What to do and see in Taormina

Piazza IX Aprile

Taormina is a very popular resort town in Sicily with many interesting sights and attractions. Taormina has remnants of its Greek, Roman, Arab and Spanish past, a medieval quarter and castle ruins, and a charming elegant and beautiful large car-free town centre with chic modern shops, charming antique stores, jewelries, lots of small cafes, bars  and restaurants. Perched on the side of Monte Tauro, the town offers fantastic views of the coast and Mt. Etna volcano as well as good hiking paths. Below the town are excellent beaches where you can swim in the clear sea water from April to October.

Taormina’s main attraction is, without doubt, the Greek Theatre. Now home to all manner of events, including plays, fashion shows, concerts, and cinema festivals, the Teatro Greco, as its name suggests, started its life in the 3rd Century BC hosting performances of works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. Originally quite small, it was enlarged by the Romans to accommodate their own particular brand of theatrical extravaganza. The views from the theatre are spectacular, taking in a (usually) smoking Mount Etna and the Bay of Giardini Naxos down below.

Corso Umberto TaorminaThe very heart and soul of Taormina is its celebrated pedestrian long main street called Corso Umberto I, lined with shops and bars. Along this exciting street are people-filled squares good for enjoying an outdoor drink and people-watching. Taormina is centred around its main thoroughfare where you can find all main Taormina points of interest. At the beginning of Corso Umberto is perhaps the greatest symbol of Taormina’s long varied history: Palazzo Corvaja in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Its architecture is a sublime mix of Arab, Norman and Gothic and includes battlements, mullioned windows and shady courtyards. The Arabs built the original tower as part of the town’s defences. Its cubic structure, which is typical of many Arab towers of this period, is thought to have evoked that of the Ka’aba in Mecca. In the 13th Century the tower was enlarged by the Normans who added a wing containing a hall and some wonderful artwork. The Spanish followed suit, adding another wing at the beginning of the 15th Century to house the Sicilian Parliament. Its present name recalls one of the town’s most important noble families who owned the building from 1538 to 1945. After the war it was restored to its former glory and in 1960 another section was added to house the local tourism offices. The main part now houses the Sicilian Museum of Art and Popular Traditions.

Another testimony of Taormina’s ancient origins is the Odeon. Right in the middle of the old Roman town, just below Palazzo Corvaja, this small theatre was built by the Romans when the town became a military colony in 21BC. It was used both for theatrical and musical performances organised for the cream of local society. Strangely, at some point it disappeared, only to resurface again in 1892 when a blacksmith hit upon something that turned out to be red bricks while digging his land. He dug a little deeper and called in the experts who uncovered first the cavea, then the orchestra and finally the scene.

Placed half-way between the two Taormina main doors, Porta Messina and Porta Catania, along the Corso Umberto is Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina main square. Populated by visitors with cameras, this wide open space opening onto the pedestrian street with a stunning unobstructed view over the underlying long coast and Mount Etna is a place not to miss. It is also popular for its renowned Taormina historical cafès where personages like  Goethe, Alexander Dumas, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, D.H. Lawrence, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Ingmar Bergmann, Francis Ford Coppola, Leonard Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Federico Fellini, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Elisabeth Taylor and Woody Allen just to mention a few used to sit and enjoy la passeggiata (the stroll). Located in the south side of the piazza is the Clock Tower “Porta di Mezzo”which is the passage way that leads to the centre of the ancient town. The foundantions of this tower date back to the Greek-Siculian period but the keep is from the 12th century. Destroyed by the local war in 1675, it was reconstructed in 1679, when the beautiful clock was inserted. On the northern side of the piazza lies the Church of Saint Agostino today used for art exhibitions and for the Civic library which contains collections of rare antique books in different languages.

Piazza DuomoAt the other end of Corso Umberto I is Piazza del Duomo, complete with 13th Century Cathedral and Baroque fountain. As with many churches of this period in Sicily, the Duomo, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari, has a distinctly fortress-like quality thanks to its robust structure and the battlements that delineate the roof. Its Renaissance doorway belies an essentially Gothic interior complete with a rose window at the west end. Most people from Taormina attend the mass on saturday evenings and Sunday morning, being at 11am the very most popular with local chorus and live music.

Starting from the Porta Messina archway, Via Pirandello, where Hotel Villa Carlotta lies, is a long winding street, which goes up the scope of Monte Tauro, leading from the coast to the centre of Taormina.

There is a wonderful panorama from here, a beautiful coastline which juts out over the Italy mainland coastline on one side, southern Sicily coastline on another with the celebrated Giardini-Naxos bay and the Majestic Mount Etna on the other. Closed to Villa Carlotta, the Belvedere, is the most beautiful vista point of Taormina,from  where a gentle staircase leads down to the beach of Isola Bella, simply gorgeous !

The San Domenico
This dominican monastery is today a luxury hotel, the San Domenico Palace with a splendid view over the sea and the volcano Mount Etna. Its beautiful cloisters, the 50 monk cells,and its magnificient mediterranean garden are the most charming parts of the hotel, where it is definetely worth a visit for a drink or an elegant dinner at their Michelin star rated restaurant Principe di Cerami.

Taormina botanical gardens
Another fantastic view spot is the public gardens in Via Bagnoli Croce at 200 meters from Villa Carlotta, a peaceful oasis with flowers and exotic plants where Taorminians and visitors love to walk, read a book and do their daily jogging in Taormina enjoying its stunning sea view