Control Sicily and you control the Mediterranean, and as a result, “the history of Sicily has been […] controlled by greater powers—Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Islamic, Norman, Hohenstaufen, Catalan, Spaniard—[and] short periods of independence, as under the Greeks and later as the Emirate then Kingdom of Sicily.” Today Sicily is Italian, but with distinctly Sicilian flavor. Like most cultures that have had foreign armies traipsing through the country side pillaging then burning for several millennia, the Sicilians can be a bit prickly (ask a few of those occupiers). And like most cultures experiencing occupation, they have absorbed many external influences when it suited them, thus that Sicilian flavor.
It was cloudy when we arrived, and Mt. Aetna never entirely came out of the cold, oxygen deprived clouds. We opted for a tour of the old city and the Amphitheater it is known for. Excluding Athens, this was the largest port so far. There was a bustle here missing in Greece. When the pilot met us it was with a big, friendly wave — we are their favorite invader these days.
We were taken ashore to Giardini Naxos, the Gardens of Naxos (keep in mind a lot of places here have Greek names dating back to the Peloponnesian Wars). We wound our way through the town that serves as a seaside resort for Sicilians and headed up the switchbacks for Taormina. Most of these ancient towns are high for defense purposes, but some of that defense was against malaria. They didn’t know the cause, just that summer near the coast was unhealthy.
Along the way we saw a striking dark gray yacht that was identified as Georgio Armani’s [Later we saw two identical ones in Porto Vecchio, so ????]
Ancient Taormina actually has a bus parking garage hanging on the slope below the city. From there, we followed the yellow umbrella up the steep streets to the city. Remember, the builders could go for shallow and long [lots of time and materials], or short and steep. Since they were resource limited, in good condition, and steep worked against invaders, they chose the latter.
Inside Taormina the main street undulated between three gates — the outside gates and the one in the middle called — “Porta di Mezzo” (the Middle Gate). The streets are 1.5 – 2 Maserati wide, making it seem less crowded. The oldest side streets are five defenders wide. The shops between the gates are high end making it more expensive. Only as we made it to the amphitheater end of town (where buses just drop masses off rather than parking) did it get crowded, kitschy, and serious watch your wallet/purse territory.
The amphitheater has ambiguous roots and history. It has Greek features and Roman ones and the mix is disputed in terms of age and provenance, something our guide characterized as common in Sicily and a source of voluble debate — their national sport.
The climb to the seats was steeper than the climb to the city. A break or two (to listen to the guide, of course) was welcome. The slope of the seats, the elliptical curvature, the height of the stage all conveyed a sense of modernity we would again feel at the Colosseum in Rome. We were sitting in an ancient, but living design handbook for theaters. After, we wandered Taormina and found the shops just as expensive at a slow pace. We should have found a seat sooner and ordered Arancini and a local wine. Ah, well…
Just as we left to walk back to the bus, Janet bought 20 post card stamps (2 Euro each) from the Post Office for the price of 12. The clerk was harried by equipment problems, and it was late…
Please enjoy the photos. Many are without captions because they don’t need them. Click on first one to scroll.