High on Taormina, Sicily

High on Taormina, Sicily

Our Voyage to Antiquity cruise was a much awaited holiday. We chose it mainly because of the many and varied destinations offered around the Mediterranean Sea. However at this point in the cruise we’d been on nine excursions in eight days, so it was helpful to have a day of relaxation at sea to gather our thoughts before arriving at the next destination.

Our voyage so far – Map coutesy of Google Maps – Map Data ©2017 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009)

Our cruise ship, MV Aegean Odyssey departed Corfu around 7pm on Tuesday 11th October and tied up at the dock in Messina, Sicily 7.30 am Thursday 13th October 2016.

Early morning shot of Messina from MV Aegean Odyssey, with the Duomo and its bell tower tucked in behind the white building to left and statue of Messina in centre.

According to our “V to A” guide-book the ship would normally drop anchor in the bay near Taormina, using ship’s tenders to ferry passengers ashore. I can’t remember an announcement about the change, although I’m certain there was a good reason for it.

The bus ride from Messina to Taormina took around 1 hour, along a coastal expressway and then up a winding mountain approach road.

View from Taormina bus station – another cruise ship “parked” near where I presume MV Aegean Odyssey would normally be

During the bus journey our attention was drawn to the skill of the driver as he maneuvered around tight corners, compensating for the lack of skill of some oncoming motorists.

Where we began our tour – with view of Saracen castle on the peak behind (approx. 400 meters above sea level)
Porta Catania, the western entrance through the old city wall

The first part of the walking tour was spent on Taormina’s main street, Corso Umberto, starting from Porta Catania travelling east and later northeast.

Stairs to former Church of Carmine first built on this site in 1662, now an auditorium for various events

In October 2016 the auditorium was hosting an exhibition of Francesco Calabro and Gaetano Castorina (paintings and photographs). Do you know them?

Taormina’s Duomo (Cathedral)

The Duomo was built around the year 1400 and apparently is often called “fortress Duomo”, for obvious reasons. The Baroque style fountain in Piazza Duomo is from 1635, with a modified city emblem on top.

As is my habit I photographed aspects of the city I found attractive …..


Or unusual….

Has Guinness taken over the world?

We came to another city wall. Apparently Taormina had a triple wall fortification at one time.

Gate leading to Piazza IX Aprile

The main city square, Piazza IX Aprile is home to a large church and the city library.

The Church of  San Giuseppe in Piazza IX Aprile, built in late 1600’s in Baroque style

The former Church of Sant’Agostino (below) was built in 1448 and has now been repurposed.

Former church, now serving as Taormina’s Public Library
Looking south from Piazza IX Aprile

The piazza get’s its name, 9th April, from the date in 1860 that Giuseppe Garibaldi (with a thousand soldiers) was expected to arrive in Marsala to liberate Sicily from The Bourbons and unite it with the Kingdom of Italy. He did arrive in 1860, but it was on the 9th May. Ah, what’s a month when you’ve waited years to become part of Italy.

I was struck by the character and beauty of Taormina’s buildings


And yet another wall to pass through on Corso Umberto (below)….

The third city wall and gate, with St Catherine of Alexandria Church to left and exterior of Palazzo Corvaja right
Another view of the Palazzo, after passing through the third gate

Further along Corso Umberto we took a turn to the right into Via Teatro Greco (running southeast) towards the Roman Theatre (a Roman theatre on Greek Theatre Road, Hmmm?)

Theatre Entrance Arches

The brick work is definitely Roman, but apparently the proportions and design are Greek. So it has been concluded that the Romans built their structure on top of an older Greek Theatre.

You can probably guess the plastic seating and wooden stage are not from the Greek or Roman era. The Theatre is regularly used for various types of concerts. Duran Duran performed here in June 2016 and the Robert Plant Band in July. Hence the plastic seats and large stage and scaffold lighting towers.

From the higher theatre seats it is possible to see Mt Etna, an active volcano, however on this day the cloud cover was too heavy.

What a view!

On our way back towards our “pickup point” we stopped to listen to some live music in Piazza IX Aprile.

Suonatori Mediterranei performing Sicilian and Italian songs

It was so enjoyable to be in the square with these guys playing “local” music that we recognised, such as the theme from The Godfather. It was only 10 Euros for their CD, so we bought it and are still enjoying their music.

Then we heard the call of a birra at an outdoor cafe nearby, so we took a “ring side seat” to refresh ourselves and watch the passing parade.

“Our outdoor Cafe” to the left. Shop servicing this outdoor area to the right
A cold local Messina Birra in a Heineken glass, with a bowl of free chips on the side


During the return bus trip there was a discussion about the most delayed project in the history of the region (or perhaps the world), The bridge over the Strait of Messina (between Italy and Sicily). But that will have to wait a little.


Statue of the Golden Madonna at the entrance to Messina Harbour

We departed Messina around 5 pm and as we passed the Golden Madonna I couldn’t help thinking … surely Monty Python’s Brian (from Life of Brian) hasn’t been here writing Latin on the wall?

But of course not! This Latin text was taken from a letter written by the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina in the first century AD. As legend has it, Messina had converted to Christianity at this time as a result of a visit from the Apostle Paul. So the Virgin Mary wrote a letter to the new Christians, which ended with these words, in Latin, “We bless you and the City”.


Moon rise over the southern tip of Italy

In the middle of the Strait of Messina my thoughts returned to the long proposed bridge linking Messina to Villa San Giovanni in Calabria, Italy. The idea goes as far back as the Romans, who conceived of a series of linked barges. And there’s been many more proposals since then. In 1870 a tunnel was proposed. In 2009 Silvio Berlusconi’s government announced it would definitely build a bridge, despite the huge cost, the engineering difficulties and calls for the money to spent more wisely. The project didn’t proceed and it’s likely the bridge will never be built, but in the meantime large ferrys carry goods and vehicles across “the strait” for a fraction of the cost (or so I’m told).


I bet you can’t wait for the next scintillating installment of our Voyage to Antiquity, when we call in at Salerno, Italy, for an excursion to:


It is a nice place! I’m think you’ll like it. Let’s catch up then … shall we?

  • Heidi Pauly
    Posted at 16:53h, 08 February Reply

    Interesting Alistair, would love to see Sicily😀

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 17:04h, 08 February Reply

      Worth doing Heidi. I enjoyed Sicily more than the Italy mainland. Sicily seems to be better cared for and people seem to have more pride in the appearance of everything.

  • Peter Stanton
    Posted at 17:26h, 08 February Reply

    Beautiful colors of the buildings and the textures of the bricks…what a delight you give us AD

  • alistairstravel
    Posted at 17:32h, 08 February Reply

    I’m pleased you like the colours and the details Peter and I’m pleased I can bring them to you and others who haven’t been there.

  • Daryl
    Posted at 23:22h, 08 February Reply

    Very nicely written travel blog and photos to match

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 06:53h, 09 February Reply

      Thanks for the comment Daryl, I’m pleased you like this blog

  • Luke
    Posted at 21:30h, 10 February Reply

    You didn’t mention the gelato!!

  • alistairstravel
    Posted at 06:10h, 11 February Reply

    Sorry Luke, we didn’t try the gelato, but I understand it is very good in Taormina. We couldn’t have gelato and drink birra – too many calories for our diet. The cold Birra was so refreshing on a warm day.

  • Kevin @ Bev G.
    Posted at 10:56h, 12 February Reply

    Hi, Alister and Maggie.These photos are so vibrant! I guess it has a lot to do with the holiday image Sicily wants to present to the world. Love the Irish Pub!
    Truly exciting photography. Thanks,K’n’B.

  • alistairstravel
    Posted at 13:34h, 12 February Reply

    I always look forward to your comments Kevin. So thanks again for this one.

    The vibrance could be about the image that Sicily wants to present, but I felt there was a lot of personal pride by individual residents and businesses in Taormina. This is something that was not quite matched by other cities we saw in Italy/Sicily, both large and small.

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