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At whatever hour of the day or night walking in Taormina offers the tourist a pleasant and relaxing feeling of familiarity. The welcome of the inhabitants towards strangers is part of the historical baggage that its population has accumulated after centuries of domination and interaction with people from every country and culture. It is this which makes the city unique in a Sicilian context, giving it a cosmopolitan connotation.
With regards to city planning Taormina developed around Mount Tauro and maintained in the structuring of its streets both Roman characteristics and also those of a medieval city. The main street, Corso Umberto traces the line of the Roman decuman which merges together with the small orthogonal streets characterised by steps which reflect the designs of the old cornerstones.
The two doors Porta Messina (to the North) and Porta Catania (to the South West) contain the historical city centre and in ancient times formed an obligatory passage (old Via Valeria) for people who had to reach places on both the Messina and Catania coastlines.
Today the Corso Umberto swarms with lights, shops bars and restaurants and is the meeting place for lovers of shopping. Big names and artisans exhibit their products in a vision of light and colour. From Porta Messina to Porta Catania the shops alternate with monuments and churches, here you can admire the paintings of Sergio Giolini in the Gladys Art Gallery and immediately after view the impressive Palazzo Corvaia, a great building of the fifteenth-century which contains a wonderful Arabic tower in the centre of its structure. Passing the seventeenth-century Church of S.Caterina, the shop lights illuminate the walk and the attention of the tourists is captured by the variety of products on show. Marzipan fruits displayed in the pasticceria Chemi stimulate both the sight and the taste buds whilst well known Sicilian painted ceramics can be found in the laboratorio Kerameion in Via Santippo . Before arriving at Piazza S. Agostino we come across an alleyway called Vicolo Stretto which is charming for the peculiarity of its dimensions (be careful you may only be able to enter sideways!)
Under the cover of Piazza S. Agostino with the attached Church, church which is today the home of the Biblioteca Comunale (public library) a craftsman works in clay, lighting the entrance of his shop with lamps and oil which he himself has produced. The wonderful balcone della Piazza, framed with both multi-coloured flowering oleander and famous bars where people love to spend a relaxing moment, is at the centre of the famous main street in Taormina and is defined by the old Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower),whose bells only ring in exceptional circumstances.
The route that leads to the Torre dell’Orologio at Porta Catania, in ancient times called “Borgo Medievale”, displays many elements of Renaissance architecture. These include the beautiful doorways displaying the coat of arms of the various families which themselves became important shop entrances. One of these is the home of the creative and artistic goldsmiths of the Gioielleria Le Colonne di Di Alvero and Correnti .
Piazza Duomo opens onto the main Chiesa di Taormina dedicated to S. Nicola di Bari. The church-fortress of medieval origins, as defined by historians, was reconstructed in 1500 and then in 1600 when the ‘Giurati’ (owners) of the city enriched the square with a drinking-fountain in front of the church sagrato. Near to Porta Catania a small alleyway leads to another medieval building, the Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano built under the cover of the second of the five city walls that defended Taormina which is today the home of the prestigious Fondazione Mazzullo. Passing the door we come to the viale Pietro Toselli where the ‘merli’ (open elements) of the first city wall allow us to admire the wonderful panorama of Etna.
There are many streets in Taormina to be walked and each has its own characteristics, its own scent and its own unique places and shops. From Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, locally known as Piazza Badia, we cross the via Teatro Greco and view the city’s best architectural monument of the Greek-Roman era, the Teatro Greco. Here we can also find a multitude of shops which offer visitors a colourful and lively view of the city.
From Piazza Vittorio Emanuele we can walk along the via Di Giovanni, a road that takes us to the Giardino Pubblico or Parco dei Duchi di Cesàro. An intoxicating smell of almond paste hits us as we pass the pasticceria minotauro and…..as a joy for the sight and palate offers a wide variety of marzipan fruits produced by the Bottega del bongustaio. Crossing this street we can stop near the BamBar where we can savour wonderful traditionally-made granitas in a variety of fruit flavours. Entering via Giardinazzo we cannot fail to notice the studio of the young artist from Taormina Tino Giammona whose paintings and works make reference to the traditions of eighteenth-century Sicilian decorative culture.
Here we cannot list all the streets of Taormina but instead leave the rest to discovery by visitors who are guaranteed to experience a range of wonderful surprises.