Taormina is an Italian city and resort in every sense. Geographically it is most favorably located on the east coast of Sicily. The steep hills of the Sicilian Apennines, cascading down to the aquamarine waves of the Ionian Sea, create a true paradise for travelers and vacationers. The landscapes rich in color and greenery, against the backdrop of the jagged silhouette of the mountains, exquisitely complement the historic sites of the city. Believe me, Taormina offers a feast for all the human body’s receptors!
The considerable age of the city, spread out on the slope of Monte Tauro, ensures a rich historical past. In the 4th century B.C. the Greek settlers decided to settle down on the beautiful shores of the Ionian Sea. This is how the history of Tauromenion (Greek Ταυρομένιον), later given its Latin name, Tauromenium, began. The main population of the new city was the native inhabitants of the island of Sicily, the Siculians. The settlers lost their shelter in the devastating battles at the port of Naxos.
From the moment of its appearance, Tavromenion did not know a simple and quiet life. Founded at the behest of Syracuse’s ruler, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder, the city saw its fall at the hands of another tyrant, the Corinthian Timoleon. Moreover, the Tauromaeans came out in support of the new ruler of Syracuse. In the second century BC, the settlement was conquered by a powerful army of Roman soldiers.
In 135 B.C. the first Sicilian Revolt broke out on the island. Crowds of slaves, led by the slave Eunus and his fighting partner Cleon, overthrew their masters, the Roman viceroys. Since the Romans bothered to bring to Sicily people captured during the last battles, the slaves belonged for the most part to the same ethnic group, the Syrians. The colossal cohesion and thirst to get even with the slave-owners helped Eunus to raise a rather large-scale revolt. As a result, the east and center of the island fell into the hands of the former slaves. Eunus was made king by his companions and named Antiochus.
But the story of the brave and courageous Syrians, alas, has no happy ending. Only three years later, the Romans besieged the lands Antiochus had conquered. The betrayal of one of the king’s associates, led to a tragic finale. The Roman consul Publius Rupilius took the city of Tauromenion and savagely dealt with the rebel slaves. Up to the beginning of our era, the city was repeatedly involved in various military struggles. This fact has constantly hindered the development and rise of the settlement, so Tavromenion has remained in the background.
In the first century A.D. under the influence of the apostles Peter and Paul, most of the inhabitants of Tavromenion were converted to Christianity. By the end of the first century the city was attacked by Arab armies who laid an exhausting siege. Considerable damage was done to the settlement and its inhabitants. During these times, Tavromenion gets its next name, this time in honor of the Arab emir, Muizia.
The fertile lands and abundant nature attracted the attention of the inhabitants of the sultry desert. The Arabs spent much effort and money to rebuild the southern part of the city. Typical Arabian buildings were lavishly laced with lush gardens and beautiful fountains. Replacing the name Muisia, the area was named after the caliph, Almoesia.
A century later, the Normans invaded Sicily. Chasing a victorious stride, Roger I, the future Count of Sicily, systematically cleansed the island of Arab invaders. In the face of Almoesia, Roger Altavilla met an impregnable fort, the approaches to which were blocked by numerous forts and a monolithic wall.
Thanks to the assistance of the Pontiff, the Normans succeeded in clearing the city of Muslims in 1078 AD. Along with the return of Christian religion, the true name of the settlement, Taormina, was revived.
By the 13th century, several Catholic monasteries appeared in the city. In the Middle Ages the Cathedral and several palaces were built for the nobles of the city. But the development of the area never really took off. The interest in Taormina started in the XIX century with the natural sciences. European aristocrats preferred to bask in the radiant Italian sun on the beaches of the Sicilian coast. While the young scholars enthusiastically studied the remains of ancient sites such as the Greek theater and the Roman odeon.
Goethe spoke of the beauty of Taormina, considering it the most beautiful place in the world. The English writer David Herbert Lawrence spent two whole years in this Italian resort during his travels abroad. A controversial figure in nineteenth-century photography, Baron Wilhelm Baron von Gloeden (German: Wilhelm Baron von Gloeden) was passionately in love with Sicily. In Taormina the Baron shot many beautiful landscapes and created many clichés dedicated to the beauty of the male body. Nowadays the city is the site of various festivals and awards dedicated to art, music and film.
Tips for choosing a hotel in Taormina
The cost of hotel rooms largely depends on the season, the level of the hotel and ranges from 50 to 250 euros. Take into account that one of the best resorts in Italy, besides you want to rest a lot of Italians. Looking for a suitable option advise 3-4 months or take advantage of last minute deals (this advice does not work in July and August). The most favorable time for a holiday in Taormina, we believe the September and October, when the flow of tourists has subsided, and the sea is still warm enough. Pre-book your room with the possibility of a free cancellation by clicking on the special link of our partner site Booking.com
Taormina: The Pearl of the Ionian Sea
Taormina is more famous than many of its celebrities: the German Emperor Wilhelm II, the writers George Byron and Guy de Maupassant (“If they ask me what to see in Sicily, if I have only one day, I will without hesitation say: Taormina”; “A Wandering Life”, 1885), but also D. Lawrence, A. France, Oscar Wilde and J. Brahms, the French stylist Dior and the German artist Geleng.
Taormina is depicted in 43 films, the first of which was the silent film Call of Blood by Louis Carcanton, released in 1919; later Taormina appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Avant-Garde, and recent films include Luc Besson’s The Blue Abyss, Roberto Benigni’s The Devil, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather III and Woody Allen’s The Great Aphrodite.
The city was founded in 358 B.C. by Greeks who had fled from the nearby city of Naxos, captured by Dionysius I of Syracuse, and from other Greek colonies in Sicily. They named it Tauromenion.
This colony of Greater Greece had its forum, an acropolis on the summit of Monte Tauro, and the Bouleuterion, or city council. The construction of the symbol of the city, the antique theater, in the third century B.C., dates back to the Greek period. The relief of the hill, from whose slopes it was possible to enjoy a spectacle framed by the magnificent views of the Calabrian coast and the Ionian coast of Sicily, and of Etna with its snow-capped peak, was used.
The city then belonged to the Romans, who built another of its symbols: the Naumagia, a water reservoir and aqueduct running down the terraces. During Byzantine rule, Taormina became the capital of Sicily, playing an important role in the Eastern Roman Empire, until the Arab conquest that took place from 902 to 1079, after which it came under the control of the Normans and then the Spaniards.
Taormina’s culture is the legacy of all its conquerors, thanks to whom the city has acquired its incomparable image which attracts tourists from all over the world.
What to see
Ancient Greek Theatre
The Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina is a symbol of the city and one of the greatest monuments of Great Greece. It is the second largest building of its kind after the Syracuse Theater, reaching a diameter of 110 m. The Taormina Theatre was built in the 3rd century BC in Hellenic style with Corinthian columns. The ancient Romans rebuilt it for gladiatorial fights.
Nowadays the theater hosts cultural events of international level, such as the Taormina Arte Festival. The theater has good acoustics and offers magnificent views of the Schizo Gulf and the volcano Etna.
The theater is open daily from 9 am and closes one hour before sunset. Admission costs 8 euros (discounted 4).
The Navmachia, one of the symbols of Taormina / www.siciliannamurata.altervista.org
It is one of the most significant ancient Roman structures in Sicily. It dates from the 2nd century B.C. It is a monumental fountain, whose structures were later used for the foundations of later buildings.
In the center of Taormina, in the square of the Greek forum, it consists of a cube-shaped tower, built during the Arab conquest in 902-1079, to which were added later wings. This palazzo is a synthesis of the history of Taormina. The teeth of the tower are Arabesque, the windows are Gothic-Catalan, and the hall where the parliament met during the Norman domination is 15th century in style. Previously owned by the Corvia family, the palace is now the headquarters of the local tourist board and the museum of traditional art of Sicily.
The museum is open daily except Mondays from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00. The entrance fee is 2.60 euros.
Medieval town of the Norman period
“Borgo” of Taormina has a typical medieval layout; its streets lead to the 9th of April Square and Cathedral Square, where the city’s 15th-century cathedral dedicated to St. Nicholas is located. The square also features a 17th century Baroque fountain, in the center of which stands the symbol of the city: a crowned centaur holding a globe in his left hand and a scepter in his right.
April 9th Square (from Corso Umberto)
April 9th Square © andras_csonto / www.shutterstock.com
It offers a wonderful view of Etna, the Gulf of Naxos and the hill with the ancient Greek theater. It is the site of the Baroque church of San Giuseppe (XVII century) and the former Gothic church of Sant’Agostino, now the library of the same name, and the Clock Tower, which gives access to the old town.Originally, the square was also named after St. Augustine. The square was originally named after St. Augustine and it owes its name to the April 9th 1860, when during a Mass the word spread that Garibaldi and his Thousand had landed in Sicily to free it from the Bourbon domination.
Palaces from the period of the Spanish domination
The 14th century Palazzo dei Ducchi di Santo Stefano is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture in Sicily, with its characteristic blend of Arabic and Norman elements. It was commissioned by the Spanish family De Spiuches and was bought by the municipality of Taormina in the sixties of the 20th century. Today it is the headquarters of the Fondazione Mazzullo, where the graphic and artistic works of the master from Messina are permanently exhibited.
Palazzo dei Ducchi di Santo Stefano
This islet, which does not exceed one square kilometer in size, is a symbol of Taormina along with the ancient theater. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of sand which disappears at the tide. It once belonged to Lady Florence Trevelyan, a noble Englishwoman who bought it for 14,000 lire in 1890. Here she was in exile, sent by Queen Victoria for an affair with her cousin and future King Edward VII.
Lady Trevelyan brought tropical flowers and plants to the island, which later mingled with the local flora. After her and her husband’s death, the island was inherited by their nephew, who sold it to a private individual. In 1984 the island was declared an important historical and artistic monument and in 1990 the Assessor for the Cultural Heritage of Sicily bought it from the Bozurji family, the last owners. Celebrated by Goethe and Byron, the island became the Isola Bella Regional Natural Museum in 2011.
The island is open to the public daily, except Mondays, from 9 am until one hour before sunset. The cost of entry is 4 euros. From the center of Taormina you can get here by cable car (from Via Pirandello to Mazzaro).
Sicilian arancini / www.shutterstock.com
The Greco-Roman, Arab, Norman and Spanish eras have left their mark on Taormina’s cuisine. The Arabs left us with rice arancini, the Normans with baccala and stoccafisso. Mpanata di pespada (swordfish pie), reminiscent of the Spanish empanada, is famous. As in Spain, fish is at the head of the table; tuna, mackerel and especially swordfish are eaten with olive-lemon sauce or with onions, olives and capers. Typical Sicilian desserts are “cannoli” (cream tubes), “cassata” cake and “la granita” (fruit sherbet).