This statue, surrounded with lovely lawn, is right in the centre of Piazza Duomo and used to be our meeting point. Our guide told us that the elephant is the symbol of Catania but that's all he knew of this statue !
The large elephant in the center of Piazza Duomo is pretty hard to miss. What's the deal?
Okay, first, it's not 'la statua dell'elefante folks' - it's the 'Liotru' (accent on the u), the slick Catanese dialect word for elephant.
It was carved out of a single piece of Etna lavic rock by our hero Vaccarini, again after the earthquake of 1693. The obolisk on its back is Egyptian.
Why an elephant? Well, the elephant is the city of Catania's symbol. Why? Two versions of the story: either it has something to do with Hannibal and his little sojourn from Carthage in present day Tunisia towards Rome via the Alps - I don't exactly understand how Catania fits into any of that - or it comes from the prehistoric sicilian pigmy elephants, the skulls of which were perhaps the basis of the cyclops myth (instead of for the trunk, the large central hole in the skull was thought to be for an eye). You decide.
But the really important question: what's the story of the gigantic, um, balls? Well, apparently Vaccarini originally carved the statue anotomically correctly - with no visible testicles. When it was first unveiled the male Catanesi took this as an insult to their sexual prowess and demanded the elephant be endowed. As one can see, Vaccarini appeased them.
It used to have a lawn around it, but they repaved the piazza this year, and now it's all stone. Cleaner, but still a little sad.