I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Sicily, and have particularly liked staying in Taormina for a few days. It is a beautiful little coastal town, high up on a hill overlooking the turquoise sea. It is defnitely a tourist town, with little shops and cafes lining the main street selling postcards, ceramics, and other various souvenir items. Now a popular tourist destination, Taormina has an interesting history, and is full of fun little facts. 

Margaret Guido, author of Sicily: An Archeological Guide, tells us that the native inhabitants of Sicily, called the Sikels, settled on Monte Tauro, and called their new town Tauromenion, derived from "tauros," meaning bull in Greek. Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, tried unsuccessfully to take the town for many years, and finally succeeded in 392 BC; he turned out the Sikels and replaced them with Greeks. In 358 BC Andromachus, the new leader of the town, refounded it as a Greek city. When a man named Timoleon came from Greece to rid Sicily of tyrants and restore democracy, Andromachus sided with him, and Tauromenion became the operational base of Timoleon. In the third century BC, Hieron II of Syracuse used the town as a naval base against the Mammertines. The Romans invaded before long, and in 211 BC Tauromenion became a Roman Province.

The most well-known site in Taormina is its ancient Theatre. As I was researching, it seemed that for the longest time there was debate over whether the theatre is of Greek or Roman origin. I found a comment from Joesph Woods in his book Letters of an Architect from 1828, where he mentioned that the theatre looked more Roman than Greek. Even as late as 1996 I found an article by Frank Sear titled "The Theatre at Taormina -- A New Chronology," in which he mentioned that there was not much research done concerning the theatre. So he did his own research. Sear determined that the theater was built in four phases. The first was construction by the Greeks in the third century BC. The second was reconstruction in the first century AD, in which the side wings, or basilica, were added, and the front of the theatre, left open by the Greeks so they could appreciate the fantastic view of Mount Etna, was built up into a two storey structure. The next phase was during the third century, when the Romans converted the theatre into an arena where people were entertained by gladiator and animal fights. The fouth stage involved enlarging the basement under the arena. Elsewhere on the internet I found that the theatre is the second largest in Sicily, after the theatre in Syracuse, and held 5,400 spectators. Today, the theatre is host to an important Italian cinematography award, the "David di Donatello" award, and also hosts the summer-long "Taormina Arte" festival.

The scaenae frons, or backdrop of the theatre, overlooking the land in the distance.

At the beginning of our trip Emma gave a presentation on the patron saint of Palermo, so I looked into the patron saint to Taormina. Saint Pancras, or Pancrazio, who was born in Antioch and traveled to Jerusalem with his family. They were apparently aquainted with the apostle Peter, and when Pancras went to live as a hermit, Peter came across him and told him to journey to Sicily to become a bishop. Thus, Pancras become the first bishop of Taormina, and was instramental in helping spread Christianity in Sicily, but unfortunately was not loved by all. He was stoned to death by pagans, and died a martyr, thus making him a Saint.

The Church of Saint Pancras
Another interesting tale of Taormina includes that they once had an Olympic champion. My favorite tidbit, however, is Taormina's connection to mythology. Book XII of the Odyssey talks about the Oxen of the Sun, the cattle of Helios. The epic, the particular version I looked at translated by Ian Johnston, mentions "Thrinacia," referring to the three-sided island of Sicily, "where Helios' many cattel graze." It is thought that Taormina is the location of the cattle, due (as you will remember) to the city name being derived from the Greek "tauros" meaning bull, built atop of Monte Tauro.

I think I have gone on about the history for long enough, but Taormina is truly a beautiful city full of character. I have enjoyed my stay here, and have appreciated spending a longer period of time at this place. It has allowed me to explore the town, and I have not missed and inch! Taormina is wonderful, and I wish I could stay. But alas, tomorrow we fly home, and can tell family and friends the wonderful tales of our adventures.

The group walking the streets of Taormina.

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