Ironic detective stories by Joanna Chmielewska used to be fairly popular in the country of our births when we were young. One of them, Dead Man’s Tale (its Russian-language title translates more literally as “What the Deceased Said”), jumps between various locations in Europe with a short but prominent chapter taking place in Taormina, which is introduced by the protagonist as “the best resort in the world”. That had made such a lasting impression on us back then that when planning our very first trip to Sicily more than 30 years later, we could do no other but mark Taormina as a multi-night destination.
Nearly 50 years after that book was written Taormina remains a very popular resort destination. It also remarkably sticks out among the towns that we visited in Sicily as clearly the most looked-after. In a sense, it feels a bit artificial in the overall context of Sicily, certainly not without its share of ancient history and visual delights, but a bit too purpose-built for tourist consumption.
Here is a perspective towards the core of Taormina from the vantage point of Teatro Antico.
The ancient Greek theater is by some distance the most impressive historic site in town, dating from the 3rd century BCE, and evidently an active performance venue.
Taormina’s resorts are sensibly positioned by the coastline, way underneath the town center. Here is the view to Mazzaro Bay, one of the several resort clusters and the one conveniently linked with the town above it by the very efficient cable car service. We ourselves stayed at a resort on Mazzaro Bay, hidden somewhere behind the trees in the middle of the picture.
This is a different perspective, from the terraces of the town park, Villa Communale, along the coastline and towards the town of Giardini Naxos.
The center of Taormina is narrowly stretched more or less east-west, with the main pedestrian street, Corso Umberto, running between Porta Catania and Porta Messina. The latter, restored at the beginning of the 19th century, is in this perspective.
The street level of Corso Umberto is almost entirely commercialized. The upper levels of the buildings, various decorative elements, and the staircases running up and down the hill provide plenty of picturesque quality.
Piazza IX Aprile is the focal center of town.
The former church of Sant’Agostino sits on the eastern side of the square in the above perspective. Church of San Giuseppe, from the late 17th century, presides over the square on the northern side.
Here is the blue-hour shot of the church from roughly the same spot.
Also in blue hour, the western bookend of the square, Torre dell’Orologio above Porta di Mezzo.
And the same perspectives as above after the fall of night.
Cathedral Square is usually the main square in town, but in Taormina it is but a secondary public space opening onto Corso Umberto. It is highlighted by the “Four Fountains” feature. The fountain, built in 1635, is called so because the four corner pillars are small fountains in themselves. Counting the central portion, wouldn’t the correct name be “Five Fountains”?
The Duomo is in the background. The original church on this spot was built in the 13th century, and since then rebuilt several times. In its present incarnation, dating back to the 18th century, the cathedral has a look and feel of a relatively minor church, with few outstanding features.
The Baroque interior of San Giuseppe on Piazza IX Aprile is significantly more ornate in comparison.
Another church, Saint Catherine of Alexandria – rather unassuming when viewed from the street.
Its interior is highlighted by the splendid twisted Baroque columns (also known as “Solomonic columns”).
Nearby is the medieval Palazzo Corvaja, which belonged to one of the oldest and most famous families of Taormina for over 400 years until right after the Second World War. Nowadays it houses an exhibition center.
Our schedule in Taormina included a boat excursion, with aperitifs, a stop for swimming, and various views of the coastline features.
It is obviously not the best resort in the world. But still a fun place to visit. The late Joanna Chmielewska deserves our thanks!