru derives from the name Eliodoro, a joker magician who tormented the people of Catania with his magic and who apparently used the animal as a horse to move from one part of the city to another and surprise the citizens with his magic jokes. Legend has it that it was even the magician who created the elephant forging it from the lava of Etna.
There are many legends about the elephant but apart from the old beliefs and stories related to its origin, it seems sure that it has always been a symbol of good luck of the city that relied on Liotru to ask for help from the “attacks” of Etna and its eruptions.

These and many other stories are related to the life of Catania and its monuments, if you want to discover them book a cultural tour with our partner Sicily Day By Day, experienced guides will take you through the most hidden streets of Catania to discover history, myths and legends.