Taormina (Sicilian: Taurmina, Greek: Ταυρομένιον – Tauromenion, Latin Tauromenium) is a comune and small town on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Italy, in the Province of Messina, about midway between Messina and Catania. Taormina has been a very popular tourist destination since the 19th century. It has popular beaches (accessible via an aerial tramway) on the Ionian sea, which is remarkably warm and has a high salt content. Taormina can be reached via highways (autostrade) from Messina from the north and Catania from the south.
In the late 19th century Taormina gained further prominence as the place where Wilhelm von Gloeden worked most of his life as a photographer of predominantly male nudes. Also credited for making Taormina popular was Otto Geleng, best known in his hometown of Berlin for his fine paintings, which he composed and painted in Italy but exhibited in Germany. What distinguishes Geleng, however, is his choice to depict the more southern regions where he captured the spectacular views and light of Sicily. He often painted the area’s Greek colonial ruins, including Taormina. Taormina’s first important tourist was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who dedicated exalting pages to the city in his book entitled "Journey to Italy," but perhaps it was Geleng’s views that made its beauty talked about throughout Europe and turned the site into a famous tourist center. The artist arrived in Sicily at the age of 20 in search of new subjects for his paintings. On his way through Taormina he was so enamoured by the landscape that he decided to stop for part of the winter. Geleng began to paint everything that Taormina offered: ruins, sea, mountains, none of which were familiar to the rest of Europe. When his paintings were later exhibited in Berlin and Paris, many critics accused Geleng of having an ‘unbridled imagination’. At that, Geleng challenged them all to go to Taormina with him, promising that he would pay everyone’s expenses if he were not telling the truth.
During the early 20th century the town became a colony of expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals. D. H. Lawrence stayed here at the Fontana Vecchia from 1920 to 1922, and wrote a number of his poems, novels, short stories, and essays, and a travel book, Sea and Sardinia. Charles Webster Leadbeater, the theosophical author, found out that Taormina had the right magnetics fields for Jiddu Krishnamurti to develop his talents, so the young Krishnamurti dwelt here from time to time. Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic author, worked here on the first modern Icelandic novel, Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír.
By this time Taormina had become "a polite synonym for Sodom" as Harold Acton described it. Later, however, after the Second World War Acton was visiting Taormina with Evelyn Waugh and, coming upon a board advertising “Ye Olde English Teas” he sighed and commented that Taormina ‘was now quite as boring as Bournemouth’.
The present town of Taormina occupies the ancient site, on a lofty hill which forms the last projecting point of the mountain ridge that extends along the coast from Cape Pelorus to this point. The site of the old town is about 300 m above the sea, while a very steep and almost isolated rock, crowned by a Saracen castle, rises about 150 m higher: this is undoubtedly the site of the ancient Arx or citadel, the inaccessible position of which is repeatedly alluded to by ancient writers. Portions of the ancient walls may be traced at intervals all round the brow of the hill, the whole of the summit of which was evidently occupied by the ancient city. Numerous fragments of ancient buildings are scattered over its whole surface, including extensive reservoirs of water, sepulchres, tesselated pavements, etc., and the remains of a spacious edifice, commonly called a Naumachia, but the real destination of which it is difficult to determine.
The Teatro Greco ("Greek theatre").
But by far the most remarkable monument remaining at Taormina is the ancient theatre (the teatro greco, or "Greek theatre"), which is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, on account both of its remarkable preservation and of the surpassing beauty of its situation. It is built for the most part of brick, and is therefore probably of Roman date, though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek, rather than Roman, theatres; whence it is supposed that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period. With a diameter of 109 metres (after an expansion in the 2nd century), this theatre is the second largest of its kind in Sicily (after that of Syracuse); it is frequently used for operatic and theatrical performances and for concerts. The greater part of the original seats have disappeared, but the wall which surrounded the whole cavea is preserved, and the proscenium with the back wall of the scena and its appendages, of which only traces remain in most ancient theatres, are here preserved in singular integrity, and contribute much to the picturesque effect, as well as to the interest, of the ruin. From the fragments of architectural decorations still extant we learn that it was of the Corinthian order, and richly ornamented. Some portions of a temple are also visible, converted into the church of San Pancrazio, but the edifice is of small size.
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