Taormina is one of Sicily’s most famous and historic resorts. Nestled on the Eastern coast of Sicily near Mount Etna, it is a picturesque town that has been welcoming tourists for over 100 years. Here’s out top 10 list of things to see and do in Taormina on your next holiday to Sicily. If it tempts you to head here on holiday, then take a look at the villas in Sicily available to rent from Bookings For You.
1. Visit the Ancient Theatre
Taormina’s most famous attraction is certainly its ancient theatre – Teatro Greco. With its origins dating back to the 3rd century BC, it is the second largest theatre in Sicily, second in size only to the theatre in Syracuse. The theatre was built by the Ancient Greeks but was subsequently adapted by the Romans who added various columns and statues. Originally built by the Greeks to stage dramatic performances and musicals, under the Romans it was instead used by gladiators to pit their gladiatorial battles. It is also still in use today, and is the setting for many concerts each year.
The theatre is divided into several sections. The first of these is the stage where actors used to perform. Then there is the orchestra (which would have been the area where the musicians sat in Ancient Greek times but which was enlarged in Roman times to accommodate the gladiatorial games). The cavea is carved into the rock and is where up to 5400 spectators could once have been seated. Behind the upper part of the cavea are the portici, two large porches that supported the terraced seating of the theatre. And finally, there are the access steps.
The theatre also boasts fantastic views with splendid views both of the sea and coastline and Mount Etna which rises up in the distance.
2. Visit the Duomo
The Duomo in Taormina is extremely unusual. Dating back to Medieval times it looks in many ways more like a fortress than a cathedral! The building dates back to the 13th century but has seen a number of subsequent changes in the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries. It is dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari.
3. Explore the Palace of the Dukes of Santo Stefano
Once the residence of the Spanish noble family De Spuches, the Dukes of Santo Stefano and Princes of Galati, the Palace of the Dukes of Santo Stefano (Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano) dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries and was originally part of the town’s Medieval walls. Built in the Gothic and Romanesque style with some Arabic and Norman elements, the palace sustained substantial damage in WWII but was completely restored in the 1960s after the Municipality of Taormina purchased the property for 64 million lire from Vincenzo De Spuches. Enjoy a walk around the pretty gardens and admire some of the art inside including sculptures by Giuseppe Mazzullo.
4. Relax on Isola Bella
Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Ionian Sea’, Isola Bella is a small and incredibly beautiful island connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of beach which is covered by water at high tide. It was privately owned by Florence Trevelyan until 1990 when it was bought by the Sicilian region and turned into a nature reserve which is administered by the WWF. The island is surrounded by picturesque grottos and boasts a small and rocky beach which is popular with sun worshippers.
5. Head to the shops
No visit to Taormina would be complete without time spent just wandering its lovely streets. The main shopping street in Taormina is Corso Umberto I. It has loads of shops and boutiques. Whether you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs or if you fancy treating yourself to some Italian leather shoes or a bag, you’ll find everything you want on this street!
6. Take a ride to the beach on Taormina’s cable car
A cable car (funivia) connects the historic town centre with Taormina’s beach area – Mazzaro – below. Running every 15 minutes, it’s a fun way to get from A to B. Mazzaro has beautiful beaches and a picturesque bay and is a great place to top up the tan for the afternoon.
7. Visit the old city gates (Porta Messina)
The Porta Messina stands at the Northern end of the Corso Umberto, with the Porta Catania at the other, each providing access to the most beautiful part of Taormina. The Porta Messina dates back to the Bourbon period of the 19th century when Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, reigned.
8. Enjoy an aperitivo in the Piazza IX Aprile
The main square in Taormina is the Piazza IX Aprile. Situated about halfway down the Corso Umberto, the square is home to a number of monuments and buildings of interest including the Church of Sant’ Agostino (now the site of Taormina’s public library), the Baroque Church of San Giuseppe built in the 17th century and the Torre dell’ Orologio clock tower. This was originally built in the 12th century but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years.
The square got its current name in 1860. Before 1860, it was actually called the Piazza Sant’Agostino. On April 9 that year, during a mass held in the Duomo of Taormina, rumours spread that Garibaldi had arrived in Marsala to liberate Sicily from Bourbon domination. In fact, the rumours turned out not to be true, but Garibaldi did arrive a month later on 9 May.
Don’t miss a chance to admire the wonderful views of Mount Etna, the Bay of Naxos and the Teatro Greco from the piazza’s terrace. And take your time to enjoy an aperitivo in one of the many outdoor cafes in the square, watching the people go by.
9. Stroll around the gardens of the Villa Comunale
The public gardens in Taormina are beautiful and well worth a visit. We have Scottish noblewoman, Lady Florence Trevelyan, for their existence. Lady Trevelyan came to Taormina in 1884 after an affair with the British heir to the throne, Edward VII, and married Taormina’s town mayor, Salvatore Cacciola. A keen gardener, Florence created this garden to share with everybody and so, even though the gardens have been the property of the town since 1922, there is no admission charge for entry even now. Filled with colourful flowers and plants including magnolias, hibiscus, bougainvillea, cacti and palm trees, it definitely has a British feel to it. Today, visitors can still see the victorian follies created by Lady Trevelyan and can admire the different plant species as they wander along the garden’s pathways.
10. Discover the ruins of the Odeon
The Odeon is the remains of a small theatre built in 21st century BC, during the reign of Caesar Augustus Octavian, the first Roman emperor. At this time, Taormina was a Roman military colony. Today, visitors will find the the small theatre tucked behind the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, next to the Palazzo Corvaja. The ruins of the theatre were discovered accidentally in 1892 when blacksmith, Antonio Bambara, was digging on his land and uncovered a construction made of red brick. Excavations began in force a few years later. Unfortunately the old theatre is badly damaged in a number of sections but it is still a fascinating ruin to visit.
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