If you’ve heard that Taormina is trendy and touristy, you’ve heard right. It’s also beautiful, and full of things worth seeing. By night and by day.
The old town’s characteristic arches look harmless when you’re walking, but a bit more forbidding when you realize you have to drive through them to get to your hotel. Sort of like a medieval video game.
The Roman Odeon, built in the early 1st century and only partially excavated, was discovered in 1892 by a blacksmith who happened to be digging around the Church of Santa Caterina. (I didn’t know blacksmithing involved digging, but that must just show how much I know about blacksmithing.) This small ancient theater is relatively little-visited and actually rather easy to miss. But it’s definitely worth a brief “dig.”
Taormina’s biggest attraction, the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater), provides a dramatic view of Mount Etna. It’s also where the annual Taormina Film Festival is held.
Founded by Greek colonists from nearby Naxos centuries before the Christian Era, the city took the name Tauromenium under the Romans. Because of its easily fortified location, it figured prominently during the war that established Octavian as the Roman Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. Like the rest of Sicily, it was conquered by Arabs (in 902), then taken in 1078 by good old Roger I, whom we’ve met in our earlier chapters.
Taormina became a tourist mecca in the 19th century and remains one today. Goethe, D.H. Lawrence, Truman Capote, and this bird are among the many famed creative types who have spent time here.
From the Teatro Greco you can see the old fortress atop the promontory of Mount Tauro. (Search this page for “Taormina” for some colorfully-told siege history.) The sight makes you understand why the town was so defensible.
Back in town, hot sun shone on the main plaza, which opens out from the main drag, Corso Umberto I, and on the rococo Church of San Guiseppe, one of the most compelling-looking churches I’ve ever seen.
The Villa Comunale is a lush park featuring gardens created by a Balmoral gardening enthusiast named Florence Trevelyan who was “banished” here in the late 19th century after a romance with the future King Edward VII. What a terrible fate.
But you can’t wander far without a glorious reminder that you’re on the Mediterranean coast.
And so we’ll say goodbye to Taormina with a last look at legendary Mount Etna.
To be continued in Part 6, in which we journey south to Siracusa and points beyond.