Taormina Introduction Walking Tour, Taormina

Taormina Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Taormina

Dionysius I, also known as Tyrant of Syracuse, permitted his army commander Andromachus to make a settlement in Taurmenium at the foot of Mount Etna in 396 BC. From its very beginning, Taormina has been the most desirable conquest of the great powers of the Mediterranean.

Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, Swabians, French, Spanish, and Arogonese have all taken turns cross-pollinating in Taormina. It is the most culturally diverse city in Sicily, perched on a rocky promontory, 821 feet (or 250 meters) above sea level.

The historic center of the triple-walled Old Town is gathered around the Corso Umberto, the pedestrian "Main Street" of Taormina. The street is "book-ended" by the Catania Gate in the south and the Messina Gate in the north.

Between the gates are the overlapping archeological ruins of different eras. Palaces, churches, monuments, and squares represent a heady mix of styles: Greek, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque.

The Church of San Pancrazio is a Baroque edifice built over the Greek temple of Jupiter Serapis. The Ancient Greek Odeon is part of the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The Ancient Theatre of Taormina is used today for plays, concerts, and events.

The grand April 9th Square is home to the Church of Saint Joseph and the Mezzo Gate with the Clock Tower. Here the medieval section begins. In the Piazza Duomo stands the monumental Fountain of Four Towers with its icon of Taormina, the androgynous chubby centaur with its crown and scepter.

From The heights of Taormina, ride in a cable car gondola to the incomparable beaches of the Ionian shore and the nature preserve of the Beautiful Island, created by the exiled Victorian princess, Lady Florence Trevelyan.

Taormina has been the "Shangri-La" place for celebrities including Andre Gide, Luigi Pirandello, Gustav Klimpt, and Oscar Wilde to Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Marcello Mastroianni, Elizabeth Taylor, and Woody Allen. Come and stroll the Corso Umberto. Ride like a conqueror from Mount Tauro over the Ionian shore to the Beautiful Island.
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Taormina Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Taormina Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Taormina (See other walking tours in Taormina)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Porta Catania (Catania Gate)
  • Quattro Fontane di Taormina (Four Fountains of Taormina)
  • Duomo di Taormina (Cathedral of Taormina)
  • Corso Umberto (Umberto Street)
  • Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower)
  • Piazza IX Aprile (April 9th Square)
  • Chiesa di San Giuseppe (Church of Saint Joseph)
  • Villa Comunale (Taormina Public Gardens)
  • Teatro Antico di Taormina (Ancient Theatre of Taormina)
  • Via Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre Street)
  • Palazzo Corvaja (Corvaja Palace)
  • Porta Messina (Messina Gate)
  • Funivia Mazzaro-Taormina (Mazzaro-Taormina Cableway)
Porta Catania (Catania Gate)

1) Porta Catania (Catania Gate)

Catania Gate (Porto Catania), built in 1440, is one of the original gates to the hilltop resort town of Taormina, Sicily. It accesses the Corso Umberto, the main street of the city. The Corso is a pedestrian street, a walkway leading to the eastern, more ornate gate, the Messina Gate (Porta Messina).

The Catania Gate stands before the Giuseppe Buciuni Square (Piazza Giuseppe Buciuni). It was once a part of the triple wall fortification system defending the city. Above the arched gateway is a bas-relief plaque with the Arogonese coat of arms giving the date of the most recent restoration.

The architecture around the Catania Gate is a mix of Arab, Norman, Gothic, and Spanish elements. Catania Gate is also called Gate of the Touch (Porta del Tocco). In the Norman times, public meetings were held at the first hour after noon (corresponding to 1 pm) in the adjacent square, now Giuseppe Buciuni Square. Buciunì, born in Taormina, was a war hero of 1941.

The gateway is a narrow rounded arch set in a crenelated stone wall. The aedicule or memorial plaque is centered above the arch.
Quattro Fontane di Taormina (Four Fountains of Taormina)

2) Quattro Fontane di Taormina (Four Fountains of Taormina)

"Four Fountains," actually one, is located in Cathedral Square (Piazza Duomo), in front of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Bari. It was built in 1635 by the Municipality of Taormina. It has the nickname "four fountains" from four small columns at each corner. Each column has its basin and a spouting horse with fins for legs.

Two basins form the central part of the fountain. The rim of the lesser basin is engraved with four names. It seems that Vincenzo Spuches, Vincenzo Cacopardo, Geronimo Mena, and Cesare Onion were the movers and shakers of the town that ordered the construction of the fountain.

In the middle of the small basin, a pedestal lifts a crowned, androgynous Centaur figure above the waterworks, holding a globe and cross in the right hand and a scepter in the left hand. The figure is a bit obese. The belly hangs over its lower parts.

What story does the fountain tell? The androgynous Centaur is the symbol of Taormina. The crown, orb, and scepter indicate power and sovereignty. Each hippocampus is meant to spout water from the mouth but they do not always work all the time.
Duomo di Taormina (Cathedral of Taormina)

3) Duomo di Taormina (Cathedral of Taormina)

Taormina Cathedral of Saint Nicolo di Bari can be found in Cathedral Square (Piazza Duomo) just off the Corso Umberto, the main street of Taormina. The battlements on the roof give the 13th-century Sicilian-Gothic-Romanesque church the nickname "Cathedral Fortress."

The large Renaissance rose window in the facade is directly centered above the main portal. Two Baroque-style Corinthian columns flank the main entrance. They are mounted on high plinths. Above the doorway is an architrave with a broken tympanum. The west wall portal dates from the 15th century. The east wall entrance is from the 16th.

The interior is in the form of a Latin cross plan. There are three naves with three apses. The middle nave is supported by pink columns of Taormina marble. The columns have capitals with leaf and fish motifs. Each doorjamb has 22 carvings of the symbols of the evangelists and the apostles.

The chapels feature the Holy Sacrament and Our Lady of Grace. In the right nave is the painting of the Visitation by painter Antonio Giuffre (1463). There is also a polyptych by Antonello de Saliba (1504) of the Madonna, a pieta of Saints Lucy and Ataga, and the Last Supper. The Famous Byzantine Madonna is covered in silver and precious stones.

In the left nave are lunettes by artist Alfonso Franco of the Enthroned Virgin, God the Father, and the Crucifixion. In 1980 the church was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II.
Corso Umberto (Umberto Street)

4) Corso Umberto (Umberto Street) (must see)

Umberto Street (Corso Umberto) is the vibrant all-pedestrian crosstown main street of Taormina. It follows the path of the Consolare Valeria, the ancient Greco-Roman way, from the Catania Gate (Porta Catania) directly to the Messina Gate (Porta Messina) on the other side of town. The street is named for Umberto I of Savoy, King of Italy, from 1878 to 1900.

The Corso boasts buildings, monuments, and styles from the different eras of Arabic to Norman and Gothic to Baroque, with some Romanesque and Renaissance threw in. Some Greek and Roman buildings have been replaced. The Temple of Jupiter Serapis gave way to the Church of San Pancrazio. The Odeon lies under the Church of Saint Catherine.

Halfway down the road, we come upon the April 9th Square (Piazza IX Aprile), the main square. On the south side is the Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio). Middle Gate (Porta di Mezzo) is at the base of the tower. The Tower Gate connects the old Greco-Roman section to the medieval part of town.

The Corso means shopping all the way. Designer shops mixed with touristy venues. The main shopping street of Taormina is thronged with shoppers, visitors, and locals day and night. Walking is a delight. There seems to be no end of stores, restaurants, cafes, bars, gelaterias, and historical monuments. There are also great views of Mount Etna.
Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower)

5) Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower)

The third defensive wall of Taormina enclosed that part of town known as the 15th-century Borgo (Borough). Sections of the wall that once extended to the Castello Saraceno are still visible on the right side of the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower, originally called the Middle Tower (Torre di Mezzo), was built on the foundations of the first wall raised at the time of Taormina's founding, circa the 4th century BC. The tower was built in the 7th century AD and rebuilt in the 12th century.

In 1676 the army of France's King Louis XIV laid siege to the city. The tower was destroyed. Three years after the siege, it was rebuilt. The populace insisted that the tower be provided with a clock and a carillon of bells. The Middle Tower then became the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower stands close to the church of Saint Joseph. The lower portion of the tower is square, made of large blocks of stone. The center part has four rounded arches housing the bells. The top of the structure has a conical dome with four windows.

The bell rings on mayoral election day and on July 9th, Saint Pancrazio's Day. San Pancrazio is the patron saint of Taormina.
Piazza IX Aprile (April 9th Square)

6) Piazza IX Aprile (April 9th Square) (must see)

On April 9, 1860, the people at Mass in the Cathedral of Taormina were excited. Word had come that Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader of the anti-Bourbon revolution, had arrived in Marsala, Sicily. Liberation was on the way! False alarm. Garibaldi did not arrive until May 9th. The news came on April 9th.

Before 1860, the square was called Sant'Agostino Square (Piazza Sant'Agostino). It was so named for the Church of Sant'Agostino, built in 1448. The church still stands, deconsecrated, and in use, as a public library. The 17th-century Church of San Giuseppe also shares the square, along with the fabled Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) of Taormina.

April 9th Square is lined with cafes and other tourist watering holes. Caricature artists may sketch a visitor's portrait while they enjoy a cappuccino and a fine view of the Ionian Sea. The gate at the bottom of the Clock Tower leads to the medieval part of town and the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo).
Chiesa di San Giuseppe (Church of Saint Joseph)

7) Chiesa di San Giuseppe (Church of Saint Joseph)

Next to the celebrated Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) on April 9th Square (Piazza IX Aprile) is the Baroque 17th-century Church of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe). It was built as a center for the Confraternity of Souls in Purgatory. On the facade and inside the church, there are many inscriptions, bas reliefs, mottos, motifs, and allegorical shapes.

Since 1919, the church has been given to the Salesian Order. The Order has left even more sculptures and frescoes. In 2015 the building was found to be in a state of collapse, and it closed for restoration. The restoration works were completed, and the church was open once more.

An elegant double staircase leads up to the church entrance. The stairs and porch are enclosed in a stone balustrade. On the main facade, the large central portal grants access to the church. There are two smaller side portals. The right doorway leads to the Sacristy. The left leads to a recreation space, often a venue for exhibitions.

Above the central doorway, a niche holds an impressive marble statue of Christ the King. Inside, the main altar is of polychrome Taormina marble. The dome, over the tabernacle, is supported by marble columns. On the side walls are frescoes of the prophets and scenes from the Gospels.
Villa Comunale (Taormina Public Gardens)

8) Villa Comunale (Taormina Public Gardens) (must see)

Lady Florence Trevelyan, born in New Castle on Tyne, England, a gardener by profession, was in love. Unfortunately, she was in love with the future King Edward VII of England. This could not be. Queen Victoria sent Florence packing. She settled in Taormina in 1884. She married the Mayor, Salvatore Cacciola, and planted a garden.

Lady Florence purchased several bits of land in Taormina after she arrived. The first was Beautiful Island (Isola Bella), where she built a house and planted an exotic garden. She acquired parcels of land on the hillside between Bagnoli Croce and Giardini on the shore. Here she planted more gardens with follies called "hives."

After Florence's death, the lands were taken by the municipality. They are called Florence Trevelyan Park (Parco Florence Trevelyan). It is the most beautiful park in Taormina. The winding paths lead to a wide variety of local and exotic flora, fountains, and Victorian "follies." It is a perfect retreat for weary travelers, visitors, and locals alike.
Teatro Antico di Taormina (Ancient Theatre of Taormina)

9) Teatro Antico di Taormina (Ancient Theatre of Taormina) (must see)

The Ancient Theatre of Taormina is excellently placed, high above the Ionian shore, with brilliant views of the sea and the towering Volcano Etna.

Etna was the workshop of crippled Haphaistos, blacksmith to Zeus, and married to Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Aphrodite was forced to marry Hera, wife of Zeus, as punishment for her ill-considered dalliance with Zeus. So, Aphrodite set up a house with Haphaistos on the volcano but she was always unfaithful. Zeus denied everything.

Scenes like this were often on the program at the ancient amphitheater, built by Greeks in the reign of Hiero II of Syracuse. Over 100,000 cubic meters of rock were moved manually from the mountain to build the theatre. It was later improved by the Romans with statues and columns. They replaced drama with games and gladiators.

The scene where actors performed remains without the 25 columns and ornaments of yore. The orchestra was an area used by actors and musicians, ultimately replaced by gladiators. The cavea, seating carved into the rock, could hold up to 5,400 spectators. The audience part was in nine sections with porticos.

The Taormina Theatre is the second-largest theater in Sicily. Since the 1950s, it has hosted plays, concerts, operas, and ballets. The theatre is located on Teatro Greco Street. There is a modest admission fee.
Via Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre Street)

10) Via Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre Street)

Greek Theatre Street (Via Teatro Greco) leads from Abbey Square (Piazza Badia) and the Bam Bar directly to the Greek Theatre of Taormina. This is the only way to the theatre. On the left side of the street, walking toward the theatre is the elegant staircase dedicated to the Corinthian General Timoleon, who defended the town against the Carthaginians.

The staircase of Timoleon is very similar to the Spanish Steps before the Church of the Holy Trinity in Rome. In May each year, the stairs are adorned with azaleas in homage to the Roman steps.

The street is not without shops and beautiful buildings. The Home of Lady Florence Trevelyan, wife of Professor Salvatore Cacciola, and sponsor of the Public Gardens of Taormina, is close by. The 19th-century, English-style Hotel Timeo sits in its park. The Corvaja Palace (Palazzo Corvaja) houses the Sicilian Museum of Art and Traditions.

Cuseni House (Casa Cuseni) is an Art Nouveau house at the top of the street. It is reminiscent of the architectural designs of Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. The shops are full of souvenirs and traditional ceramics. Halfway on the Greek Theatre Street, at the bottom of the steps of Timoleone Street, shrouded in greenery, are several bars and cafes.

At the end of the Greek Theatre Street, directly before the amphitheater, is the Grand Hotel Timeo. Turn and look back up the street. See the Taormina Fortress atop the crown of Mount Tauro.
Palazzo Corvaja (Corvaja Palace)

11) Palazzo Corvaja (Corvaja Palace)

Corvaja Palace (Palazzo Corvaja) is found in Abbey Square (Piazza Badia), close to the Corso Umberto and the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The original part of the palace is the cubical tower bastion. It was built in the 10th century as a defense by the Arab conquerors of the erstwhile Byzantine town.

It was in the 13th and 14th centuries that the fortified palace acquired its unique mixture of styles. The Tower is Arabic with Catalan Gothic lancet windows in groups of twos and threes divided by columns. The 15th-century Parliamentary Hall is Norman. The noble Corvaja family owned the building from the mid-1600s until 1945.

There is an entrance portal on the southwest side with a staircase that goes from the courtyard to the first floor. On the first floor landing are three Siracusa stone panels in relief. They are the Creation of Eve, Original Sin, and the Expulsion from Paradise.

In the Parliamentary Hall are the frescoes Daniel in the Lions' Den, Mother of the Maccabees, Ahasuerus, and Esther, and The Flight into Egypt. By 1945 the palace was in a pitiful state of disrepair. The town dispossessed the building, and Neapolitan architect Armando Dillon completely restored it, finishing in 1948.

Nowadays, Corvaja Palace is the home of the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions (Museo di Arte e Tradizioni Popolari) and the town's tourist office. The museum features a collection of puppets and folk art.
Porta Messina (Messina Gate)

12) Porta Messina (Messina Gate)

Passing through the Catania Gate (Porta Catania) and following the busy pedestrian street of Corso Umberto, we ultimately come to Messina Gate (Porta Messina), so-called because it is, literally, the entrance to Messina from Taormina.

In ancient times, Taormina was defended by a circular system of three fortified walls. Bits of these walls can still be seen today. Pieces appear by the Clock Tower in the center of town and at the two entrances of the Corso, Messina Gate, and Catania Gate.

Catania Gate dates from 1440 when it was last restored by the Aragonese occupiers. Messina Gate was completely restored in 1808, leaving no trace of an earlier version. When the gate was restored it was renamed Ferdinand Gate (Porta Ferdinanda) in honor of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, King of Naples, and future King of The Two Sicilies.

The names and titles didn't stick after Italian unification. People went back to calling the gate "Porta Messina."
Funivia Mazzaro-Taormina (Mazzaro-Taormina Cableway)

13) Funivia Mazzaro-Taormina (Mazzaro-Taormina Cableway)

And now, for something completely different, a cable car ride! The Funivia can whisk travelers from just outside the Messina Gate (Porta Messina) in Taormina to Mazzaro, the land of beautiful beaches and the aptly named Beautiful Island (Isola Bella), in little more than two minutes. The cable cars operate year-round from 8 am to 8 pm. Summer hours may run to 1 am.

The cable car system features gondolas with large windows that travel in two groups of four cabins each at around 100 feet above the ground. The ride offers spectacular views of the ancient city, beaches, and the Ionian Sea. The capacity of each car is about eight people. The cars are in near-continuous operation, depending on the season.

Construction of the Taormina cable car system began in 1928. It has been renovated at least three times since it opened for riders. The length of the ride is about 2,230 feet. The Mazzaro-Taormina line has carried more than one million passengers a year. Rides depart every 15 minutes. Bring a camera.