The Saracens’ path was an ancient mule track (‘trazzera’) which joined Taormina and Castelmola and, according to tradition, it was used by the Saracens, commanded by Emir Ibrahim-Ibn-Ahmed, to gain access and besiege Taormina in 902 B.C. From Piazza IX Aprile go towards the Gate of Catania (‘Porta Catania’) and from here, take Via Apollo Arcageta. On the left there is the church of San Francesco di Paola which was originally the cathedral of Taormina. Continuing from Piazza Adromaco, take the ancient pathway (today a communal road) which has connected Taormina to Castelmola since prehistoric times. Along the route, a prominent rock outcrop indicates the archaeological site of Cocolonazzo di Mola, a proto-historic necropolis with artifical grottoes of the 10th to 7th centuries B.C., of much importance for our knowledge of the ancient inhabitants and settlements prior to Greek colonisation.
In the distance, the rectangular shape of Taormina Castle (‘castello di Taormina’) can be seen. Shortly after, the remains of the ancient entrance to the city of Myle can be seen which is the Gate of the Saracens today (‘Porta dei Saraceni’) and which takes its name from the bloody pirate-like invasions of times past. It is a gently winding pathway that was created in this way by the mules and donkeys, and goes through uncultivated fields which are known as ‘Piana delle Ficarre’, a name which perhaps comes from the abundance of fig trees and prickly pear plants.
Continuing along the pathway, there are the remains of a second medieval gateway above which there is a niche which has a religious chapel appearance. Having passed the remains of the medieval gateway, the little church of San Biagio can be seen, which consists of one nave next to the rocky walls. It is beautiful in its simplicity and for the panorama enjoyed from there. Castelmola finally appears with its little alleyways, dead ends and little ‘squares’ – an ancient village which must be visited.
The Fishermen’s Pathway (‘Via dei Pescatori’) is a pathway with a series of steps along the precipice which joins one of the rocky outcrops on which Taormina begins and goes down as far as Capo Sant’Andrea. This was the path that the fishermen took from the village of Taormina down to the sea to go fishing, and then returning with the baskets full of fish to sell in the town.
Indeed, until the beginning of the 20th century, before the tourism boom, fishing was one of the resources of the people from Taormina. This route, also loved by tourists who want to walk down to the beaches of Isola Bella or Mazzarò, enjoying the air of beautiful days and the beautiful views of the coast, starts from Belvedere di Taormina, passes by the Terra Rossa district and arrives on the SS114 main road. During your stay on the beach at Isola Bella, it is possible to have a boat excursion thanks to the cooperation of the ‘Circolo Taormina Sub’ group.
The little island in the centre of the bay, once the property of a well-off family, is a Nature Reserve belonging to the Sicilian region. On the island, there are examples of flora and fauna which are unique in the world. The high rocky walls of the Monte Tauro protect the inlet from the strong currents and winds, guaranteeing a mild climate also in winter.
Going from Piazza IX Aprile towards the Gate of Messina (‘Porta Messina’), take ‘Vicolo Stretto’, which is a characteristic street just 60cm wide, and you arrive on Via Don Bosco. Going up, taking Via Biondi, pass the ring road of the town and take the ‘salita Castello’ steps. This is an ancient series of steps, in former times used as a mule track, which leads to the sanctuary of Madonna della Rocca. A suggestive pathway, along which it is possible to admire the panoramic views of the Greek Theatre, the historical town centre, the Ionian Sea and the rocky outcrop with the Saracen Castle.
At the end of the steps, you reach the sanctuary, built in 1640 and utilising the conformation of the calcareous (chalky) rock which covers the sanctuary like a grotto. From the terrace in front of the church, there is one of the best panoramas and view of Taormina. The Madonna della Rocca sanctuary continues to be one of the favourite destinations of all tourists. On the third Sunday of September, a religious procession transports the statue from the sanctuary down to the town, where a grand banquet is organised (based on roast meats: lamb with herbs and spices cooked in a wood-burning oven). A short distance from the little church, there are some steep steps which lead to the castle: a fortress rebuilt in medieval times on top of the remains of the ancient Acropolis.
Of this trapeze-shaped building, you can still see today the surrounding walls and the remains of a tower which functioned as a look-out tower. Still visible are also the wells which collected the rainwater and a subterranean corridor which was used as a storehouse for food provisions and arms. From here, you can also enjoy a suggestive view of the Greek Theatre and the ‘pearl’ of the Ionian coast (Taormina). Above the castle is the small town of Castelmola, an ancient village which is considered to be the natural balcony of Taormina.