Taormina Tourist Attractions
CommunicationsSS 114 and A 18 Messina-Catania, two motorway junctions. Rail station Taormina-Giardini (5km/3mi). Funicular (funivia) Taormina-Mazzaró. Mazzaró harbor (motor boats, yachts).AirportFontanarossa Airport in Catania (47km/30mi south, bus link).EventsFestival of the Sicilian Carts in May.
LocationOn the east coast of Sicily, on a rocky terrace high above the Ionian Sea with a view of Mount Etna and its mainly snow-covered peak, lies Taormina. Its position, the lush vegetation and mild winter climate as well as a town showing a happy amalgam of urban features and history all combined to make Taormina Sicily's most popular holiday resort as long ago as the 19th century. It still remains so to some degree in spite of a surfeit of souvenir shops and heavy traffic.The latest plan is that Taormina's Old Town should be made traffic-free by 1992-93 and all cars re-routed through a 1.3km/1400yd tunnel running from north to south with new car-parks either side, some underground.HistorySiculans settled on Tauros Mountain near the present castle. In 396 B.C. the Carthaginian Himilkon founded the fortress town of Tauromenion here after he had taken Messina, and populated it with Siculans from the surrounding area. After only four years, however, it was assigned to Syracuse under the peace treaty with Carthage. Dionysios I drove out the Siculans and settled his own mercenaries here. Syracusan rule did not last long either, however, and in 358 B.C. Andromachos moved to Tauromenion those citizens of Naxos who had survived the town's destruction at the hands of Dionysios in 403 B.C. Under Andromachos, the father of the historian Timaios, Tauromenion prospered. In 345 B.C. Andromachos welcomed Timoleon from Corinth on his way to Syracuse, in return for which Timoleon, after he came to power, allowed Andromachos to remain in control as the sole Sicilian Tyrant. About 350 B.C. Agathocles from Syracuse ruled the town, and after his demise it passed to the Carthaginians. Power changed hands repeatedly in the years that followed: after 285 B.C. the Tyrant Tyndarion ruled in Tauromenion, in 278 B.C. he allowed Pyrrhos of Epeiros to land and to carry out his Sicilian campaign. Later came Hiero II from Syracuse, but after his death Tauromenion quickly transferred its allegiance to the Roman Marcellus, as a result of which Rome bestowed upon it the rank of civitas foederata. In the first Slave Risings the town was one of the slave strongholds until Consul Rupilius conquered it in 132 B.C. after a prolonged siege. Octavian (later known as Augustus) suffered a heavy defeat here against Sextus Pompeius but in 30 B.C. he re-built the town as a home for veteran soldiers. During the Empire (Principate) the town prospered, as witness the ancient buildings which have survived.From the sixth century onwards the town, in common with the whole of eastern Sicily, formed part of the Byzantine Empire, and in the ninth century it held out for a long time against the Saracens; after Syracuse had been taken by them in 878 Taormina took over its function as capital and did not fall into Saracen hands until 962. It gained greatly in importance after the Normans had driven the Saracens out in 1079. In 1410 the Sicilian Parliament met here to elect a successor to the late King Martin of Aragon. In the following centuries Taormina served as a base in the battle against pirates.In the 19th century a new aspect came to the fore - the town gained favor as a health and winter resort for the upper classes and intellectuals of central Europe. The flair and spirit it displayed then and before the First World War in particular lasted through the Second World War too, when - as the site of German commando positions - it suffered intense Allied attacks, and this natural flair can still to some degree be seen today shining through the superficiality of mass tourism.
From the coast road at Cape Taormina Via Pirandello snakes its way up the mountain; passing Byzantine rock-graves on the left, the belvedere on the right and then the coach park on the left and the funicular to Mazzarò, it finally ends at Porta Messina which, together with the adjoining Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, forms the grand entrance to the town itself. This is the start of the main street, Corso Umberto, which then crosses the town in a southwesterly direction before ending at Porta Catania - a street in which to stroll and saunter at will, to shop and perhaps visit an inn, but also to look around the Cathedral and the many other interesting buildings.
Church of St Pancras
Outside Porta Messina, stands the Chiesa di San Pancrazio (church of St Pancras), on the site of the Temple of Jupiter Sarapis. The piazza behind Porta Messina was the location of the ancient agora (forum).
On the right towers the Palazzo Corvaia in Taormina, where the Sicilian Parliament of Nobles met in 1410. Completed only shortly before that date, and incorporating a 10th century Saracen tower, the Palazzo is the best preserved in Taormina. The severe crenellated front has twin-windows with slender columns and on the left side a Gothic doorway leading into the inner courtyard where reliefs depicting the Creation are to be seen. The Gothic hall inside the Palazzo is used for exhibitions and other cultural events.
Santa Caterina and Odeon
To the left of the Palazzo Corvaia in Taormina stands the 17th century single-aisled Chiesa Santa Caterina (church of St Catherine), behind which are the remains of a small Roman odeon (theater) as well as the marble steps from the foundations of a Greek temple.
Opposite the Palazzo Corvaia in Taormina Via del Teatro Greco leads off Piazza V. Emanuele. First of all it leads to the Hotel Timeo, named after Timaios, son of the Andromachos mentioned above and a native of this town. Well-known figures who have stayed here include the writers Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France and André Gide, Prince Yussupoff, the poisoner of Rasputin, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
Taormina's most famous landmark is the Greek Theater. This description is accurate only in so far as the theater was originally built in the third century B.C. under Hiero II of Syracuse; in the second century B.C., however, under Roman rule, it was completely rebuilt with all the characteristics of a truly Roman theater, the perfectly semicircular cavea (auditorium; nine keystones, upper diameter 109m/358ft), the stage rising above the level of the orchestra and the richly articulated stage loft which is so high that its sides adjoin the top rows of seats, producing an enclosed space. The view through a gap in the wall of the loft of the surrounding countryside as far as Mount Etna appeals to young and old alike and has been the subject of thousands of books, paintings and photographs.
The finest view of all is to be had from the Antiquarium above, where architectural fragments and inscriptions are on display. Musical events are held here in summer.
The Vicolo Naumachia in Taormina leads to the Naumachia. This is an imposing brick wall 122m/400ft long with niches but, in spite of its name, it has nothing to do with an arena which would have been filled with water and used to stage sea-battles (naumachia); built during the Roman Empire it was probably the boundary wall of a very large well or of a nymphaeum.
Piazza IX Aprile and Sant'Agostino
Along the Corso Umberto in Taormina lie the Piazza IX Aprile with a viewing terrace, the little Gothic church of Sant'Agostino, built in 1448 and now used for secular purposes, and the clock-tower. This is where the older part of the town begins. On the right at the top of a lane of steps stands the Palazzo Ciampoli (1412), and further on the Town Hall.
Cathedral of San Nicola
Opposite the Town Hall in Taormina the street widens out into Cathedral Square with the Cathedral of San Nicola. Founded by the Hohenstaufens in the 13th century and altered several times in the 15th-17th centuries, it combines medieval and more recent features. The unplastered exterior with its crenellations is original, whereas the Baroque main door was added in 1636 and matches the 1635 Baroque Fountain in the middle of the square.The three aisles of the basilica are separated by large pillars supporting pointed arches. The interior is decorated with a number of works dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, including the 15th century "Visitation of the Virgin Mary" by Antonio Giuffrè and "Madonna and Child with Saints" by Antonello da Saliba (1504).
Porta Catania and Palazzo Duca di Santo Stefano
The Corso ends at the 1400 Porta Catania, emblazoned with the Aragon coat-of-arms, near which will be found a building which is well worth a visit, the three-storied and tower-like Palazzo Duca di Santo Stéfano (c. 1400) with its Gothic-shaped windows and colorful encrustations of stone along the top. Concerts are held in the Great Hall. Two further rooms are given over to works by the sculptor Giuseppe Mazzullo (1913-88).
The Badia Vecchia, a crenellated town mansion north of Cathedral Square in Taormina, dates from around 1400.
South of the Piazza del Duomo in Taormina, on the Piazzale San Domenico, stands the large complex of the former San Domenico convent, founded in the 16th century. After suffering damage in the war (1943) the only parts of the church which remain are the campanile and the cloister. The convent itself has been made into a luxury hotel.
Below the former Dominican monastery in Taormina, Via Roma (fine views) runs east to the municipal gardens (Villa Comunale), in a commanding situation, from which Via Bagnoli Croce continues to the Belvedere (magnificent views). From here we can return on Via Luigi Pirandello, passing below the Greek Theater, to the Porta Messina.
Promenade of the Janiculum
Promenade of the Janiculum begins at Porta San Pancrazio and continues among flower-beds and paths until it reaches the square. Further on is an avenue of Tasso's oak trees.
Parallel to Corso Umberto runs the road known as Circonvallazione. A stepped road leads off it up to the Madonna della Rocca and then continues on up to Castell di Taormina, 398m/1,306ft above sea-level on Monte Tauro. This castle with its massive tower stands on the site of the ancient Acropolis, and there is a fine view from here.It is also possible to reach the castle along the winding road which starts on the Circonvallazione and continues to the magnificently situated mountain village of Castelmola (529m/1,746ft high, 5km/3mi from the town, bus link) with the ruins of an old castle and excellent views.
Calatabiano (8km/5mi southwest of Taormina) is a pretty little town with castle ruins, near the mouth of the Alcántara River.
The town of Giarre, with a population of 18,000, is situated 16km/10mi southwest of Taormina on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, and is a trading center for citrus fruits. It boasts a cathedral with twin towers and a dome, the building of which was begun in 1794. There are beaches near the port of Riposto, 2km/1.25mi east.
Mazzarò, a small yacht basin with bathing facilities at Cape Sant'Andrea, lies 3km/2mi to the north of Taormina along a stepped road; it is also accessible by cable-railroad. Adjoining it to the north are the beaches of Spisone, Mazzeo and Letojanni.
Map of Taormina Attractions