The present town of Taormina occupies the ancient site, on a lofty hill which forms the last projecting point of the mountain ridge that extends along the coast from Cape Pelorus to this point. The site of the old town is about 300 m above the sea, while a very steep and almost isolated rock, crowned by a Saracen castle, rises about 150 m higher: this is undoubtedly the site of the ancient Arx or citadel, the inaccessible position of which is repeatedly alluded to by ancient writers. Portions of the ancient walls may be traced at intervals all round the brow of the hill, the whole of the summit of which was evidently occupied by the ancient city. Numerous fragments of ancient buildings are scattered over its whole surface, including extensive reservoirs of water, sepulchres, tesselated pavements, etc., and the remains of a spacious edifice, commonly called a Naumachia, but the real destination of which it is difficult to determine. But by far the most remarkable monument remaining at Taormina is the ancient theatre (the teatro greco, the "Greek theatre"), which is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, on account both of its remarkable preservation and of the surpassing beauty of its situation. It is built for the most part of brick, and is therefore probably of Roman date, though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek, rather than Roman, theatres; whence it is supposed that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period. With a diameter of 109 metres (after an expansion in the 2nd century), this theatre is the second largest of its kind in Sicily (after that of Syracuse); it is frequently used for operatic and theatrical performances and for concerts. The greater part of the original seats have disappeared, but the wall which surrounded the whole cavea is preserved, and the proscenium with the back wall of the scena and its appendages, of which only traces remain in most ancient theatres, are here preserved in singular integrity, and contribute much to the picturesque effect, as well as to the interest, of the ruin. From the fragments of architectural decorations still extant we learn that it was of the Corinthian order, and richly ornamented. Some portions of a temple are also visible, converted into the church of San Pancrazio, but the edifice is of small size.
Ruins and archaeology
The David di Donatello Taormina Film Festival has been held for over fifty years, with international film stars viewing films on a screen erected in the Greek theatre.
Just south of Taormina is the Isola Bella, a nature reserve. Tours of the Capo Sant' Andrea grottos are also available. Taormina is built on an extremely hilly coast, and is approximately a forty-five minute drive away from Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna.
In 1927 the young Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness (born 1902) published his first major novel, Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír (The Great Weaver of Kashmir), a panorama of social, literary, religious and sexual issues of his times. Laxness, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1955, wrote most of his novel in Taormina which he then praised highly in his book of autobiographical essays, Skáldatími (The Time of the Poet) from 1963.
Isola Bella from the North
Isola Bella Bay from the south
Greek theatre in Taormina
A girl from Taormina, photographed c.1900 by Wilhelm von Gloeden