TAORMINA, SICILY, April 15, 2017 — Taormina is to Sicily what the Amalfi Coast is to mainland Italy. That statement alone is enough to entice travelers to the tiny mountain village famed for its majestic panoramas.
Taormina is “the lifestyles of the rich and famous” Sicilian-style and one look around is all you will need to understand why.
Before 734 BC, when the Greeks arrived in Sicily to build a town called Naxos, the region was already inhabited. Before long, colonists from Naxos had built Tauromenion, and visitors have been beguiled ever since.
Mention the word “island” and travelers immediately conjure images of beaches. Taormina does not disappoint with “Isola Bella” being accessible by a cable car, it is, without a doubt, the most popular beach in Sicily.
The noted French short story writer, Guy de Maupassant, once described Taormina as “all that seems made on earth to entice eyes, spirit and imagination.”
By the late 19th century, three artists working in different genres of creativity had much to do with putting Taormina on the map as an elegant travel destination.
Wilhelm von Gloeden did much of his photographic work in the area filming male nudes. So extensive did his reputation become that there is some speculation that early on Taormina became infamous as a gentleman’s destination.
German painter Otto Geleng helped change that image with his collections of paintings in Italy. Though he exhibited in mostly in Berlin, Geleng’s landscapes of the southern regions of Italy captured the imagination of northern Europeans thanks to sensational views and the stunning light of Sicily.
While exhibiting in Berlin and Paris, critics of Geleng claimed his paintings of ruins, sea and mountains were unrealistic because such scenes were unfamiliar to other people living in other parts of Europe.
Geleng challenged them to visit Taormina with him with the promise that he would pay all expenses if he had misrepresented the truth in his art.
The first important tourist to visit Taormina was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who wrote at length about the city in his book titled “Italian Journey.”
Thus through words, paintings and a touch of scandal, Taormina became crossroads of tourism that has been on-going for more than a century.
One of the most dramatic locations in Taormina is the Greek amphitheatre, the Teatro Greco, which is framed by mountains, including the active volcano Mt. Etna, as it peers from above toward the Straits of Messina and mainland Europe in the distance.
As with so many Greek theaters of the day, the acoustics are every bit as spectacular as the ruins themselves, with the ability to hear people speak in normal tones and be heard on the back row of the structure.
Today, Taormina nestles atop the ancient site of the city which is about 800 feet above sea level. The rock-face is steep and almost isolated, but it is crowned by a Saracen Castle which rises another 500 feet.
Perched on its cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, Taormina’s character thrives within the architecture of ancient churches, lively bars, excellent restaurants and lovely boutiques and antique shops.
Just 45 minutes away by car, a popular excursion is to visit Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna. Etna is a restless mountain, choosing to erupt with regularity though inconsistently. Though it posts no danger to villagers, when Etna is in tune, it often puts on spectacular sky shows that later leave Taorminans sweeping up piles of ash from the streets.
At the end of the day, stop in at a local cafe and order a granita to top off your experience. The refreshing concoction of Italian shaved ice is the ideal way to “play it cool” or to be enthralled by the power of Mother Nature erupting from the center of the earth.
Taormina may not be the easiest place in the world to reach, but once you are there, you know you have “discovered” a place that is truly special.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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