A Brief History of Taormina
What do The ANCIENT GREEKS, THE ROMANS, THe Normans, Goethe, Gustav Klimt, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant and Liz Taylor have in common? Simple, they have all CAME to Taormina in search of the Sicilian dolce vita...
Ideally perched on a rocky promontory at 250 metres above the sea, Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred of years, ever since it became an integral part of the Grand Tour. Before then, it had been ‘appreciated’ by all great conquerors – Greeks, Romans, Arabs (Saracens), Byzantine, Normans, Swabians, French and Spanish all came, saw and conquered. Taormina’s past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm.
Now, with it beautifully restored medieval buildings, breath-taking views around every corner and a giddy network of winding streets strewn with shops, bars and restaurants it makes for a popular holiday spot.
Tauromenium, built on Monte Tauro, was founded by Andromacus at the behest of Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse in 392 BC. The first Punic War saw Taormina falling to the Romans in 212 BC and the town became a favourite holiday spot for Patricians and Senators, thus starting Taormina’s long history as a tourist resort.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines came only to be ousted by the Arabs in 962. They changed the name to Almoezia and set about introducing new agricultural practices (irrigation and citrus fruit farming) and other more cerebral pursuits such as philosophy, medicine and mathematics. Taormina continued to prosper both culturally and economically with the arrival of the Normans in 1079, who, under King Roger de Hautville, threw the Arabs out of Sicily.
After a brief period of Swabian rule, under Frederick II, Charles of Anjou was pronounced King of Sicily by the Pope. The people of Taormina refused to recognise this interloper as their king and, along with a great many other Sicilian towns, joined in the revolt against French rule during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.
A hundred years of uncertainty followed before Sicily passes into the hands of the Spanish, and Taormina's medieval palace, Palazzo Corvaja becomes the home of the Sicilian Parliament. This was followed by a few centuries of stability. From 1713, Sicily is under the rule of the Savoia dynasty, and then to the Austrians for a brief time, but it returns back under Spanish rule all the way until the unification of Italy in 1861.
These days Taormina lives on tourism. Visitors flock from all over the world to see its Greek Roman theatre, to amble along its perfectly preserved medieval streets, to admire its dramatic views of Mount Etna, to enjoy the beautiful beaches and to immerse themselves in the archetypal Mediterranean atmosphere.