Culture and the “Myths”
At the foot of the elegant cone of Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, the territory of the Taormina Etna District boasts an extraordinary heritage of archaeological finds and architectural masterpieces. There are many themes, and if you follow them, you’ll discover a variety of treasures which few other regions in the world are able to offer.
The first was Ulysses
The hero of Ithaca, immortalised by Homer, archetype of human genius and intellect constantly seeking knowledge and the unknown, was perhaps the first explorer of the island. Homer’s Sicily is the land of the Laestrygonians, home of Calypso and, according to some researchers, also of the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Land of myth even before that of conquest, the digs at Giardini Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily, founded in 743 BC, and the Greek Theatre of Taormina are a perfect example of superb archaeological sites capable of standing up to comparison with those of Greece itself.
The conquest of power, amidst Saracen forts, Norman strongholds and Federician castles…
The appointment with history doesn’t end with ancient ruins. Numerous castles can be admired, leaving you fascinated by the magnificence of the Arabian influence of Calatabiano Castle, the mystery that surrounds the whole village and Francavilla castle which, according to legend, was founded by Charlemagne, as can be seen by uncountable Norman strongholds.
Along the Ionian Coast of Messina, Federico II of Svevia built some of the most beautiful royal castles of the 13th century in Italy, enlisting the architectural genius of Riccardo da Lentini. From Savoca to Randazzo, a sequence of impressive forts awaits you, set on hilltops or perched on rocky outcrops falling vertically to the sea, unique in the originality of the volumetric concepts compared with the Norman strong holdings. Not to be missed are Nelson’s Castle, the history of which dates back to 1040, when Giorgio Maniace, valorous Byzantine general, built a monastery on the battlefield where he defeated the Saracens. Following destruction by a violent earthquake in 1173, Queen Margherita of Navarra commissioned the building of a new complex, which was presented in 1799 as a gift to Admiral Nelson, victor at Trafalgar, together with the title of Duke of Bronte. Today the Castle is situated inside a flourishing park which hosts, in the outdoor museum, works in lava stone. The large courtyard is overlooked by rooms which were once inhabited by the Birdports, as well as the stables and the Norman church of Santa Maria a Maniace.
A celluloid volcano
The beauty of the Sicilian landscape offers a unique background for the expression of emotions and creativity. Great film director of the calibre of Pasolini, Straub-Huillet and Jean Epstein were aware of this, and told stories of Etna, exploring the myth, the celestial fire and the lost spirituality of the world of today, along with the uncontaminated nature and the intemperance and passion of its people.
Not only the volcano, but the whole territory was immortalised by the seventh art: Francis Ford Coppola shot some of the most beautiful scenes from “The Godfather” Part II in Savoca; Roberto Benigni set and partially shot "Piccolo Diavolo" in Taormina, the Etnean Catanese district was the backdrop for "Storia di una Capinera" (Sparrow) by Franco Zeffirelli. These are just some of the masterpieces in which you can enjoy the area’s natural scenery.
An island without boundaries
Leonardo Sciascia knew his homeland well, describing Sicily as “A woman herself: mysterious, implacable, vindictive; and beautiful” in his “The Day of the Owl”. You don’t have to be a Sicilian intellectual to be fascinated and seduced by the territory of the Taormina Etna District. Before the 20th century, to remain in the modern age, the romantic author Wolfgang Goethe found the sense of his Grand Tour, immortalised in his “Italian Journey” on the slopes of Etna.
In 1884 it was the turn of Jules Verne who, on his fabulous sailing ship, with which he toured the Mediterranean, came to Catania on the first Sicilian leg, reporting news of the city and its surroundings in meticulously detailed description in "Mathias Sandorf". A few years later, the already famous Guy de Maupassant stood breathless facing the beauty of dawn from the top of Mount Etna, described in the work "La Vie Errante". Not only literature, but also great music: it was from his homeland that Vincenzo Bellini drew inspiration for the tormented "Norma".
If you’re in search of inspiration of your own, don’t be afraid of finding it here.