Italian culture and history: Taormina
- WTI Magazine #121 Nov 17, 2019
Just two stones’ throw away from the Strait dividing Sicily from the Italian Peninsula lies delectable Taormina (Tauromenion in Antiquity), facing out toward the Ionian Sea from a high, natural terrace. With its Medieval architecture, its ancient Greek soul, and the colors and smells of Mediterranean foliage, Taormina is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world, and the Sicilian climate makes it an ideal destination any time of the year.
One cannot but remain absolutely charmed by the immense beauty of this place, the same sensation experienced by Johann Wolfgang Goethe during a visit to the 3rd-Century A.D. Greek Theatre, the symbol of the city. Standing among cypresses and prickly pears, its cavea dug into the rock, Taormina’s Hellenistic Theatre was transformed into an arena by the Romans. It offers a spectacular view onto the turquoise sea that runs all the way to the Calabrian coast in the northeast, to Syracuse in the south, and to the smoking peak of Mt. Etna in the west. No doubt that the gamut of travelers – nature lovers, history buffs and art enthusiasts alike – will find that Taormina does not disappoint.
Entering the city from the Porta Messina wall, one arrives right in the Medieval heart of Taormina. Not far from Porta Messina is Palazzo Corvaia and the 16th-Century Church of St. Pancras, built on the remains of a Greek temple. Be sure to see the cavea of the ancient Odeon and the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, both rather close by. Here, the street widens into Piazza IX Aprile, the terrace of which boasts a privileged panorama. The Porta di Mezzo, superimposed by the 17th-Century Clocktower, leads to Taormina’s Medieval Quarter, made up of characteristic edifices with Romanesque and Gothic architectonic elements and ornamentation.
The Badia Vecchia (Old Abbey) and the massive defense structure that is the Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano (Ducal Palace of Saint Stephen) are from the Norman Era, and feature Gothic, Arab, and Norman design elements. All this history lives amidst Taormina’s renowned lush natural surroundings that repeat themselves in the Public Gardens of the Villa Comunale.
Obligatory is a stroll along Corso Umberto I, the main street in Taormina, ideal for shopping. Many artisan shops line the way, selling a bit of everything: ceramics and jewelry, clothing and souvenirs. If it is peace and quiet you’re after instead, you can wander the picturesque lanes and sidestreets, passing through the courtyards and tiny piazzas of the oldest part of Taormina.
Undoubtedly Taormina is also favored for its beaches and, during the warmer months, it is difficult to resist a refreshing swim in the transparent waters near Giardini Naxos or those washing up on the beaches of Mazzarò (below Taormina, accessible via a funicular), Mazzeo and Lido Spisone (also where nighttime revelers go to the disco).
Another beach faces Isola Bella, a tiny island situated in the Bay of Taormina and connected to terra firma by a narrow stretch of land that can only be seen if the tide is low. It is a protected natural oasis, where one can catch glimpses of incomparable natural sceneries.
Considered one of the most beautiful sea localities on Sicily’s eastern coast, Giardini Naxos is practically right next to Taormina, and preferred by Sicilians for its splendid waters. Its extensive shore alternates between free beaches and more developed lidos, with hotels, restaurants, pizzerias and discoteques. Giardini Naxos is also a port where numerous owners of large boats choose to moor.
Further inland, visitors can take an excursion to the Medieval Borgo of Castelmola, located on Monte Tauro.
Try a tasty seafood lunch, accompanied by Sicilian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and one of the Province’s prestigious D.O.C. wines. Or take a coffee break at one of the characteristic cafés on Corso Umberto, enjoying a super satisfying lemon granita (sometimes even served inside warm brioche) or a typical Sicilian cassata.