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Taormina

Taormina

In brief:

Volcanic Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea provide the cinema-worthy backdrop for Taormina, Sicily’s legendary resort town. Twisting mediaeval streets and a second- century Greek theatre add to its romantic air, which inspired the writings of D.H. Lawrence and Truman Capote. Take a cable car to the beach, or walk uphill behind the Church of St. Joseph for panoramic views.

History

The origins of this town can be related to prehistory: in the late Bronze Age a group of Siculi settled on top of a hill in front of the Ionian coast of Sicily. The inhabitants of Naxos, city destroyed by Dionysius I of Syracuse, found a place, in which they could refuge in the little town of Tauromenion. Dionysius occupied Tauromenion in 392 B.C. There was a period of decline, but with the Byzantines the city was able to recover from this decline, and in 902 it was one of the last places to surrender to the Arabs. The Islamic domination was not accepted, and the people rebelled twice. After the second revolt, in 969 only the fortification protecting Naxos, called Tambermin, was saved. In the thirteenth century, after the foundation of some convents, a new life was given to Taormina. Its fortune began in the nineteenth century, when, after a visit by Goethe, who praised its beauty all over Europe, it became almost a must in the “Grand Tour”. Travellers of the last century were the forerunners of the tourists, who every year visit Taormina, the capital of Sicilian tourism.

Monuments

One of the main monuments is the Ancient Theatre, not only because of its intrinsic artistic value, but also because of its picturesque position. The panorama that can be enjoyed from up there has been defined as something you really must not miss once you are in Sicily. It is the second biggest ancient theatre of the island (diameter 109 m.), the fist in terms of size, is the theatre of Syracuse. The ancient theatre was built in the Hellenistic epoch (third-second century B.C.). Modified and enlarged about 300 years later, it was used by the Romans for fights between gladiators. The theatre, whose acoustics are outstanding, is used for musical and theatrical shows during summertime. The Romans also built the Odeon, a little building at the back of Saint Caterina church, and theNaumachia (meeting place). Together wlth the theatre the Naumachia, is the second main vestige of the Roman town and also one of the biggest Roman monuments on the island. It was a big terrace protecting, a now no longer existent cistern. It seems that naval battles took place there, and gave it its name. Palazzo Corvaja, built in the fifteenth century on a structure from the previous century, was the headquarter of the Sicilian Parliament in 1410. On the first floor there are big double-mullioned windows. The inner courtyard is very picturesque. The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was built in the thirteenth century. Later, in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was altered. Its squared-off and severe look reminds one of Norman cathedrals. The main portal, surmounted by a small rosette and flanked by two ogival mullioned windows, was done in 1636 in the Renaissance style; two portals, from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, are respectively on the left and right sides (the first one in particular is outstanding). The interior has three naves; there are interesting paintings by Antonino Giuffrè(1436) and a polyptych by Antonello de Saliba (1504). The elegant palace of the dukes of Santo Stefano, built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is a fine example of Sicilian architecture. The imposing walls are lightened by double-mullioned windows, four down below and four – more elegant – on the residential floor.