Taormina History


n the VIII century BC the Greek sailors avoided landing at the Sicilian coasts, because they were afraid of encountering with Sicels, considered cruel. However it seems that the Athenian sailor Theokles, been shipwrecked on the Oriental coasts of Sicily, ascertained the favorable climate and fertility of the earth. Come back in Athen, he prepared an expedition of Dorians, Ionians, Chalcedons. Then he returned to the island. This is the story taled by the Greek historian Eforo. Putting aside from the truthfulness of this episode, is sure that Greeks, prevented to expand toward the powerful empires of Asia Minor, they were forced to look for the colonial expansion in Sicily and subsequently in Southern Italy, strong also for their advanced naval art. In 735 BC groups of greek colonists, with Achaeans from the Northern Peloponnese, Dorians and Chalcedons, land at the Oriental Sicilian coasts. Probably the first founded colony had the name of Naxos because many of them originated from the island of Naxos in the Egeo. They called, besides, Tauro Mount the rocky high ground which overhangs the lowland, finding it similar to those of the Tauro in Asia Minor. Sicels, who lived in that lowland, were forced to retire on the mountain. The proof of the Sicels existence on the Tauro Mount was given from the Necropolis of Cocolonazzo in Castelmola, discovered in 1919. While the Greek colonization initially contained itself in some zones of the shore, with Dionysus senior (432-367 BC), tyrant of Syracuse, it was carried to the whole Sicily. The expansionistic design carried Dionysus to fight against Sicels and Carthaginians, who occupied the Western Sicily. The Tauro Mount, for its natural position, constituted a strong obstacle to this colonialistic plan. In fact, the Sicels who garrisoned the Mountain prevented from passing the troops of Dionysus directed to Messina and, beyond, to Reggio, Croton, Metaponto, Sibari. Not succeeding in getting the possession of the stronghold pacifically, the tyrant tried to occupy it with the strength.


e besieged Naxos in 403 BC and with the complicity of a traitor, Prokles, he was able to conquer it. The town, which for 332 years, had developed pacifically with the agriculture, sheeprearing and trade, was set on fire and destroyed. The historian Pausania (II c. A.D.) writes that the destruction of Naxos was so total that, in his times, neither the ruins existed anymore. After the conquest of Naxos, Dionysus encircled the Mountain with siege. In one night without moon, raving a snow and wind storm, his troops, climbing up the precipices of the Mountain, succeeded to take possession of the acropolis, placed where the greek theater rises. But Sicels, roused by the shouts of alarm of the look-outs, came all together and succeeded in chasing away again Syracusans. Dionysus, defeated, removed the siege and returned to Syracuse. But, as a treatise stipulated with Carthaginians some time after, exactly in 392 BC, he succeeded equally in possession of the Mountain. People retain that Tauromenium was founded in 396 BCE by Andromachus, father of the famous historian Timaeus, who engaged the government of the town. The town, placed upon a high ground, 205 metres above sea level, was an impregnable place, above all because three of its sides were consituted by dreadful canyons, which threw headlong directly to sea. Despite that, for a surer defense of the polis, Tauromeniti added mighty walls on the northen and southern sides, according to the Hellenic defensive system, which provided for a triplex curtain of walls and only two entries to the town. The walls are visible up to now and the ancient gates of the town still exist. During its richest period, the population of Tauromenium counted 12.000 inhabitants. The dominant language was the doric dialect. The first arrangement of the polis was elaborated by Andromaco and it was affected on marble tables. Fourteen of these tables are still guarded in the ancient Theater Museum. The leader of the polis was the Eponymous. He continued in office during one year and couldn't be elected again. Other public magistrates were the Strategists, "Ginnasiarchi" and "Proagori". People reunited to elect the magistrates in the agora, placed in the actual Square Abbey.


auromenium entrusted the military order for the duration of ten years to a hellenic patriot named Tyndarion, because it had to defend from the dangerous raids of Mamertines (mercenaries in the pay of Syracuse), so called for the Mamerte god.
Mamertines, in 288 BC, after having conquered Messina, they pushed forward as far as under the wall of the Tauromenium polis, but Tyndarion was able to defend it and save it.
Worried by the danger of new raids of Mamertines and above all for the hostile intentions of Syracusans, in 278 Tindarione asked for help to Pyrrhus, king of the Epirus.
The latter reached Tauromenium, greeted with enthusiasm by Tindarione himself, but he didn't succeeded in the enterprise. Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, succeeded in fact in subduing the town. The historian Timaeus, son of Andromachus, founder of Tauromenium, cause of his opposition to the tyrant was exiled in Athens, where he lived during 50 years and died, in 261 BC, at the age of 90 years.
After the Agathocles death, Syracuse was led byGeron II, who recognized to the Tauromeniti the autonomy, but he subdued them to the payment of the tithe, a tax which subtracted part of the wealth producted during the year.
However it was for the polis a period of shine and of economic comfort. Tauromeniti could devote themselves to the construction of the Theater, Naumachy, aqueducts. Nevertheless there was the danger of Carthaginians for Tauromenium, cause they had tried to expand from Western Sicily to the Oriental part occupied by the Greek-Sicilian colonies. They had already devastated and destroyed different cities, among which Selinus, Himera, Agrigento, Camerina and Gela.



nother more serious danger appeared, still, not only for Tauromenium, but for the whole Sicily: the Romans.
In 264 BC the Romans arrived in Sicily called for help by Mamertines from Messina. Syracuse, which after the death of Gerone II had stopped the politics of alliance with Rome, was attached and razed to the ground by the Roman army, leaded by the Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Population was massacred and died then the great Archimedes too. Tauromenium, to avoid the destructions and sacks which Syracuse suffered, started a friendly politics with Rome and, in 212 BC, it submitted to the capital. This action determined in Sicily the end of the greek civilization's period of maximum splendor. Caesar Octavian made of Tauromenium a Roman colony, removing many of its inhabitants and populating it with Roman families.
Attracted by the beauty and mild climate, many consuls retiring to private life chose it as place where rest. Many famous Roman families built luxurious villas in the most pleasant or close to the sea places to reside there permanently. Spisone place took its name from Piso's family and Calpurnia's people. Via Iallia Bassia took its name from the matronJulia Basilia. Mufabi region took its name from the villa built by the Fabius' family. Having submitted at once to Rome, Tauromenium was the first free and federate civitas among the 52 cities in the island. Thanks to this recognition, it was exempted from the tributes towards Rome and many privileges were granted to Tauromeniti, the Roman citizenship inclusive. The town enjoyed a period of peace up to 133 BC, during which Geron II ordered the restructuration of the Greek Theater (that's why today the ancient Theater is called Greek-Roman), the construction of new monuments and he gave also an impulse to the urbanistic development.


n the same period the struggle for supremacy and existence developed between Rome and Carthage; struggle which lasted 120 years (264-146 BC) and that ended with the destruction of Carthage, in 146 BC, after the Three Punic Wars. The definitive expulsion of the Carthaginians from the island is due to the Romans, but Sicily and Tauromenium didn't ever become Latin. Tauromenium preserved its Greek speaking up to the birth of the vernacular in the Norman-Swabian period. A proof of that stays in the fact that the bishop Teofono Cerameo pronounced his homilies still in Greek. The Roman empire's history embraces five centuries, from 31 BC. to 476 AD. This historical phase is characterized by crisis and disorders, civic struggles, social transformations. Limiting the attention to Sicily, we notice that the inexorable decadence continued in all the fields and for a long time misgovernment reigned in the island. The rural ownership tended to disappear, cause it was ill-treated by the fiscal increases. The agrarian zones became prey for the italic speculators and the number of disinherited people increased. Such impoverishment exasperated the agriculturists. The revolts, which established an awakening of the island independence's feelings, were called the revolts of the slaves(135-132 and 104-101 BC). Born in Sicily and fed in Rome by the work of the people's tribune, the Tiberio and Caio Gracco brothers, revolts involved Tauromenium too. Dozens of thousands of farmers and slaves, leaded byEuno, rose up against the landowners and occupied Agrigento, Catania and Tauromenium. Rome sent the consul Fulvio Flacco with the order to tame rebels. He besieged Tauromenium and as he didn't succeed in occupying it, the consuls Lucio Pisone and Publio Rupilio came to his help. Rebels barricaded in the town and, though they had exhausted the provisions, resisted for a long time. For the betrayal of one slave only, named Sepadone, the Rupilio consul succeeded in entering the town. The captured rebels were killed atrociously or they were chained and brought to Rome to make an exhibition of themselves in the circuses, making them fight against starving lions.


uring the whole domination period different episodes marked how difficoult the integration with Rome was to the Tauromeniti. In the Taormina's forum a statue in memory of the magistrate Gaio Verre was built, when, in 73 BC, he was sent to Sicily to administer justice. Verre was immediately recognized as a thief of art masterpieces and extortioner.
He pretended, despite the town enjoyed the tax exemption, a great deal of wheat, provisions and even ships. Citizens decided to react and, with the complicity of one dark night, they threw down his statue. Then they minced it and spread the pieces, leaving only the base to accent the outrage.
The town collaborated, instead, with Marco Tullio Cicero when he came to Taormina to collect informations and useful proofs to accuse Verre in Senate.
Verre, guessing what was coming next, went into exile by himself in Marseille, where he died in 43 BC. Cicero, satisfied for the Verre's escape, didn't read, in front of the Superior Senatorial Court, the five famous orations, called Verrine (in Verrem).
He red the first only and published the others. In these orations he wrote sharply and acutely a lot of news about Taormina.
After Verre, Tauromenium suffered the cupidity of another Magistrate, Sistus Pompeius, son of Pompeius the Great, then captured and killed by Anthony in Mileto.



oman Empire failed, just for some time in progressive degeneration. Three were the principal reasons for the collapse: the process of infiltration of Barbarians in the most elevated ranks of the administrative offices; the pressures on the borders and the following territorial infiltrations, in addition to the Arabs, of powerful North European tribes (Vandals, Visigoths, Alemannics, Erulos, Huns); the Christianity rising and prodigious spreading. The Christian faith and doctrine, born in Palestina, soon spread in the Roman world, threatening with the religious, cultural and social scaffolding on which it was founded upon the empire from the foundations. The Romans reacted with determination, persecuting mercilessly the Christians. In spite of that, the strength of the faith and ideas of the Christianity forcefully imposed and the new religion soon arrived to Tauromenium too. Pancras from Antioch was named Bishop by Peter Apostle and he was sent to Tauromenium with the mission of evangelizing Sicilians.
He arrived in 40 BC, when the emperor was Caligula, and practiced the apostolate for 60 years. In the island the diffusion of the Christianity was slow and difficult, because hindered by the persisting of pagan cults and by the continuous rising up of heretical and schismatic movements. But Sicily, too, counts many martyrdoms for faith, above all in the humblest classes. Among these ones the bishop Pancras who, in 100 AD, was pierced through and stoned by the Gentiles. For the martyrdom, immediately, he was glorified and today Saint Pancras is the protector of the town. In the fourth and in the fifth century After Christ, when the island was invaded first by the Vandals and then by the Goths, the Christians continued in being persecuted and oppressed. Tauromenium has been an Episcopalian center up to 1082, till this one came abolished by the Roger Count of Altavilla, first Norman conqueror in Sicily.



hen the Roman Empire of West failed (V century AD), on the southern coasts of Sicily the Arabs began to raid, inciting people to the Holy War against the unfaithful Christians. Their raids continued in VII, VIII, IX centuries. In 827 they came with more than ten thousands of men with the purpose of conquering the whole Sicily. They landed at Mazara and completed the invasion with the conquer of Tauromenium in 902. The town resisted the assaults till when the emir succeeded in going into the town from Cuseni Gate, then called the Gate of Saracens, just to remember the unhappy invasion. The town was sacked and destroyed. Monuments and churches were knocked down. The bishop of Tauromenium, Procopio, fugitive, was recognized and captured. Ibrahim ordered to pull out Procopio's heart from his breast and ate it behind the people. Procopio's martyrdom was painted in a fresco which we can admire in the Church of Saint Pancras. Survivors were sold as slaves. Girls on one hand were bought by the caliph to populate the harems of Baghdad, on the other they were sold as brod-mares to mingle the Mediterranean race with the Arab one. According to the legend, the firmament too cried for the dreadful massacre of Tauromenium. In reality, during that night in Aug 10, 902, the sky brighted for a plentful rain of meteorites. In 909 Christians rebuilt the town, but in 962 the Arabs, after a siege which lasted seven months, conquered and sacked it again. The caliph called it Almoezia and since then the arab domination lasted two centuries and half. While the Arabs were plundering and blood-thirsty in their assaults, in administration of territories they were wise. They brought innovations in agricolture, in irrigation systems and techniques for captation of waters. Classic philosophy was spread and studies in medicine, chemistry and mathematics progressed. They adopted a system for the collection of taxes which was less oppressive. They fostered the forming of little property and relieved the slaves condition. During the Arab domination, Christians could live according to their religious faith; the only one forbidden thing was building new churches, bringing the cross during the procession, ringing the bells. It was then that, close to the old towers, were built minarets and mullions. About the Arab architecture, Sicily has no more a lot, because the Normans destroyed all the mosques. In each town of the island, we can find some traces of the arab domination. The arab presence brought a significant linguistic enrichment. Islamism brought progress not only to Sicily, but to Southern Europe too, to Middle East and East. All that aroused alarm in the Roman Church.



he pontifical politics entrusted the enterprise against the Arabs to the Normans who, leaded byTancredi of Altavilla, were the soldiers most dangerous for greed of prey and audacity. In 1078 Roger, the younger Tancredi's son, stormed Almoezia and the town took back the name of Tauromenium. In 1087 the Normans occupied the whole island and they had from now on the problem to cure the awful wounds caused by the war.
They were excellent in this assignment, demonstrating to be one of the most enlightened dynasties at that time. With them a new age of prosperity began for Sicily. They didn't send away the Arabs from the island having a tolerant spirit; they removed the leaders only, relegating them in the castles of Calabria, Puglia and Irpinia. They assigned the lands with the privilege of perpetual immunity to the monastic orders of Greek obedience and to the Catholic bishoprics.
They reopened the buildings for the christian cult, allowing that the bells were again hoisted on the churches. The sovereign dominion was imposeded on the waters and on the woods. The right to pasture on the State lands was recognized to the citizen. The commercial exchanges, at last, revived the island, even if the barter was still persisting. The pre-existing official language - a mixture of Greek with Arab language - changed and the common language got rich of new lexical acquisitions, syntactic and phonetic. It was then that the so-called vernacular language began to be speaked. The Norman dynasty ended in the last decades of the XII century.
After the Normans, Sicily was dominated by the Swabians. Frederic the Second (1194-1250) was one of the most enlighteneded protagonist in his time. During his kingdom, Taormina enjoyed a period of prosperity which never in other times. The Swabian dominion, however, didn't last for a lot of time, also for the ostility of the papacy.



n 1266 the french popeClement IV crowned the angevin Charles king of Sicily. Taormina, Catania, Caltanissetta, Agrigento and other cities refused the coronation and took sides with Konrad of Sweden. He was not ready to face the more expert Charles for the obvious inexperience because of his youngness. In October 29, 1268 he was defeated and cruelly beheaded in the market-place of Naples. Subsequently, the Charles's army occupied Sicily. Thus began what people defined the bad dominion of Angevins. Citizens were subjected to new taxes and even to the so-called regal collections. Civic services suffered drastic restrictions. Discomfort due to the French oppressions led, in March 31, 1282, to the rebellion which belongs to history as theSicilian Vespers. Revolt, begun in Palermo, stretched at once in a lot of Sicilian cities. Its charge for independence involved Taormina too, where the French monks were forced to escape from monasteries. Palermo, determined in sending away Angevins from Sicily, asked for intervention to the king Peter III of Aragon. He landed in Marsala and in few time conquered the whole isle. The military occupation due to Peter III determined a new breaking in the reign of the Two Sicilies: the peninsular part, leaded by Naples, remained under the Angevins dominion, while the isle passed under the Aragoneses one. In 1302, with thepeace treaty of Caltabellotta, Frederic III of Aragon was awarded the isle, but with the prohibition to take the title of king of Sicily. Dead in 1337, his son Peter II succeeded Frederic III, mentioned in the testament as universal heir and, transgressed the treaty, successor of the Sicilian reign. He died in 1342. Since that date to unification Sicily was ruled by regents. In 1348, plague, the Black Death, propagated in the isle brought by the boats which came from east. After 90 years of war between Angevins and Aragoneses, in 1372 the peace was reached: to the Aragonese family was finally recognized the title of King of Sicily. In 1395 Martin I was crowned King of Sicily. Hardly 18 years old he had married Mary of Aragon, Frederic III's daughter. He died in 1409 without legitimate heirs. The Sicilian Parliament met in Taormina, in Corvaja Palace, and nominated successor Martin the Great. He left the administration of Sicily to the daughter-in-law. The definitive submission of Sicily to Spain brought a period of stability and the isle was no more theatre for wars. But it again was oppressed with taxes.
The Thirty Years' War, broken in 1618, forced Spain to sustain huge costs and Sicily was forced to contribute with huge subsidies.



icily, taken away from Spain in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, came assigned to Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, with title and dignity of kingdom. His brief reign was characterized by the struggle with the Pope for the rights of ecclesiastical legation (privilege for the sovereign to practice the jurisdiction also in ecclesiastical subjects). In June 1714, Vittorio Amedeo II came to visit Taormina with his wife, Ann of Orleans.

During the domination of Savoy, Spain was just about to reconquer Sicily. To prevent the Spanish occupation Vittorio Amedeo II promoted an alliance among Austria, England and France.

Austria agreed to undertake but with the condition that, defeated Spain, Sicily would have passed to the dominion of the Hasburg's kingdom. To compensate the loss of Sicily, the Savoy's reign would have had Sardinia in exchange for it.
A bloody war followed, that ended, in 1718, with the defeat of the Spanish reign. Thanks to the accord among the allies, Sicily passed to the Hasburg's reign. The Austrian occupation in the island lasted around 3 years.



ith the Viennese peace treaty in 1734, Sicily came back to the spanish power, under the bourbon Charles III. It was so that the reign unity of Sicily and Naples was reconstitued (that is the Reign of the Two Sicilies). Enlightenment produced its effects in Sicily too. In this period the pest's epidemic, that struck Messina in the 1743 AD, saved Taormina, how the licences of healthiness, released to the residents, testify. Despite the absolute monarchy, they made reforms in each field. Particularly, they limited the feudality powers and made stop the clergy privileges. The Sant'Uffizio, notorious organ of the Inquisition, came suppressed. The juridical, philosophical and literary studies spread rapidly. They realized in Taormina important works, among which the Messina-Catania road and the one which from the sea leads to the city (the today's Pirandello street). In 1808, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, king of the Two Sicilies, came to visit Taormina. To remember the event, a coat of arms of the bourbon family was placed in the upper part of Messina Gate an eagle which feeds two eaglets.



he Spanish dominion of Bourbons went on up to 1860. The ideas of the Risorgimento and the feelings of liberty and national unity had set on fire for some time by now also many Sicilian minds and hearts. Quite a lot of patriots had to run away from Taormina for the bourbon repression, leaded by a certain Giuseppe Maniscalco. In the Christmas night in 1856 a lot of conspirators were arrested by the police at the Rosa Calatabiano's House. The court of Messina condemned to 18 years of prison Luigi Pellegrino, to 16 years Vincenzo Vadala', to 14 years Carmelo Barca, to 2 years the abbot Don Salvatore Cacciola and other men. We have to remember also Don Agostino da Taormina, enlightened patriot. When, in spring 1860, Garibaldi disembarked at Marsala to free Sicily, many patriots fought with him to send away forever the Bourbons. A committee leaded by the captain Luciano Crisafulli was formed at Taormina. This skilled strategist succeeded in avoiding the fight, which could have been very bloody, with the bourbon contingent in retreat leaded by the general Clary. The Garibaldians arrived in Taormina the 3rd of August 1860, leaded by Nino Bixio, who slept at the baron Giovanni Platania's house. In autumn 1860, Sicily was annexed to Piedmont and, then, to the Italian Kingdom. Taormina stopped being the centre of the Sicilian political and military circumstances.