Taormina is located on the east coast of Sicily about halfway between Messina and Catania on the Ionian Sea.
The town itself is perched on a hill about 250 meters above the sea and this provides for some incredibly scenic views from almost anywhere in Taormina.
It also has the dubious distinction of sitting practically in the shadow of Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano.
Taormina is often characterized as overly touristy and during the peak season it can get crowded, especially when the cruise ships are in port. Undoubtedly, Taormina is one of the most picturesque locations in all of Italy
Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is known for the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman theater still used today. Near the theater, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches. A narrow stretch of sand connects the mainland to Isola Bella, a tiny island and nature reserve.
The area around Taormina was inhabited by the Siculi even before the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast in 734 BC to found a town called Naxos. The theory that Tauromenion was founded by colonists from Naxos is confirmed by Strabo and other ancient writers.
The new settlement seems to have risen rapidly to prosperity, and was apparently already a considerable town at the time of Timoleon's expedition in 345 BC. It was the first place in Sicily where that leader landed, having eluded the vigilance of the Carthaginians, who were guarding the Straits of Messina, and crossed direct from Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) to Tauromenium.
The city was at that time still under the government of Andromachus, whose mild and equitable administration is said to have presented a strong contrast with that of the despots and tyrants of the other Sicilian cities. He welcomed Timoleon with open arms, and afforded him a secure resting place until he was enabled to carry out his plans in other parts of Sicily.
The present town of Taormina occupies the ancient site, on a lofty hill which forms the last projecting point of the mountain ridge that extends along the coast from Cape Pelorus to this point.
Taormina's first important tourist was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who dedicated exalting pages to the city in his book entitled Italian Journey, but perhaps it was the German painter Otto Geleng’s views that made its beauty talked about throughout Europe and turned the site into a famous tourist center. The artist arrived in Sicily at the age of 20 in search of new subjects for his paintings.
On his way through Taormina he was so enamored by the landscape that he decided to stop for part of the winter. Geleng began to paint everything that Taormina offered: ruins, sea, mountains, none of which were familiar to the rest of Europe.
When his paintings were later exhibited in Berlin and Paris, many critics accused Geleng of having an ‘unbridled imagination’. At that, Geleng challenged them all to go to Taormina with him, promising that he would pay everyone's expenses if he were not telling the truth.
During the early 20th century the town became a colony of expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals. D. H. Lawrence stayed here at the “Fontana Vecchia” from 1920 to 1922, and wrote a number of his poems, novels (probably including also Lady Chatterley's Lover), short stories, and essays, and a travel book.
Thirty years later, from April 1950 through September 1951, the same villa was home to Truman Capote, who wrote of his stay in the essay "Fontana Vecchia." Charles Webster Leadbeater, the theosophical author, found out that Taormina had the right magnetics fields for Jiddu Krishnamurti to develop his talents, so the young Krishnamurti dwelt here from time to time.
Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic author who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1955, worked here on the first modern Icelandic novel, Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír. Between 1948 and 1999 the English writer Daphne Phelps lived in the Casa Cuseni designed and built by Robert Hawthorn Kitson in 1905, and entertained various friends including Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl, and Tennessee Williams.
Taormina is home to one of the most famous Greek Theatres in the world. Here, in summertime the main events of the International Film, Music, Dance and Theatre Festival of Taormina Arte take place.
Along with the different dominations that conquered Sicily, many important monuments and buildings were built in Taormina by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Swebians, the Normans, the Spanish, the French, and the entire XIX European aristocracy have all left their "footprints", in Taormina in the form of beautiful buildings, monuments, churches, villas, parks and castles.
Ancient Theatre of Taormina
The ancient theatre (the teatro greco, or "Greek theatre") is built for the most part of brick, and is therefore probably of Roman date, though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek, rather than Roman, theatres; whence it is supposed that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period.
With a diameter of 120 metres (390 ft) (after an expansion in the 2nd century), this theatre is the second largest of its kind in Sicily (after that of Syracuse); it is frequently used for operatic and theatrical performances and for concerts.
The greater part of the original seats have disappeared, but the wall which surrounded the whole cavea is preserved, and the proscenium with the back wall of the scena and its appendages, of which only traces remain in most ancient theatres, are here preserved in singular integrity, and contribute much to the picturesque effect, as well as to the interest, of the ruin.
From the fragments of architectural decorations still extant we learn that it was of the Corinthian order, and richly ornamented. Some portions of a temple are also visible, converted into the church of San Pancrazio, but the edifice is of small size.
Tauromenium, built on Monte Tauro, was founded by Andromacus at the behest of Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse in 392BC. The first Punic War saw Taormina falling to the Romans in 212 BC and the town became a favorite holiday spot for Patricians and Senators, thus starting Taormina long history as a tourist resort.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines came only to be ousted by the Arabs in 962. They changed the name to Almoezia and set about introducing new agricultural practices (irrigation and citrus fruit farming) and other more cerebral pursuits such as philosophy, medicine and mathematics. Taormina continued to prosper both culturally and economically with the arrival of the Normans in 1079, who, under King Roger de Hautville, threw the Arabs out of Sicily.
After a brief period of Swabian rule, under Frederick II, Charles of Anjou was pronounced King of Sicily by the Pope. The people of Taormina refused to recognise this interloper as their king and, along with a great many other Sicilian towns, joined in the revolt against French rule during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.
A hundred years of uncertainty followed before the Spanish took over affairs. Evidently impressed with Taormina, they chose Palazzo Corvaja as the seat of the Sicilian Parliament.
The rest, as they say, is storia.
Today, Taormina lives on tourism. Visitors flock from all over the world to see its Greek-Roman theatre, to amble along its perfectly preserved Mediaeval streets, to admire its dramatic views of Mount Etna and to immerse themselves in the archetypal Mediterranean atmosphere.
The main attraction is, without doubt, the 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 Naxos down below.
Taormina is centred around its main thoroughfare, Corso Umberto I. At the beginning of this charming street is perhaps the greatest symbol of Taormina’s long varied history: Palazzo Corvaja. 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.
Taormina is served by its very own cable car which ferries tourists to and from the seaside resorts down along the coast. Extensive beaches, rocky coves, tiny islands (such as the famous Isola Bella) and sea stacks abound, making this enchanting coastline a firm favourite with Sicilians and visitors alike.