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Taormina – Sicily

Welcome to Taormina, Sicily!

The Catania Gate dates back to 1440 and was built by the Arabs to defend their control of the city. This is Corso Umberto, the main street through the historic center of Taormina. At the far eastern end of this street is the other main gate into town, the Porta Messina. Taormina is most famous for its beaches, it’s beautiful historic center and it’s ancient Greek Amphitheater. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century and was built on the site of another ancient church. On top of the 17th century fountain is a Minotaur, half human and half horse, which is the emblem of the city. This fountain is known as the “4 Fountains” because of the four smaller fountains around its base. Of all the towns in Sicily, Taormina is the most popular tourist destination. This church and adjoining convent were built in 1662 by the Carmelite friars. The church was completely destroyed by bombings in 1943 and has since been restored. It is now used as an exhibition hall. Taormina is about 250 meters (820 ft) above the sea. A cable-car called the Funivia joins the historic center of Taormina with its beach area below at Mazzarò. Above the town is a high peak, known as Monte Taoro, which is topped by a Saracen Castle This area was inhabited by the Siculi people before the arrival of the Greeks in 734 BC. It was the Sicel people that gave Sicily its name and it has held since antiquity. In 329 BC, the Greeks founded Taormina, known then as Taoromenion. The Greeks of Taormina eventually surrendered to Rome and in 212 BC it became a Roman colony. It soon became a favorite holiday destination for high ranking Roman officials, thus starting Taormina’s history as a tourist resort. This is a small museum of the town but it was unfortunately closed today. After the fall of Rome in 476 AD, Taormina was conquered by the Byzantines. The Byzantines were eventually conquered by the Arabs in 962 who changed the name of the town to Almoezia. In 1079, the Arabs were thrown out of Sicily under the Norman rule of King Roger de Hautville. The cultural impact of the Arabs is present to this day in Sicily in the cuisine and architecture. The piazza is named after a date in 1860 when mass was interrupted at the cathedral. The interruption was to announce that the Italian general, Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi, had began his conquest of Sicily. Garibaldi was responsible for the unification of Italy and under his command, Sicily became part of Italy. From this terrace you can enjoy views of the azure Ionian Sea and Mount Etna. The church on the far side of the piazza is the Church of San Giuseppe, built in late 17th century. Before 1860, this was called Piazza Sant’Agostino after this small church on the eastern side of the square. The Piazza IX Aprile marks the halfway point between the two gates on Corso Umberto. Today, the main industry in Taormina is tourism, and the main destination is the ancient Greek theater. Unfortunately, the theater was closed during this visit. Another famous building is just four minutes ahead called the Palazzo Corvaja. fThe Palazzo Corvaja is a medieval palace originally built by the Arabs in 10th century. When the Normans moved in, they built another wing to the tower and added artwork, some of which is still there today. The Spanish built another wing to the building in the 15th century and turned it into the Sicilian Parliament. The current name of the Palazzo Corvaja comes from one of the most famous families in Toarmina who lived there from 1538 to 1945. Today, the Palazzo Corvaja is used as an exhibition center and tourist office. Guided tours of this historic building are available but today it was closed. This path to the left leads up to the Odeon, a small Roman theater which was only discovered here in 1892. You can see the Palazzo tower just ahead on the left. This is the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria built in 17th century. Just down this road to the right is the location of the cable car down to the beach. If you follow this road up to the right, you can access the hiking trail up to the castle. If you have a car however, you can continue further on this road and drive almost right up to the castle. This road leads up to the ancient Greek amphitheater, which is closed today. The Greek theater was built in the 3rd century BC and is possibly a Roman reconstruction of a prior Greek theater. This is the second largest theater of its kind in Sicily after the one in Syracuse. The theater in Syracuse was also closed when I went but I did get some drone footage of it. To the left is a long staircase full of flowers that leads down to the street below. Right now we are heading to the remains of another Roman bath. From here, it is a five minute walk down to the famous Public Gardens, starting at time 42:39. The walk through the garden lasts about 25 minutes and ends at time 1:08:45. This garden was created by the English aristocrat, Florence Trevelyan in the late 19th century. Among the garden are several of Florence Trevelyan’s eccentric constructions, known as Victorian Follies. While these buildings were used primarily for decoration, Florence did enjoy using them as a place for her to paint. Florence loved nature and animals. She was said to be always surrounded by her dogs and other animals she cared for. Think of these buildings as giant bird feeders where Florence would spread out bird seed. Florence called these buildings “the hives” where she would observe all the birds from places like this. She would sit here, paint and watch the birds. Florence Trevelyan (b.1852 – d.1907) Florence arrived in Taormina with her five dogs at the age of 37 in 1889….or 1884 depending on the source. When she arrived, she stayed at the Hotel Timeo which was the only hotel in town at the time. In 1890, Florence married Salvatore Cacciola, a well known long-time resident of Taormina. At one point, he had been the mayor of Taormina. Florence and Salvatore had a son but he died right after childbirth. This tragic event changed her life and she decided to dedicate her life to philanthropic works. It was also at that time when she began work on her gardens and ‘beehives.” Situated around the garden are various war memorials dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. The next stop is an at an ancient site known as the Naumachie at time 1:12:21. The naumachia is the remains of a Roman wall that once held statues in the niches. A large Roman water reservoir was found here which were sometimes used in theaters to create the sea battles. The term naumachie actually means “the sea battle.” The reservoir was not used for this purpose however but instead simply supplied water to the ancient city. The entire wall is 130 meters long and surrounded the original Roman gymnasium. During the Hellenistic period (323 BC – 31 BC), the city’s water supply came mainly from private cisterns. British author, Daphne Phelps (1911-2005) lived here for fifty years in her house called Casa Cuseni. In 2000, she wrote a book called A House in Sicily, where she recounts her stories of opening her house to seasoned travelers. She inherited the property in 1947 and originally planned to have the house demolished. After arriving in Taormina, she fell in love with the house as well as the town. Grazie. Thanks for reading!

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