Taormina

Even though the highlight of Taormina’s antiquities, the theatre, dates to the Roman period in its present form, the origins of the city, founded on a terrace of Monte Tauro, are from the mid fourth century BC and, more precisely, from 358 when Andromachus decided to found it. Taormina thus took up the inheritance of Naxos below, the first Sicilian colony, which had been destroyed by the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius at the end of the fifth century BC. The site had previously been occupied by the Sikels and just before the foundation of the city by Dionysius’s mercenaries. During the third century BC, under the reign of Gelon II, Taormina enjoyed considerable prosperity and the first parts of the theatre probably date to this period. But the city flourished most of all under Rome. Having supported the Romans during the Second Punic War at the end of the third century BC, Taormina received privileged treatment, being granted particular tax exemptions. The resources of the city, coming in particular from the nearby fields, could thus be used for its own internal development. Later, in 36 BC, Octavianus made Taormina a Roman colony, thus assigning it the highest rank which only very few cities in Sicily ever earned subsequently. The wealth enjoyed by Taormina during the imperial epoch is proved by the countless buildings (theatre, gymnasium, temples, tombs) that were built between the first and the third centuries AD, even though they were often erected on top of existing structures. Following the flourishing of the Greek-Roman period, the Middle Ages constituted a period of decadence. During the tenth century it was destroyed twice by the Arabs; during the following century it was conquered by the Normans (1078) and so began Taormina’s history as a small, eventless town. The great change came about in the 1700s when Taormina increasingly became a destination for demanding European travellers attracted by its antiquities, in particular by the theatre, and by the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Figures such as Goethe, who wrote pages full of admiration for Taormina, thus sit at the origins of the city’s fortune in tourism up to the present day: a fortune that the city has been able to generate and maintain, consistently welcoming its visitors with great kindness and civility. - The Valeria road (Corso Umberto I)- Porta Messina-Porta Catania History and monuments (800 m.) This is the most significant tract of the ancient via Valeria, the consular road that linked Messina to Catania. From the coast (Spisone) it twisted its way along the ridge of the Sant’Antonio torrent, until it reached the Temple of Giove Serapide and the city’s northern gate (Porta Messina). It ran all the way through the city (today’s Corso Umberto I ) and descended along the valley of the Sirina torrent (the ancient Onobalas). Until the end of the last century ( when the main road - SS 114 - was built) the via Valeria was the only road linking Taormina to the Ionian coast, and around which the city concentrated its civic and religious monuments, as follows: - Piazza Vittorio Emanuele - First the ancient agorà and later the Roman forum. - Palazzo Corvaja - In 1410 the Sicilian parliament was housed here. Restored in 1945 by the architect Armando Dillon, allowing for the identification of at least three periods of construction including an Arab tower that rose over the remains of the Roman forum. - Santa Caterina Church and the Roman Odeum - Built in the seventeenth century on the site of the Roman odium, the remains of which date back to the Augustan age and are visible inside the church. - Roman Baths - Remains of a large thermae complex dating to the Roman Imperial Age and made in elegant brick-work. - Façade of the Madonna del Piliere Church - Built in the fifteenth century, characterized by a central rose and an architraved portal with the arch above rich in detailed decoration in relief. - Naumachie - From Corso Umberto, to the left, taking via Naumachia the so-called Naumachie are reached. These constitute one of the most important Roman works in Sicily. It is a monumental supporting wall in brick , some 122 metres long and with large niches. The wall protects a large cistern that is no longer accessible and also had the function of supporting the terracing above where the consular road passed. - Piazza IX Aprile - This is Taormina’s, large square facing the sea and on which stand: Chiesa di Sant'Agostino (now the town library) Built in 1448 with the convent alongside it built in 1530. - Chiesa di San Giuseppe - (built in the seventeenth century) Together with its bulb-shaped belltower it is clearly scenic in character. The part of the church above Corso Umberto is reached by means of a double flight of steps. - La Porta di Mezzo (Clocktower) - This gate sits in the third fortification wall , under the tower that was built between the eleventh and the twelfth centuries where the medieval town begins. - Chiesa del Varò - Stands in the medieval town, with one nave and a belltower , begun in the fifteenth century. A medieval crypt is linked to it. - Palazzo Ciampoli - Typical noble palace of the fifteenth century with a courtyard to the front, of which a finely made perimeter wall and an entrance arch remain. - Palazzo dei Giurati (Town Hall)- The main facade on Corso Umberto, near the Mother Church, is what remains of the original construction dating to 1700. - Mother Church (San Nicola)- The building was erected under the reign of Frederic III of Aragon, in the same period in which Messina cathedral was restored. Indeed, the plan of the buildings is similar: a simple rectangle with only the apse added. From the point of view of volume, due to the difference in height, the single parts of the church stand out: central and lateral nave, transept, apse. In 1945 it was completely restored by Armando Dillon, who revealed its original structure. - Church and convent of San Domenico - The complex was begun in 1374 on the remains of the Castello dei Rosso di Cerami. The church (destroyed by bombing in 1943) was sixteenth century in design, as was the main cloister, while the other cloisters and the belltower were added in the eighteenth century. - Fountain (in Piazza Duomo)- Built in 1635 it emphasizes the space in the square through the dynamism of the three concentric orders of steps. - Badia Vecchia - A tower –palace built in the fifteenth century, adapting a defence tower in the city walls. Theory has it that the name badia (abbey) derives from the fact in the mid-1400s the Aragonese Princess Costance (Abbess of the building) lived there. - Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano - A tower-palace of the fourteenth century built next to the Porta del Tocco ( Porta Catania) exploiting the fortifications, it is on three levels above ground. Of particular architectonic interest is the ground-floor space covered by four cross-vaults resting on the perimeter walls and four acute arches that rest on the same walls and on a column located at the centre of the room. - Ex Chiesa di Sant'Antonio - A single-nave construction with a small belltower dating to the fourteenth century. Site of a permanent nativity scene where many of Taormina’s monuments may be admired in miniature.