Regional Guide - Sicily
Idyly perched on a rocky promontory high above the sea, Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred of years, ever since it became an integral part of the Grand Tour. Beautifully restored mediaeval buildings, breathtaking views around every corner and a giddy network of winding streets strewn with shops, bars and restaurants make for a perfect holiday spot. The city'spast is Sicily's history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.
Today, Taormina lives on tourism. Visitors flock from all over the world to see its Greek-Roman theatre (pictured above), 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 Taorminaís 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 townís defences. Its cubic structure, which is typical of many Arab towers of this period, is thought to have evoked that of the Kaíaba 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 townís most important noble families who owned the building from 1538 to 1945.
At 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.
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.