November 7, 2011 Touring Taormina

John: We leave the car untouched today, determined to explore Taormina top to bottom. The top will be an attempt to see the Saracen fortress above us, and the bottom will be the main town down below (which is still many hundred feet above the lower town at shore level). Our goal in town is the Greek theater, unfinished business from our last visit to Taormina in spring of 2009.

The Saracen fortress requires that we head up a narrow street that originates just down from our hotel. We start to climb some irregular stairs leading towards the fortress. There are no handrails. We see fennel growing wild alongside the staircase.

Fennel growing along the uneven, un-railinged stairs to the fortress

Up we go, switching back and forth a number of times. Still no handrails. We end our quest at a locked gate. Drat. No wonder this fortress, built by the Saracens following their taking of the Taormina in 902 AD until their displacement by the Norman Count Roger I in 1078, is so impenetrable.

Mary getting the news from John that the gate is locked

Gingerly we trek back down the stairs, admiring the views briefly and enduring the longer periods of terror. On to our next goal: the Greek theater in the main town. This involves climbing down a very large number (nearly an Avogadro number. There… I got the reference in for all you chemists) of steps starting at a church located at the base of the fortress peak. Along the way are great views of the town and the ocean, and back up to the fortress, as well as a series of contemporary sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross.

Steps switchback down to the town

A view up towards the fortress

The Greek theater from a distance

We finally get down to the town level and set off in what we think is the general direction of the Greek theater. Instead, we first encounter a smaller Roman theater, wander about some, and finally find a landmark that actually appears on our little map of Taormina. We take careful note of the taxi rank in the vicinity in case we need to avail ourselves of this mode of transport for the return leg.

Sure enough, we find the Greek theater, buy our tickets and rent audioguides. We learn that Greeks probably first settled the area in 795 BC, with a serious boost in development after about 345 BC, when the original theater was probably built. What we see today is almost entirely Roman, however. The only Greek components are some inscribed special seats for the wealthiest patrons. The Romans, who took control in 263 BC, expanded its capacity and functionality throughout their rule. What for the Greeks was a venue for tragedy and comedy became for the Romans a venue for grand spectacles such as mock naval battles and gladiatorial contests.

The Greek theater

This is the second-largest amphitheater in Sicily. It’s a great place to learn some interesting facts about Greek plays, to view the southern end of the Strait of Messina, and to view Mount Etna letting off steam in the background behind the stage, just as it must have done in the Greek and Roman eras.

John with the fortress in the distance

Mary: Do you see how far we have walked?! If you look at the top of the mountain you see two little bumps. That’s the fortress we walked up to first and then we walked down from there, down into town and finally over to the theater. We were planning on walking back up but Clark and Lewis were so tired that we gave in to their pleas for a taxi back to the hotel.

John: We are tired, with sore feet, hips and thighs. We take a taxi back. 15 euros seems like an exceptional value.

Mary: Later we go down to the porch for our final set of hors d’ouevres and dinner. Clark and Lewis make friends with the people on the porch. The waitstaff is referring to them as Carlo and Luigi. We have gnocchi and pasta alla norma for dinner. We are both of exhausted from our trek today and we tumble into bed without my writing the blog. On to Ragusa tomorrow.

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