It is a true myth of international tourism, a shining jewel among the precious treasures of Sicily, an essential destination for art, history, landscape and entertainment: here is Taormina.
Taormina: where and what
Wonderful Sicily is almost a continent rich in peoples, tastes, nature, emotions where everything goes towards infinity. A sweet and harsh land, soft and rough, bright and veiled: a world full of art and history. And today I’m taking you with me to one of the unique places on the island. I’m talking about the spectacular Taormina and its 10 wonders to see: let’s discover them!
Meanwhile, let’s clarify where we are: here we are on the Ionian coast halfway between Messina and Catania. Taormina appears right on the front of Mount Tauro at 200 m above sea level, almost suspended between rocks and the sky. All around, you can see a unique and incomparable landscape that seems to summarize the essence of Sicily: the Mediterranean scrub, the volcano, the rugged stones, the beaches…
Historians say that the Sicilians inhabited the fortress of Taormina before 735 BC., when in the bay the Greeks founded Naxos, their first colony in Sicily. The city was conquered by Syracuse, then in 212 BC. the whole island became a Roman province. Over the centuries, we had many dominations in Sicily: Arabs, Normans, Suevians, Spaniards, Bourbons and more until 1861.
Taormina: a myth is born
Nowadays the town is undoubtedly one of the most famous touristic places in Sicily. How and when did they create the myth of Taormina? Everything began with the so-called Grand Tour in the 18th century: it was a long journey that the rich European aristocrats used to organize to enhance their knowledge. So, they started arriving in Italy and then in Sicily: poets and writers, nobles and scholars who loved to describe Taormina in their writings. Goethe described it as a “strip of heaven on Earth” and Guy de Maupassant stated that here “you can find whatever seems to be created on Earth to seduce the eyes, mind and imagination”.
Therefore, for a certain target of travelers, Taormina was one of the main tourist destinations during the 19th and 20th centuries. Here are just a few famous names: the photographer Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Richard Wagner, Tsar Nicholas I, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Edward VII, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud. Actually, I want to reveal that it did not become famous all over the world only for its gorgeous beauties but for its ‘sexual transgression’, for its ‘cultural cenacles”, for the ‘myth of Arcadia’, for its ‘sweet life’…
Get ready for a surprise…but it’s all true! Until the end of 1968 Taormina was considered a winter destination for very rich people. Even the best and most expensive hotels used to open in October and close in June! Among the visitors of that time we can find Truman Capote, D.H. Lawrence, Salvatore Quasimodo, Tennessee Williams, Juliana of Holland, the royals of Sweden and Denmark, Soraya, Ava Gardner, Romy Schneider, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Greta Garbo. As it’s clear, in addition to the previous list, there are now some movie stars! Above all, they all remember the crazy nights spent all around the traditional bars of that time…
10 wonders to see in Taormina: let’s find out the top three!
Well, now you know enough to go further and as I promised, here is a list of 10 wonders to see in Taormina: let’s discover them!
1 – Duomo
Entering from Porta Catania, after a few hundred meters, you will see the Cathedral located in the homonymous square. It was rebuilt around 1400 on the remains of a church from the 13th century and dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Over time it has had several renovations and today it shows a massive but elegant structure that makes it look like a fortress. The amazing and unexpected seventeenth-century Baroque fountain celebrates the symbol of the city of Taormina: the crowned centaur holding the world in one hand and the scepter of power in the other. It’s impossible not to photograph it!
2 – Corso Umberto
You already arrived in Corso Umberto and will soon understand why Taormina is nicknamed ‘the Sicilian Saint Tropez’. The main street goes from Porta Catania to Porta Messina in the north of the city. It follows exactly the ancient road axis of the Greek-Roman era, crossing the historic center. In summer, thousands of visitors from all over the world walk it down every day. In addition to many restaurants, coffee shops and souvenir shops, you will find jewelry stores and luxury boutiques: enjoy your shopping! Here is another gem you cannot miss: get lost around the narrowest streets and discover the secrets hidden in each alley…
3 – Piazza IX Aprile
Walking down Corso Umberto, you will arrive to the arch of the Clock Tower that was built in the 12th century and then rebuilt at the end of the 17th century. And…a wonderful panoramic terrace overlooking the sea will welcome us. This is Piazza IX Aprile characterized by some outdoor cafes, baroque churches, ancient palaces, nice painters and above all a spectacular view over the gulf and Mount Etna. Feel the scents, look at the sea and at the volcano, strike a pose and take a picture!
10 wonders to see in Taormina: let’s find out three more!
4 – Palazzo Corvaja
Let’s go on and continue your visit. Walk down the main street and just before Porta Messina you will bump into Palazzo Corvaja. You will immediately notice many different styles: the Arab battlements on the top, the Gothic mullioned windows on the facade, the Norman room of the Sicilian Parliament. Its name comes from the aristocratic family Corvaja who has owned it for more than 400 years. Today, at the first floor it houses an interesting museum of Sicilian folk arts and traditions. We are therefore in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II that was first the ancient Roman forum and even before the agora of Tauromenion.
5 – Greek Theater
After a short climb, you get to the Greek Theater, undoubtedly the most famous monument in Taormina. After the one in Syracuse, this is the second largest ancient theater in Sicily. It was built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC. and then enlarged by the Romans who added some columns and statues creating a sort of arena for gladiators and hunting shows. The staircase entirely carved into the rock can host over 5,000 spectators! Today it hosts major events such as fashion shows, theater performances, film festivals and music concerts. The most known is Taormina Arte, the international arts festival: don’t miss it!
6 – Villa Comunale
Do you think it’s time for a break? Then let’s relax at the Villa Comunale: a true oasis of tranquility in the city center, a harmony of tropical plants and flowers. It was built as a private park in English style by Lady Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, a Scottish noblewoman who married the mayor of the time and lived in Taormina at the end of the 19th century. It seems that she was also a passionate ornithologist and so she built several strange buildings to watch birds. Moreover, pay attention to the incredible view of Etna and the coast: keep them in your photos!
10 wonders to see in Taormina: let’s find out more and more!
We have already visited 6 out of 10 wonders to see in Taormina! Now it’s time to know the surrounding area: let’s go!
7 – Church of Madonna della Rocca
Would you like to challenge a staircase that counts more than 300 steps to reach the top in about 20 minutes? If your answer is ‘yes’…then let’s start from via Circumvallazione and warm up your legs! Once you get on the top, you can enjoy a magnificent view: Taormina, the Greek Theater, the gulf and Mount Etna. On the edge of this area, it stands a large cross that shine in the dark and is visible from Taormina. So, on one side it stands the Saracen Castle, on the other side – right next to it – you will find a small chapel, partially carved into the rock and dedicated to the Madonna della Rocca. If you can, visit it: you will plunge into a unique atmosphere!
8 – Castelmola
So if you liked the view from the top of the rock… take your car and let’s go even higher! Just a few 5 kilometers away you will get to a tiny town called Castelmola. This village deserves to be visited: discover the ruins of the medieval castle, the alleys, the small craft shops. Don’t forget to taste the almond wine: it’s a specialty! Moreover, both from the narrow streets and from the castle you can be amazed by the best viewpoints of the valley and of Mount Etna.
9 – Isola Bella
And now let’s leave the blue of the sky and let’s dive into the blue of the sea! In all photos, a small island is portrayed, later taken as a symbol of Taormina. Go south and a few meters away from the beach, discover Isola Bella! At low tide a thin strip of sand emerges from the pure waters of the bay and joins it to the beach. This island has been a nature reserve since 1998, it’s totally green! I strongly recommend a wonderful experience: a boat trip to discover every corner of the island and the coast!
10 – Beaches
For many months of the year, Taormina means sea and relax. It’s almost impossible to think something different! I will list the most beautiful beaches in addition to the one just described in Isola Bella: Mazzarò, Spisone, Villagonia, Mazzeo and Sant’Alessio Siculo. Each of them is really amazing for its pebbles and crystal-clear water. If you have the time, visit them all: although they may look similar, they are different…find the one that best suits your way of living the sea! In addition to some free areas where you can relax, you will find many beaches that offer diving, boat trips, windsurfing, canoeing and more.
Did I surprise you with these 10 wonders to see in Taormina? Don’t think that’s all! Sicily is much more than this: come and discover it thanks to the itineraries organized by Dimensione Sicilia. One of the best ideas? Eco-tours by electric cars! These itineraries are customizable itineraries according to your time and budget to enjoy 8 days in Western and Eastern Sicily or 14 days, if you prefer. You will visit the most beautiful places on the island such as 10 UNESCO sites of Sicily including Taormina and its surroundings. Or if you want to enjoy the beauties of the island in a different way, pick one of the tours suggested by Sicilian Secrets. In safety we trust, let’s go!
See you soon!
Translated by Gaia Guarino