Taormina is a town on the coast of north-eastern Sicily and to the south-west of Messina. It is located on a sunny 'terrace' on the side of Monte Tauro, in an attractive natural setting which makes it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Sicily in both summer and winter.
Italy This Way comment: Taormina is a remarkable town with a charming historic centre, views across the sea and an ancient Greek theatre, as well as easy access to the beautiful coast at Isola Bella: we recommend very highly that you visit when you explore Sicily!
Note that although Taormina is on the coast, the main town with the majority of shops and restaurants is actually a few hundred metres up the side of the hill: there is a cablecar between the town and the coast, and several hotels next to the coast, but it is not what you may think of as a seaside town...
Your visit to Taormina can start in the north-east, from the Via San Pancrazio and the Church of San Pancrazio, a 17th century church built on the site of the Ancient Greek temple of Serapis, and with frescoes dating from the 18th century. This church is at the lower end of a large square, and the Porta Messina, an ancient stone entrance that marks the start of the main centre of Taormina, is at the highest end.
Passing through the Porta Messina you enter Corso Umberto I, the main street through the heart of Taormina. This street is very long and often busy, there are numerous side streets to explore, and a diversion to the Ancient Theatre will add at least two kilometres more of walking, so we recommend you wear comfortable shoes and allow plenty of time for a visit!
Soon you enter Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, which is dominated by the Corvaja Palace, probably built in the early 16th century. It has a trapezoidal shape with four mullioned windows: note especially the the main door, and the staircase, which is decorated with various sculptures.
Next to the Palace is the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, built in the mid-17th century and containing important works of art such as a statue of the Holy Women (1705) by Paolo Greco and one by an unknown sculptor of the 16th century. There is also a 16th century altar piece of the Virgin and Saints and another by Jacopo Vigneri (active in 1550).
From Piazza Vittorio Emanuele you can follow the Via Teatro Greco to reach the famous theatre of Taormina, dating from the Hellenistic period and with changes made by the Romans in the second century B.C. The theatre, second in size only to that of Syracuse, demonstrates how important Taormina was in Roman times.
The theatre is not only very impressive but also has amazing views aross the town and out to sea so a visit is indispensable when you visit Taormina: see Greek Theatre of Taormina for details.
Next to Corso Umberto I you can see the Via Naumachia, along which is the so-called 'Naumachie', a wall more than 120 meters long which is one of the most imposing Roman hydraulic works: it is the ruins of a massive reservoir which originally collected water to convey it to the city in case of need.
To the left of Corso Umberto I is the Church of Piliere (16th century), and other notable buildings such as the City Hall and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas - dating from the 13th century, with three aisles, and important paintings such as the Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Sebastian (1504) by Antonello de Saliba (1466-1535).
The next important square in the historic centre of Taormina is the Piazza IX Aprile where you can see two more important monuments: the Church of St. Augustine (16th century, with ogival arches and a small central rosette) and the Clock Tower or Middle Gate.
Through this gate you enter the Borgo (old town) on Via d'Orveille. Notable highlights here include the Church of the Varò with a cross painted in the 14th century and a fresco attributed to Vincenzo Tuccari (1657-1734) called the Triumph of the Cross. Other buildings of importance here are the Church of San Giovanni di Malta (mid-16th century) and the Ciampoli Palace (early 14th century, although renovated at various times over the years.
Your attention will probably be as much attracted by the beautiful pottery that you see up some of the side streets as by the ancient palazzos but we can't describe all of those...
The Corso Umberto I now continues as far as the Piazza Duomo.As well as the beautiful duomo, the square also has another church, another ancient tower, a fountain and a beautiful belvedere (about 200 meters above sea level) where you can enjoy the panorama across the rooftops of Taormina and out to sea.
This square is a perfect end to the tour along the main street, but there is still more to explore in Taormina if you can resist the temptation to relax in one of the many bars and restaurants or go shopping in one of the pottery shops. If you have the time and energy there are numerous alleys and side streets with interesting buildings to disover, but we will leave you to discover those without our help!
Places to visit near Taormina
The area around Taormina also contains various sites of interest to visitors. One of the most popular with visitors is the village of Castelmola, classified among the most beautiful villages in Italy and home of the castle of Mola which dominates the whole territory from its impregnable position.
For those who have come to Taormina for the sea and the sun, you can take the cable car down to the beach of Mazzarò and the very picturesque Isola Bella, one of the most attractive coastlines in Sicily.
Other very popular excursions from Taormina include the trip to the top of Mount Etna, just a few kilometres to the south and visible from various places in the town, such as the Ancient Theatre, and to the beach resort at Giardini Naxos.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.