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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Taormina

On 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.

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Townscape

View over the city of Taormina with Mt Etna in behind.
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).

Palazzo Corvaia

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.

Hotel Timeo

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.
Address: Via Teatro Greco 59, I-98039 Taormina, Italy

Greek Theater

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.
Address: Via Teatro Greco, I-98039 Taormina, Italy

Antiquarium

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.

Naumachia

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).

Badia Vecchia

The Badia Vecchia, a crenellated town mansion north of Cathedral Square in Taormina, dates from around 1400.

San Domenico

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.

Villa Comunale

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.

Surroundings

Circonvallazione, Italy

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, Italy

Calatabiano (8km/5mi southwest of Taormina) is a pretty little town with castle ruins, near the mouth of the Alcántara River.

Giarre, Italy

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.

Mazzaro, Italy

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.

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