History of the building
The foundation of the Basilica of Maria Santissima Annunziata di Acireale dates back to the early 15th century , but already in the previous century a small chapel had been built and dedicated to the Annunciation. It had " three walls and an open side " and was surrounded by a forest belonging to the Benedictine abbot of Nova Luce of Catania. The forest was an obstacle to the growth of the city, that is why -starting from the second half of the 16th century- the merchants worked for the construction of new public and private buildings, thus promoting the development of a new urban center. As the township took the appearance of a real city, also thanks to the taxes and the generosity of the public, it was decided to expand the ancient church that had replaced the small chapel at the beginning of the 16th. The two aisles and a bell tower were built. The tower also had the function to warn the citizens when robbers were hiding in the bush around. Starting from 1598, with the construction of the three apses, of the transept and the dome, the sacred building assumed the appearance of a basilica. In the mid 17th century the portal was also created. In those same years, thanks to the money from the Fiera Franca and the generous gift from a wealthy citizen, it was decided to build a chapel that was to keep St.Venera’s relics and precious statue. The virgin and martyr St. Venera, in fact, was declared a major patron of the city in 1651.
On 11th January 1693 a terrible earthquake, which destroyed several cities in eastern Sicily, caused considerable damage to the basilica, which, however, was already repaired at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Between 1710 and 1711 the Filocamo brothers, painters from Messina, painted the frescoes of the Chapel of St Venera while in 1738, the Acese painter Pietro Paolo Vasta frescoed the transept. In 1843 for " beautiful ornament and utility ", the Danish astronomer Christian Frederick Peters was commissioned to draw a sundial on the floor of the transept . This sundial, in fact, not only embellished the sacred building but also gave the opportunity to the inhabitants of the town of Acireale to know when the time of noon was, information needed to adjust the new popular mechanical watches. It also responded to the needs of the Catholic Church to know the movement of the stars in order to calculate the exact date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea established that the Church would celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox . At the end of the 19th century the façade of the sacred building was completed. Between 1895 and 1907 the Acese painter Francesco Mancini and Giuseppe Sciuti from Zafferana , frescoed the dome and the vault of the nave. The many interventions over the centuries to embellish the Cathedral of Acireale have produced one of the most interesting cathedrals of the whole Jonian and Etnean area.
The current façade of the Cathedral of Acireale is the result of works carried out over the centuries. The portal, the only baroque element of the whole façade, was built in 1668 by the sculptor Placido Blandamonte. Carved in Messina and arrived in Acireale by sea it was brought up to the town on the Chiazzette road which then represented the only connection between the fishing village of Santa Maria La Scala and the city center. Embellished by elegant Corinthian columns, it is surmounted by a niche which houses the marble group of the Announciation in which we can recognize the Virgin and the Angel of the Announciation. On the sides there are statues of St. Venera -who is holding the Gospel and the palm of glory with three crowns (symbols of virginity, preaching and martyrdom)- and the statue of St Thecla. At the top of a gravestone there is an inscription that commemorates the dedication of the holy temple to Mary visited by the angel and the title of " royal city" granted in 1642 by Philip IV, king of Spain . The portal -enriched by one of the oldest coat-of- arms of the city of Acireale- is set between the two new gothic towers with twin lancet windows and roofs covered in glazed polychrome majolica.
The two bell towers that now look almost identical, have not been realized at the same time. The southern tower was built in 1655. Between 1887 and 1890 instead, when the diocese had already been established, after the will of the first Bishop Gerlando Maria Genuardi the façade was completed. On this occasion it was approved , after some changes made by Francesco Basile, the new gothic design by Stefano Ittar and the adding of the northern tower. The façade was embellished by a rose surmounted by a gallery of columns and arches which is a link between the two towers.
The southern side, completed at the end of the 18th century according to the neoclassical style, is decorated by four Corinthian columns and has a marble plaque that recalls once again that the temple is dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation.
It belonged instead to the previous church the entrance of lava rock of the northern side.