Words from Sicily: Rambling around Taormina

My love of Taormina runs deep. It’s the first place I’ve ever taken any friend who has visited Sicily, and I simply adore exploring the town.

I’m a little tired of visiting the Greek amphitheatre but not totally adverse to it, especially if the weather is excellent. You can see Etna (which hardly ever happens, only if you are lucky).

I prefer to soak in the atmosphere in the side streets and avoid the touristy part of the historical centre.

For me, Taormina is about hidden gardens, antique shops, great window shopping and those random discoveries that happen while rambling around the streets.

This week I won’t bore you with so much history, but I will share some of the moments that Taormina has made me smile and delight.

Like the time I went to Taormina and found a fabulous Picasso exhibition in the medieval Palazzo Corvaia admiring the art and the iconic palazzo itself. Then we had pizza at La Botte, a historical trattoria. It was a little touristy but was filled with photos of all the famous people who had dined there. Some included beautiful images from the 1950s of many Hollywood legends. It was a spectacular day at Taormina.

I also loved pocking my head into the courtyard of the exclusive Hotel Timeo. It is the oldest hotel in Taormina’s Centro Storico; literally, a few minutes walk down the street from the theatre. It usually houses visiting celebrities and artists performing in the Anfiteatro during the year. I felt highly intimidated, but one day, I have to gather the nerve to go inside. I need to see its spectacular bar and order an expensive cocktail and sip it while admiring the exclusive views. If the courtyard is anything to go by, it surely must be charming.

I love all of the bohemian art studios filled with ceramic artists, jewellery creators, sculptures and clever creators of interior design. The last time I was a Taormina, I found this cool place called I Saraceni who had created these cute wall decorations in many different versions.

Of course, I couldn’t take a photo of all of the sizes, shapes and interpretations available. The best version of the wall hangings was displayed near the shop front, a cute little Siciliano complete with a Sicilian cap and cigar. It always amazes me how Sicilians can create the cutest souvenir ideas without being tacky and giving the idea of a take-home keepsake a different and unique spin. I just love it.

My favourite church in the centre of Taormina is the church of Santa Caterina, it’s not as crowded as the Duomo or the more popular wedding tourist location near the Piazza 9 Aprile.

I think Santa Caterina is more beautiful, with a prayerful atmosphere and the added surprise of Roman mosaics revealed through a unique glass floor display. I literally went in to see the church and discovered the mosaics by chance. That, my friend, is why I adore Italy and its ability to surprise me with still more art and beauty.

In the sculpture above the front entrance to the church is a beautifully detailed statue of St Catherine, where I first notice how Catherine had the head of a man under her feet. This led me to read more about this early Christian martyr who is widely venerated in Sicily.

Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most important saints of the late middle ages. Her martyrdom at the hands of Roman emperor Maxentius was particularly gruesome and included being scourged and starved to death. Unable to revert the catholic Saint back to paganism through torture as she was miraculously cured and revived.

Maxentius tried to win over the beautiful and wise princess with a marriage proposal. Needless to say, he wasn’t successful, and it is his crowned head that is under Saint’s foot. Even though Saint Catherine was eventually beheaded, the emperor later lost his empire in battle and his life by drowning in the Tiber.

One obsession I have with Sicily, apart from history, has to be its colourful ceramics. Many cities are dedicated to producing Sicily’s elaborately colourful historical ceramics, from Santo Stefano di Camastra to Caltagirone.

I’m eternally enamoured with the vibrant colours and endless designs and styles of this positively ancient craft. With this in mind, I inevitably find myself drawn into ceramic stores.

I’m not talking about those tacky afterthoughts that you find in souvenir stores along the main street of Taormina. But the actual artisan stores each have their own styles, colours and attention to details.

The kind of artist studios that protect their copyright by not allowing you to take photos in their store. So that means you snap a quick shot of their storefront so you can remember the name of the place so you can bring a trailer next time and fill it up with their ceramic creations.