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 and elegant pedestrian-only town centre with chic modern shops, charming antique and jewelry stores, and an abundance of small cafes, bars and restaurants. Perched on the side of Monte Tauro, the town offers fantastic views of the coast and Mt. Etna 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 but the very heart and soul of Taormina is its celebrated pedestrian main street called Corso Umberto I, lined with shops and bars. Along this exciting street are piazzas offering splendid people-watching while visitors enjoy a cool drink. Taormina is centered around its main thoroughfare, where you can find all of Taormina’s main points of interest. At the beginning of Corso Umberto lies perhaps the greatest symbol of Taormina’s rich and 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 defenses. 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 captivating medieval 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 and 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 cultivating his land. As he dug deeper he discovered further curiosities, prompting him to call in the experts, who uncovered first the cavea, then the orchestra and finally the stage area itself.
Placed half-way between Taormina’s two main gates, Porta Messina and Porta Catania, along the Corso Umberto is Piazza IX Aprile, the town’s main square. Populated by visitors with cameras, this wide-open space adjoining the pedestrian street offers a stunning unobstructed view over the long coast hundreds of feet below and Mount Etna in the distance. The piazza is also popular for its renowned cafès, populated over the centuries by 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 who paused to enjoy la passeggiata (the stroll). Located in the south side of the piazza is the Clock Tower “Porta di Mezzo” which forms the passageway leadning to the centre of the ancient town. The foundations of this tower date back to the Greek-Siculian period, but the keep itself is from the 12th century. Destroyed by a 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.
At the other end of Corso Umberto I is Piazza del Duomo, complete with a 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 mornings, beginning 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 Monte Tauro, leading from the coast to the centre of Taormina. On this road and close by Villa Carlotta, lies the Belvedere, the most beautiful vista point of Taormina, a panorama embracing the dramatic southern Sicilian coastline below – with the celebrated bay of Giardini-Naxos and majestic Mount Etna – and the Italian mainland over the water in the distance. From the Belvedere 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 Mount Etna. Its beautiful cloisters, the 50 monk cells, and its magnificent Mediterranean garden are the most charming parts of the hotel, where it is definitely worth stopping for a drink or an elegant dinner at their Michelin star rated restaurant Principe di Cerami.
Taormina botanical gardens
Another fantastic view may be found in the public gardens in Via Bagnoli Croce, 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 while enjoying its stunning sea view.