- Guide To Sicily
Idyllically 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, ever since it became an integral part of the Grand Tour. 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.
Tauromenium, built on Monte Tauro, was founded by Andromacus at the behest of Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse in 392BC. The first Punic War saw Taormina falling to the Romans in 212BC and the town became a favorite holiday spot for Patricians and Senators, thus starting Taormina’s long history as a tourist resort.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines came only to be ousted by the Arabs in 962. They changed the name to Almoezia and set about introducing new agricultural practices (irrigation and citrus fruit farming) and other more cerebral pursuits such as philosophy, medicine and mathematics. Taormina continued to prosper both culturally and economically with the arrival of the Normans in 1079, who, under King Roger de Hautville, threw the Arabs out of Sicily.
After a brief period of Swabian rule, under Frederick II, Charles of Anjou was pronounced King of Sicily by the Pope. The people of Taormina refused to recognize this interloper as their king and, along with a great many other Sicilian towns, joined in the revolt against French rule during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.
A hundred years of uncertainty followed before the Spanish took over affairs. Evidently impressed with Taormina, they chose Palazzo Corvaja as the seat of the Sicilian Parliament.
The rest, as they say, is storia.
As soon as you arrive in Taormina, you will feel the magical, mythical atmosphere spread all around which has enchanted visitors from all over the world for years and years.
Goethe wrote: “Without Sicily, Italy creates no image in the soul: here is the key to everything”.
In Taormina we suggest to visit the Greek Theatre the second-largest in Sicily after the one in Siracusa. Though originally built in the Hellenistic period, it was completely reconstructed by the Romans and used for gladiatorial shows. The theater is situated at the very top of a hill, leveled for the purpose, using the natural incline of the valley for the "cavea": the auditorium seating. The majestic panorama, combined with a spectacular view of Etna and the Calabrian mountains, renders this hollowed out hill a natural stage, as well as a stage for natural beauty. Then, the center of Taormina which radiates from the main thoroughfare, Corso Umberto I. Stroll along it beginning at Porta Messina as it gently climbs up to Porta Catania. Don’t forget the Fountain in Piazza Duomo, a Barocco style fountain, built in 1635, in Taormina marble; Palazzo Corvaja, which is one of Taormina’s historical landmarks. Its architecture is a mixture of styles (from Arabian to Norman to Gothic) due to the different eras during which it was built and extended. The Public Gardens, where there is a thick vegetation and a typically Mediterranean array of hedges and flower-beds with cobbled paths which lengthwise connect the almost three hectares of park. In the centre and on the north-east end of the gardens, there are some characteristic pagoda-style towers with arabesque designs, made of bricks and edged with lavic pumice-stone.
“If one has never seen oneself completely surrounded by the sea, one has no idea of the world and one’s own relationship with the world. As an artist drawing landscapes, that great simple line has given me completely new ideas.” (Goethe)
So, let’s enjoy Sicily beautiful coastline! A cable car links Taormina with Mazzarò on the coast. The little bay of Mazzarò is enclosed on the south side by Capo Sant’Andrea which is riddled with caves and grottoes, including the Blue Grotto. Beyond the headland is the delightful bay that sweeps round to Isola Bella, linked to main shore by a narrow strip of land. Very closed to Taormina is Giardini Naxos, the beach on which the first Greek colonists probably landed 2700 years ago, and which now accommodates thousands of tourists due to its charming position, the particularly mild climate, the long beach and the splendid scenery. Concerning the Alcantara Gorge, it is a part of a vast nature area formed by canyons of ancient lava flows traversed by the Alcantara river and dotted with amazing waterfalls and ponds!