Over 2,500 years at a strategic crossroads of the western world have left Sicily with an unparalleled historical legacy. Nowhere else have Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Germans, Spanish, Italians and even British left such an indellible impression.
Whether you are more attracted by Greek temples, Roman villas and aqueducts, Norman cathedrals or Baroque churches, Sicily offers a range of historical sites that is not easily matched.
Idyllicly perched on a rocky promontory high above the sea, Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred of years. Beautifully restored mediaeval buildings, breathtaking views around every corner and a giddy network of winding streets strewn with shops, bars and restaurants make for a perfect holiday spot.
Taormina’s past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left. The main attraction is, without doubt, the theatre. Now home to all manner of events, including plays, fashion shows, concerts, and cinema festivals, the Teatro Greco, as its name suggests, started its life in the 3rd Century BC hosting performances of works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. Originally quite small, it was enlarged by the Romans to accommodate their own particular brand of theatrical extravaganza. The views from the theatre are spectacular, taking in a (usually) smoking Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos down below.
For afternoon tea or an aperitif with a really special view, head for the Grand Hotel Timeo just outside the entrance to the Teatro Greco. Here, on this prestigious hotel's famous terrace, you can sip your drink while marvelling at Mount Etna and the lovely Ionian coast!
For those travelling to Sicily today, Siracusa is not to be missed. It is relatively easy to visit in a day, though obviously deserves rather more time. A visit can be split into two easy parts: one dedicated to the archaeological site, the other to the island of Ortygia.
The archaeological site, situated in the northwest of the town, is home to a staggering number of well-preserved Greek (and Roman) remains. The main attraction is undoubtedly the Greek theatre that dates back at least until the 5th Century BC. Its cavea is amongst the largest ever built: its 59 rows could accommodate up to 15,000 spectators. The theatre is still used for an annual Greek theatre festival running from the middle of May to the end of June.
The island of Ortygia measures just 1km by 500 metres, but packed with over 2,500 years of history. Architectural styles vary widely, encompassing Greek and Roman remains, Mediaeval Norman buildings and a great deal of (relatively) understated Baroque. Restaurants, trattorias and bars abound and it is especially nice to sit out on the western side in the late afternoon, warmed by the sun and with a view over the lagoon. Don't miss to get lost through the fountain of Arethusa, the Temple of Apollo, Piazza del Duomo, Baroque Palazzo Beneventano and the church of Santa Lucia. We believe that the best way of visiting Ortygia is to simply follow your nose and soak up the atmosphere.
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