Taormina is one of the most important sites, from a historical, cultural and artistic point of view, in Europe. Discovering its history and its monuments means investigating the events that have made Sicily great since the Hellenistic era. From the Greek Amphitheatre to the historic Gates of the town, each of these important structures highlight events that influenced European history. Some of the most illustrious figures in history and culture have walked along the garden avenues and picked their way among the Roman ruins, and being thrilled and fascinated by their ancient appeal. Wilhelm Van Gloeden, Alexandre Dumas, Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, Friedrich Nietsche, Ernest Hemingway and Wolfgang von Goethe are only a few of the names of the famous figures who were captivated by these splendid places. Wander along the alleys leading off Corso Umberto, enjoy the wonderful view from the Greek Amphitheatre, breathe in the scents and the sensations, exuded by these places we love so much.
A walk through the most famous sites of Taormina.
Piazza IX Aprile
This square is the town’s most elegant meeting places, as several old and famous bars are situated there. For centuries, artists, international travellers and jet-setters have admired its buildings. From the parapet one can look out over a breathtaking view ranging from the Greek Amphitheatre to the magnificent Mt. Etna.
The Saracen CastleThe Saracen Castle has dominated Taormina for centuries. In the 13th century, it was rebuilt by the Arabs on the ruins of an earlier structure and it owes its name to them. It is trapezoid in shape and used to have a look-out turret. Its ground plan reveals the existence of a water cistern for the storage of rain-water and of an underground store-room, to be used as the garrison’s larder for food-supplies.
The Archaeological Museum is inside the old Abbey House (Badia Vecchia). The objects dug up during the last diggings carried out on the archaeological sites of Taormina between 1984 and 1998 are exhibited here, They range from Hellenistic objects (4th century B.C.), produced during the Roman occupation of the area to a variety of ceramic objects of the Renaissance period.
The Cathedral or Duomo, also known as the “Fortress Cathedral”, because of the battlements along the top of the walls, was built around the beginning of the 14th century on the remains of a small Medieval church and was subsequently dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari. The ground plan is cruciform with three aisles. The two side-aisles contain six side-altars each. One of the most distinctive aspects of the façade is the main portal – restructured in 1663 – with an elegantly sculpted rose-window above it.
Church of St. Pancras
The church, dedicated to St. Pancras (bishop and patron saint of Taormina) was built in the 17th century on the ruins of a Greek temple, dedicated to Jupiter Serapis, of which there are traces outside the church. The Baroque church hosts the annual festival, celebrating the patron saint, which takes place on the 9th July every year. Every four years the effigies of St.Pancras and of St. Peter are born in procession through the streets of the town.
This building perfectly represents the layered civilizations that have succeeded each over the centuries in Taormina. The tower was built by the Arabs, the twin arched windows on the façade and the entrance are Catalan-Gothic, the parliament hall is Norman. The building was originally a simple cube-like tower, built by the Arabs between 902 and 1079. The present name of the palace is that of the family who lived in it between 1538 and 1945.
Probably built around the 2nd century A.D. on the ruins of a pre-existing Greek temple, this small theatre is considered a perfect little jewel of Roman architecture. During the Graeco-Roman era, it was the place where musical and theatrical events were staged.
Corso Umberto I
Corso Umberto is where everybody in Taormina goes to see and be seen and to take part in the enjoyable life of the town. It rises gradually and connects two of the town Gates: Porta Messina and Porta Catania. There are attractive shops, typical restaurants, and picturesque bars all along it. An intricate network of little alleys and lanes branch off it, climbing up to the top of the town or sliding down to Via Roma, the road with the best views in town.
The little island owes its name to the German Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, who named it thus, because of its uncontaminated natural beauty. Sometimes called the “pearl of the Mediterranean”, this singular islet owes part of its enchanting quality to its vicinity to the coast, as, according to the tides, it can also become a peninsula. It has been a natural reserve since 1998 and is looked after by the WWF.
The Municipal Villa
Originally, the villa was the private park of Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English aristocrat and cousin to Queen Victoria, who moved to Taormina around 1884. The park was laid out as a typical English garden and numerous rare botanical species were planted there.
The Greek Amphitheatre
It is certainly the most important and best preserved monument in Taormina. Probably built around the 2nd century B.C., it is situated on a rise commanding a fabulous view, which ranges from Mt. Etna to the Ionian coastline near Messina. It is only second in size to the amphitheatre in Syracuse and for years has hosted cultural events and shows of international repute.
This is a small archaeological museum inside the Greek Amphitheatre. It shelters rare and precious archaeological exhibits discovered in diggings carried out in the 19th century all over the Taormina area and which for a long time had been kept in the Archaeological Museum in Syracuse.