The Publisher’s Tour 2016
Each year The Italian Tribune brings the Publisher’s Tour to our readers. Buddy and Marion Fortunato have made many visits to Italy. Over the next six weeks, we will feature segments of this year’s fascinating tour. With each journey by the travelers, the sights and culture of the places visited are retold. They bring to you reviews of restaurants and places to stay. You’ll learn about historic figures, the cuisine of different regions and gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that permeates the world’s most exciting country.
For the first time, the Italian Tribune’s Publisher’s Tour included an extensive Mediterranean cruise. The tour embarked in Naples, aboard the luxury Italian liner, MSC Poesia and traveled to Sicily, the Island of Malta, Spain, France and Genoa. At the end of the cruise, the tour continued in Italy, visiting Pulia, Abruzzo and Rome. This week’s feature takes us to the beautiful Island of Sicily and the Tour’s first port of call – Taormina.
First Port of Call – Taormina, Sicily
Part 1 – Sicily
Located on the northeast coast of Sicily, about 20 miles south of Messina, this beautiful coastal city is renowned for its food, climate and beauty. The real secret to absorbing the rich culture of this city is to look carefully, often just beyond the obvious. At nearly every turn, there are antiquities with fascinating stories behind them. In ancient times, Taormina was protected by a series of walls; to the north faced toward Messina, while to the west they faced Catania. Traces of these walls can still be seen today in the center of town, adjacent to the clock-tower. Visitors will also find remnants at the two furthest ends of the town where there are two entrances. To the north, the entrance to the city was restored at the beginning of the 19th century and officially named Porta Ferdinanda. It was opened in 1808 by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. There is even a tablet commemorating the occasion on the top of its arch. That may be all well and good, but similarly to the Queensboro Bridge that spans the East River in New York, the only folks who call it by its real name are the visitors. The locals refer to the arch as Porta Messina, just as New Yorkers have their 59th Street Bridge. Porta Catania on the other hand is the end result of various changes and restorations, the last of which were performed in 1440 by the Aragonese. The Aragonese coat-of-arms is sculpted in relief above the city coat-of-arms in the center on the top part of the gate.
The ancient Greek theatre of the city is without question the most important feature for sight-seers in Taormina. Its natural setting offers a splendid view toward the Calabrian coast, the Ionian coast of Sicily and the spectacular cone of Mount Etna. The construction of the amphitheater started around the 3rd century BC and is the second largest theater of Sicily, behind that of Syracuse, but it is among the world’s best known and most admired. Since the 1950s, the theater has been the setting for various forms of entertainment including theater, concerts, symphonies, operas and ballets.
The main street of Taormina is dedicated to Umberto I of Savoy, Italy’s King from 1878 to 1900. The Corso Umberto I was part of the ancient Via Valeria which crossed the city and then descended downward towards the sea and connected Messina to Catania. Bordered to the north by Porta Messina and to the south from Porta Catania, the Corso shows an evolution of styles and eras in its buildings, from Arabic to Norman and Gothic to Baroque.
The presence of palaces and churches along the Corso and its surrounding area have transformed the ancient Via Valeria into today’s historical center, with shops and cafes welcoming visitors from all over the world, including The Publisher’s Tour.
Many of the Greco-Roman monuments have been replaced by newer constructions, so the Temple of Jupiter Serapis has been replaced by the Church of San Pancrazio and on the remains of the Odeon was built the Church of Santa Caterina. If a visitor to Taormina was engaged in a self-guided walking tour, they might easily pass the Church of Santa Caterina without entering. The church was built in the mid-17th century and it is very much a case that looks can be deceiving. Behind the church’s rather somber façade is an interior beautifully adorned in Baroque style.
Another church that is well worth the visit is the Church of Varò, which dates back to the 15th century; however, the crypt inside has far more ancient origins, dating back to the period of Christian persecutions. On the outside, the major architectural elements of the building are the Taormina stone portal and the small bell tower. The inside of church has a single nave that houses the papier-mâché statue of the Madonna Addolorata, while behind the main altar is a magnificent fresco depicting the Triumph of the Cross.
Taormina’s emblem is the Barocco-style fountain, located in the Duomo’s piazza. Built in 1635 of Taormina marble, each of the fountain’s four sides have small columns supporting basins; mythological figures and multiple basins characterize this elaborate fountain. The town’s coat-of-arms is also featured, but the sculptor changed the central figure from the traditional male centaur to a female centaur and a two-footed one at that. Such are the interesting features of Taormina!