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by Orient-Express
Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily, Italy

Taormina through Time

Named after Mount Tauro, Taormina was first settled by Greeks fleeing from nearby Naxos, and the fearful tyrant Dionysius, in 358 BC. Magnificent buildings, such as the amphitheatre and the acropolis, date from this time, and the town expanded and prospered as an outpost along the trade route between Messina and Catania.
When it was conquered by the Romans, a century or so later, many of the Grecian buildings were restored and enhanced, and new civic and religious structures added. The amphitheatre is, in fact, a blend of Greek and Roman design. Taormina became very grand under its new inhabitants, with luxurious villas sprouting amid the verdant slopes.

In the 7th and 8th centuries the Byzantines spread Christianity into Sicily and ruled Taormina. Their reign was short-lived, however, as the Moors from North Africa moved in and renamed the town Almoezia. Skilled engineers and innovators, the Arabs made many improvements, among them irrigation systems and agricultural practices, and introduced cerebral pursuits such as philosophy, medicine and mathematics. The wonderful Palazzo Corvaja dates from this period, although it later had Norman and Gothic touches added.
Next was the turn of the Normans who, under Roger de Hauteville, the first medieval king of Sicily, set about putting their stamp on the town with impressive churches and cathedrals and a return to Christianity in the 11th and 12th centuries.

This was the last period of stability for a while, as Sicily became a pawn in the power conquests of countries such as France, Spain, even Austria. In fact, it was only as recently as 1860 that Sicily was finally connected to Italy — but its colourful, often turbulent history has shaped its towns, and particularly Taormina, in a way rarely seen elsewhere, which is why it is the architecturally and culturally fascinating place you can enjoy today.


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