Known in Latin as Tauromenium, and founded by the Sicels who gave Sicily its name, Taormina was once one of the island’s most important cities.
It remained so for a millennium because of its strategic position high on a hill, and the nearly impenetrable Saracen Castle guarding it from above.
This kept the pillaging and plundering to a minimum even as the surrounding country changed hands multiple times.
Having just unfolded our legs from the overnight flight from the states, we were more than content to set out to explore the village on foot.
First and foremost, for any visit to Taormina is a stop at the Ancient Greek Theatre. It is thought to have been originally constructed around 300 BC as a classical Grecian amphitheater, with the Romans rebuilding it several centuries later during their control of the island.
Most of what we saw after our short walk up to the ruins was the brickwork from the reconstruction, but there is also evidence of marble columns from the Greek architecture still showing through.
No matter who built it, they did it right because it is still in use today for plays and concerts. A new stage has been set up, and some of the seating refurbished, but essentially the audience sees performances just as they would have ten centuries ago.
We hustled up the bleachers to see how the sound of the people milling about on stage carried, and check out the view beyond the stage. Remarkably, we could hear every word clear up on the top row, and enjoyed it even more with smoke-blowing Mt. Etna providing the background scenery.
From the theater we walked down to Corso Umberto, the main street that runs between the two ancient gates of the city. The heart of Taormina lies between these portals inside the ancient walls, and the stretch of medieval road thrives as a major destination for tourists from all over the world.
We began at Porta Messina, named because the road leads to the city of Messina, thirty miles or so up the coast, and then made our way through the center of the village toward the opposite gate, Porta Catania, which is named for the city to the south where we landed just a few hours earlier.
The street is lined with several intriguing alleyways made up of stairways leading up or down the hillside, so we wandered up a few, but the views are mostly obstructed by the tightly spaced construction. Level ground is at a premium, so the buildings are packed in on every available inch.
We did find a few spots where small plazas opened up the feel a bit, the largest being Piazza del Duomo in front of the cathedral. The church is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Nicholas of Bari, and dates back to the thirteenth century.
The city is a blend of the old and the very old as the ancient castle looms above the more “modern” churches.
The square’s centered around a fountain from 1635 featuring Greek mythological creatures, and the town’s coat of arms, but that is not the main attraction.
That honor goes to the fact that this just happens to be the ultimate location for stunning views of Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and the highest in Europe.
Coincidence? We doubt it.
Our timing turned out to be about perfect, and we captured the mythical mountain just as the setting sun lit up the tufts of smoke rising from her summit.
The billowing smoke was so accentuated by the sunset that we started to get concerned. When we asked a local if we were safe he said, “We only worry when she STOPS smoking. That’s when the trouble starts.”
Looks like luck was with us because the massive peak never ceased to release clouds of fumes.
- Veronica James
- : Veronica was born and raised in Southern California and was like, totally, a valley girl. Against any sane person's better judgment, she ran off with a musician at age eighteen. Upon procreation, she became Earth Mama, then Helicopter Mom, hovering over every detail of her Spawns' lives. Including writer, she has held approximately thirty-three different jobs while raising her brood. She is never bored.
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