Between Messina and Taormina
CommunicationsSS 113 Messina-Cefalù, above Marina di Caronía, 17km/10mi to the west of Sant'Agata di Militello, turning off on a narrow winding road, leading up into the mountains. Caronía is reached after 4.5km/3mi.LocationThe old charcoal-burning community of Caronía lies on a steep-sided hill in the middle of the Bosco di Caronía. This deciduous forest is, at 12 hectares/30 acres, the largest wooded area on the island, its cork-oaks having been much prized in antiquity.
In 440 B.C. the Sikel prince Duketios founded the town of Kaleakte (beautiful coast) here. In the 12th century the Normans erected a fortress on the highest point, of which the palace and the chapel of Roger II, inside a perimeter wall, have been partially preserved (private property).
The Museo Etnoantropologico in Caronía is chiefly concerned with the charcoal-burner's craft, which is a local tradition here.Below the town, in the valley of the Fiume di Caronía, the Romans erected a bridge in the second/third century. Several of its arches are still extant.
Marina di Caronia
Marina di Caronía lies 5km/3mi to the north and has a beach suitable for bathing. There are other beaches at Canneto (to the west) and Torre di Lauro (to the east).
Mili (12km/7mi south of Messina on the SS 114) is reached via Mili Marina, then turning right into the Mili valley. Shortly before the entrance to the village, at a height of 199m/653ft, stands the convent chapel of Santa Maria, one of several examples of Norman churches in this region. It is a single-aisled building with a domed chancel in three sections. Santa Maria is a former church of the Basilians, Greek Orthodox monks, who were supported by the Normans even after the end of the Byzantine period in Sicily, and were given an acknowledgement of their building plans by Count Roger I in 1092.
Continuing southwards on the SS 114 to Itála Marina, we turn right to Itála, situated at 210m/689ft, 2.5km/1.5mi from the coast.
San Pietro e Paolo
1.5km/1mi beyond the village of Itála a Norman church, San Pietro e Paolo, was built in 1093 on the orders of Roger I after a victory over the Saracens, and together with the hitherto Saracen areas of Alí, Itála and Elucepite was assigned to the Basilian order. The exterior of the building is decorated on the sides with intertwining arch friezes. The interior is a three-aisled columned basilica with pointed archways and a vaulted chancel. The dome was reconstructed during restoration work in 1930.
Ali Terme, Italy
Situated on the sea amid fertile countryside, Alí Terme, with 2,300 inhabitants, (about 30km/19mi south of Messina; 5km/3mi south of Itála Marina) is known for its sulfur baths. Cures are claimed for rheumatism, skin diseases, and respiratory conditions.
Casalvecchio Siculo, Italy
LocationCasalvecchio Siculo lies in the valley of the Agró not far from Sicily's east coast.CommunicationsSS 114 and A 18 Taormina-Messina, turning off at Santa Teresa di Riva (16km/10mi northeast of Taormina, 6,500 inhabitants, motorway junction Roccalumera; railroad station) in a northeasterly direction through the mountain village of Sávoca to Casalvecchio.
Casalvecchio - Santi Pietro e Paolo
Level with the town, on the left north bank of the Agró, in the middle of lonely countryside, stands the Church of Santi Pietro e Paolo. It formed part of a Greek Orthodox monastery and was probably built in 1116 under Roger II and restored in 1172 under William II. It is a closed block structure with polychrome exterior walls (red brick, golden-brown limestone and black lava). There are battlements along the top of the rectangular building.InteriorDespite its extended ground plan the undecorated interior is not a basilica in the sense that the word is used in the "Latin" world. Instead it follows the Byzantine East Christian tradition of a narthex between two staircase towers (only half preserved), a central area with the ground plan of a Greek cross and a chancel in three parts. There is a large dome over the central area, a smaller one over the chancel. As a whole the church is considered the most important of several Greek churches along the east coast in the province of Messina (others at Itàla and Mili).
This mountain village is situated on a rock about 6km/4mi away from Casalvecchio Siculo. It is worth visiting for the ruins of a Norman fortress and a 14th century church, underneath which, in wall niches, the mummies of the former nobili are displayed.
The popular resort of Sant'Alessio Siculo lies 14km/9mi southwest of Alí Terme and 13km/8mi northeast of Taormina on the SS 114. From here it is possible to visit Scifi (also a starting-point for a visit to the Norman church at Casalvecchio Siculo) and Forza d'Agrò.
Forza d'Agro, Italy
LocationA winding road leads from the seaside resort of Sant'Alessio Siculo on the Sicilian east coast up to this picturesque village (4km/2mi to the west). Its houses are dominated by the ruins of a 16th century castle.HistoryIn 1117 the village, which is situated on a steep hillside near where the River Agrò flows into the sea, was given by Roger II to the Greek Orthodox Basilian monastery of Santi Pietro e Paolo in the Agrò valley, which was founded at this time.
Chiesa della Triade
The Chiesa della Triade was erected in 1117. The monks chose the Greek language, not Latin, for the expression of the Trinity, and in addition its Old Testament representation which was widely used in the Eastern Christian Church: the three angels of Abraham. This is also the theme of the altarpiece by Antonio Giuffrè (about 1500), as well as appearing on one side of the wood-carved processional banner (gonfalone) of the "Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity", which on the other side depicts Mary with the Infant Jesus.The facade of the church dates from the end of the 16th century.
In the tiny church there is a sculpture by the Florentine Martino Montanini, dating from 1559, which depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
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