Taormina is situated about 200 meters above sea-level and overlooks the bay of Naxos and the Ionian Sea. Because of its obvious strategic position, it has a complex history of invasions and conquests, first by the Greeks, then by a series of tyrants (someone who obtained executive power by unconventional means), and was the subject of a war between Pompey VI and Octavian (Octavian won).
Taormina has been a destination for the rich and famous throughout the years. Wilhelm II of Germany, Brahms, and many writers have stayed there, among them Goethe, Maupassant, Anatole France, Oscar Wilde and D. H. Lawrence. The latter, according to legend, used his wife’s indiscretions with a peasant from Taormina (while they stayed there, from 1920 to 1922) to develop the main character in Lady’s Chatterly’s Lover.
It has popular beaches, accessible via cable car. The water there is warm and has a high salt content. One such beach is located at Isola Bella, also known as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea. A private property until 1990, it has been turned into a nature reserve. It can be seen on the road to Taormina and is indeed a gorgeous spot.
Taormina has one noteworthy ruin, the Ancient theatre, the most celebrated ruin in sicily. As it is built out of bricks, it is suspected to be or Roman origin, and the best preserved artifact on the island. It is the second largest in Sicily. It is frequently used for operas and theater, which was the case when we were there. We decided not to go in, as the price of the ticket was quite steep and most of the cavea was covered by a stage, somewhat ruining the “ancient” effect.
The Duomo dates from the 13th century. According to an undocumented legend, Saint Peter Apostle sent the bishop Pancrazio to Taormina. The latter built the first church in Sicily, which is now the diocese of Taormina. Regardless of whether the legend is true or not, Pancrazio is now the patron saint of the region.
Despite being touted as “the” place to go, we were disappointed by Taormina. The look of the city is destroyed by the dozens upon dozens of souvenir stalls, pizzerias and bars, as well as the teeming throng of tourists who are both staying there and visiting (tour buses are like ants, crawling everywhere). We stayed only long enough to walk around for a bit, then moved on to Castelmola.
We did manage, however, to find a few interesting corners in Taormina. Here, ceramic “Turcs’ Heads” a typical ceramic of Sicily, is used extensively as planters and outside decorations. Succulents thrive in this kind of climate and, since people mostly live in appartments, they make their balconies their gardens. They also adorn their doors, ensconce ceramics of patron saints on street corners. Among the dozens of pizzerias, we found a salumeria, where the owner made us a sandwich with fresh ingredients: fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula, prosciutto, for only a few euros.
Despite our disappointment at the town, the vistas are breathtaking and we were glad to stop on our way to Castelmola.