Once we reached Taormina the bus began the climb up the mountain. It was a twisting ascent with hairpin turns. At one point we met another bus come in the other direction and we had to back up to a spot where the road was wide enough for us to pass each other. Even then the mirrors were barely able to clear each other.
When we arrived the bus let us off in the middle level of the town. The town has many levels, built on terrace like flat spots on the side of the mountain and on top. Most of the town sits at 300 meters above sea level with the Saracen Castle at 450 meters.
We walked up the Via L.
Pirandello. On the way we passed St George’s Anglican Church. The exterior entry gate was beautiful and unique. We chose not to go inside. We ended up at the Porta Messina. This provided us some spectacular views of the upper town. The buildings seem to grow out of the rock towers and hang elegantly on the edges. It is like a magic trick that just won’t stop. At every turn you are presented with new spectacular views. When we turned around the other direction we could see the coast the sea stretching out with interruptions only for the towns that have dominated the land for a millennia or more. The houses are very close and create a quilt of color that is occasionally broken by green vegetation pushing its way through.
I was trying to get my bearing from the last time I was here, but I was a little confused.
We decided to head down the Corso Umberto. This is the main shopping street and was just packed with people but, this is the most touristy city in Sicilia. There were dozens of boutiques, clothing shops, antique shops, and artsy places in addition to the regular souvenir shops and eateries. Not far down the street we found Chisea Santa Caterina (17th c ) and Palazzo Corvaia, the most important medieval construction in the city. The interior of Santa
Catherina was lovely, but had the most stunning columns with vines and leaf detailing. The religious art was fantastic as well. There was an unusual statue of Mary with many real rosaries placed in her hand. We walked on down the street and were constantly looking down the quaint side streets that held constant surprises and treats.
We made our way to the Piazza IX Aprile.
The piazza was buzzing with people and children running around giggling and screaming with delight. There is a large terrace with the little Gothic church of Sant'Agostino, built in 1448.We wanted to go into the Chiesa di San Giuseppe but they were holding a service. We took marveled in the breathtaking view and then continued on. We passed through the Porta di Mezzo and on to the Piazza Duomo.
The Duomo is built as a place of worship dating from the 13th century and was dedicated to St Nicholas. However, the church was completely reconstructed in the 15th century and 17th century. The side doors of the
Duomo have glorious handles, one of wheat and the other of grapes.
In the center so the Piazza is a large fountain with a funny crowned mermaid on top and seahorses of a sort on each corner.
Again, there was something happening in the church, so we had to continue on our way. We went on a side street and came up to the Piazza S. Antonio to see the Porta Catania. We went into a small church in the Piazza and were shocked to find a huge model of the town at some pointing history.
I thought I remembered where a restaurant I ate at last was located but my memory was failing me and we were getting hungry. We settled on an out of the way neighborhood place. The sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful blue. It was a nice lunch and we both enjoyed it.
The owners were there and serving us as their son ran around and played with a rubber rat, much to their dismay. Also at one point their dachshund came down to visit the dinners.
After lunch we headed back to Piazza S. Antonio and through the Porta Catania, an Aragonese city gate built in 1440, and down the Corso Umberto. We were constantly distracted by cute side streets and charming details. When we got back to the Piazza Duomo we were able to enter the Duomo. The church is quite simple but, it has unique lighting made up of many different sized crosses. There is an ancient icon of Mary and Jesus and intricately designed marble floor. There are 3 altars made of beautiful marbles looking to be of Baroque design.
After we left we continued down the Corso Umberto to Piazza IX Aprile.
We couldn’t help but stop and marvel at the large shells that had been carved into amazing designs that are Greek or Roman battle scenes. There was also a colorful side panel for a cart that caught my attention. The Chiesa di San Giuseppe was now open and we were able to go inside. It has Baroque detailing in plaster and a frescoed dome. The statue of Mary on the altar was light with tiny lights which seem to be the thing to do in Sicily as I’ve seen it numerous times.
We continued on down the Corso Umberto and turned down the Via Teatro to go to the Greek Theater. It is the second largest ancient theater in Sicily. Originally built in the Hellenistic age (3rd century BC), during the 2nd
century AD it was almost entirely rebuilt by the Romans.
We decided to go against the grain and go to the back of the seating first. The view down to stage was very dramatic. The center section has been destroyed leaving a spectacular view out to the sea, lower Taormina and on to Mt Etna. We could see and hear various tourist groups sitting in the theater and having a short description of the history. Looking back the other direction there were sweeping views of the coast and sea. The landscape of Sicily has such incredible natural beauty. This beauty is only interrupted by the orange tiled roofs of little villages and occasionally the interstate jutting out from the mountains.
Gradually we worked out way around the theater and were treated to majestic views of the upper level of Taormina and a peak at Villa Comunale.
The Villa Comunale is a lovely garden that was donated by an English woman who fell in love with Taormina. While we were taking photos we met a very nice couple from Israel. We had a brief conversation about travel and the fact that we would be spending the New Year holiday in their country. After taking pictures for each other, we traded contract information as they had offered to assist us with any information we need for the trip. That was so nice of them, a stranger, offering help. There was a large stage setup for a concert series starting that evening. The view from the seats was inspiring. Many thousands of years ago people sat where we sat and enjoyed this view. We descended the stairs to the lower section and walked the arched hallways that would have been used as entrance for the stage.
From here we headed back towards the Porta Messina to look for the way to the Funicular to lower Taormina.
At this time the clouds had started coming in and rain was definitely coming. We hurried. We took a wrong turn and ended up at the Chiesa San Pancrazio. The church was locked up so we couldn’t go in but we got our bearings and headed to the funicular. We walked down to verify the bus times first. Then on to the funicular which was quite a ride down almost 300 meters in height. A small boy was in our car and very excited about the ride.
At the bottom we headed down to the beach. We went through a little passage that lead to stairs for the last 125 meters of height down to beach level. The rain was lightly sprinkling, but the waves were really beginning to roll in. They just looked angry. The tide was coming in and we noticed a man and his son trying to get in from the water.
They were having a rough time as the waves were really making it difficult. They made it in and everyone was packing up and leaving the beach.
The wind was really fierce now but, we stayed as long as it wasn’t raining hard. We collected a few shells and a couple of pieces of sea glass. The water was getting higher and the really rain started to come down. In between to buildings we found a staircase up form the beach and started climbing. It was like being in a labyrinth. When we got to the top the rain was pouring. The hard rain didn’t last long and we stayed around the lower road level near the funicular. We walked along the road a little and found another great view of the coast and mountains. The clouds were dark and creeping over the peaks. It was quite a sight.
We decided it would be best to head back up the funicular and head to the bus.
On the way we stopped to buy drinks and snacks and get out of the rain for a few minutes. We made it back up the mountain and waited for the bus.