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October, 2017

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On the east coast of Sicily with views across to the mainland of Italy, this is a popular summer destination. It is a dramatic setting 200m above the sea, with buildings climbing up the sides of Monte Tauro. Towering another 150m above the town is the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Rock and the remains of a Saracen Castle. Inland, the view is dominated by Mount Etna.

The town has been settled since the C7th BC and the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans have all left their mark. The town was discovered in the C18th by Europeans on the Grand Tour who were attracted by the scenery, mild climate and the
“archaeological remains.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_three/index.html Famous artists and writers settled here and Taormina developed into a tourist resort of the elite. Lady Florence Trevelyan, the grand daughter of a first cousin of Queen Victoria, arrived here after a romantic liaison with the Prince of Wales and married Salvatore Cacciola, a wealthy philanthropist, mayor of Taormina and a friend of the Duke of Kent. She was responsible for creating the Villa Communale Gardens, a series formal gardens and follies which fall down the hillside.With their low evergreen hedges, olives, palms and evergreen trees, along with flowering shrubs and bird song, they are a popular place to drop out in the sunshine.

Mass tourism arrived at the end of the 1960s and Taormina is still one of the most expensive places to stay in Sicily.

The old town is quite small and was originally surrounded by a wall. The main street, “Corso Umberto”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_two/index.html , is built on the line of the original road, Via Valeria, which crossed the city. The two original gateways through the walls, Porta Catania and Porta Messina, still survive. Now pedestrianised and lined with small up market shops, this is a pleasant street to walk down and admire the different buildings from the Arabic to the Norman and from the Gothic to the Baroque. Palazzo Corvaja dates from the C10th and still reflects its Arabic influence. It was the site of the Sicilian Parliament in the early C15th and now houses Tourist Information.

There are lots of narrow alleyways with steps to explore. One of these drops down to the Naumachie, a long wall running below Corso Umberto which dates from Roman times and is thought to be the supporting wall for a huge cistern that was part of a gymnasium. There is a small garden running along it with seats and this is a lovely place to drop out away from the crowds.

Another leads up to the tiny “Church of Varo”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_five/index.html set in a small square with a restaurant. The church was used by the important noble families, hence the elaborate Baroque decoration.

The “cathedral”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_four/index.html is on Corso Umberto with the Centaur Fountain in front of it.

Just a short distance to east, through the clock tower, is Piazza 9 Aprile surrounded with upmarket cafes and views down over the Ionan Sea. The C17th Church of San Guiseppe dominates one side of the square but was closed following the collapse of the ceiling. The tiny C15th Church of San Agostina is now the public library.

A bit further along is the lovely Baroque Church of “St Catherine of Antioch”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_five/index.html. The simple pale pink exterior merges into the surrounding buildings and it is only the small bell tower that identifies it as a church. It is best visited between 9-9.30 in the morning when the sunlight streams through the doorway and lights up the main altar. The church is built on the remains of a Roman Odeon and the remains can be seen under part of the floor in the nave. There are more behind the church. Although tiny, this is worth seeking out as you will probably have it to yourself, unlike the more famous “Greek Theatre”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_three/index.html a short distance away which is always busy.

It is worth dropping down through Porta Messina to find the Baroque Church of “St Pancreas”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_seven/index.html with its decorative plaster work and very impressive high altar. The nearby Church of the Capuchins with its relatively plain interior is very different.

The eight day trip to Sicily allowed us one and a half days to explore Taormina. It definitely justified this amount of time. There are loads more information and pictures “”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_five/five_seven/index.html .


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