|The name's myth
The first name of the town was
which is up to now preserved even if transformed in
Taormina, and it means built up area in Tauro,
the mountain upon which it rose.
According to the historian Diodoro,
Siculians and Greeks too gave that name to the town.
But there are a lot of legends around the origin of the
One of these tales is about a Minotauro, which is
represented in ancient coins, and by which the name
Another evokes two princes from Palestina, Taurus and
Menia, who would have founded the town, giving it the
Around Taormina there are other many legends.
Some of them have Pitagora
as protagonist, who would have spoken in the same day to
Taormina and to Metaponto, would have made Taormina
adopt the laws of Caronda,
would have placated the erotic furies of a young
taorminese playing his magic flute.
In reality, Pitagora lived a historical period in which
Tauromenium was not still founded.
|The age of
Guy de Maupassant in "La Vie
errante", 1885, wrote:
"If somebody might pass one
day only in Sicily and asked: What should I visit? I
would answer without hesitate: Taormina".
Perfumed with zagara and
became through the centuries, with its wonderful views,
with the sweetness of its climate, the rich history and
precious monuments, a tourist international centre, more
and more famousand wanted.
It would be more correct, however, to say that Taormina
was born touristic.
The Siculi had chosen it as their home city. And after
them the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Saracens, in
other words all its conquerors, inhabited Taormina for
long periods and not only because of political
The Normans, particularly, consecrated it like a tourist
residential center and it became, since then, centre for
congresses and conferences, visits and stays.
If we wanted to anchor the tourist modern history of
Taormina to an initial date, we could settle down the
date of 1870, year in which the
Siracusa-Catania-Messina railroad was completed.
Another important event was the inauguration in 1873
of the Hotel Timeo.
In 1904 the most
important hotels in Taormina, as it results in a
publication printed in New York, were
Hotel Castello a Mare,
In more than one hundred years the tourism in Taormina
have had ups and downs.
But the town is still the dream of the tourists from all
the world who love the beauties of nature and art.
In 1770 Patrick Brydone
arrived in Taormina and in 1787 the town was discovered
by J. W. Goethe
(accompanied by the draftsman Kniep) who dedicated
exalting pages to the city in his book entitled "Journey
Filippo Calandruccio in "Beehive" writes
that "the travellers went and came in number always
increasing and a lot of them represented artistically
their emotional reactions".
But it was only about the end of the 19th century that
Taormina reached the apex of the notoriety as place of
Nobles and well-off English men started to acquire more
and more villas.
Soon there came also the North
Americans, Austro-Hungarians, Baltics, Belgians, Swiss,
The most prestigious characters of the whole Europe
Taormina is famous as an international tourist centre thanks to
Otto Geleng, a young red-haired Prussian painter, best
his hometown of Berlin for his fine paintings, which he composed
and painted in Italy but exhibited in Germany.
What distinguishes Geleng, however, is his choice to depict the
more southern regions where he captured the spectacular views
and lights of Sicily. He often painted the Greek colonial ruins' areas, including
It was Geleng's views that made its beauty talked about
throughout Europe and turned the site into a famous tourist
The artist arrived in Sicily at the age of 20 in search of new
subjects for his paintings.
On his way through Taormina he was so enamoured by the landscape
that he decided to stop for the winter.
Geleng began to paint everything that Taormina offered: ruins,
sea, mountains, none of which were familiar to the rest of
When his paintings were later exhibited in Berlin and Paris,
many critics accused Geleng of having an unbridled
At that, Geleng challenged them all to go to Taormina with him,
promising that he wouid pay everyone's expenses if he was not
telling the truth.
He went back to Taormina, created the first hotel out of a noble
mansion, now called the Timeo Hotel, and that was that:
paintings reflected the reality of absolutely unique natural
In the late 19th century, another German,
Wilhelm von Gloeden,
had his photographs distributed all over the world, especially
those of nude boys adorned with crowns of laurel which made
Berlin's upper classes go into raptures.
He was claimed to be
minor German aristocrat from Mecklenburg. Suffering from what
appears to have been tuberculosis, he came to Taormina in 1876.
He was wealthy and also scrupulously shared the
proceeds of his sales with his models, providing a considerable
economic boost in this comparativily poor region of Italy, which
might explain why the homosexual aspects of his life and work
were generally tolerated by the locals.
During the early 20th century the town became a colony of
expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals.
D. H. Lawrence stayed here at the Fontana Vecchia from 1920 to 1922, and
wrote a number of his poems, novels, short
stories, and essays, and a travel book, "Sea and Sardinia".
He writes: "Here we feel as if we lived for a thousands of years.
I know that Taormina isn't waiting only for me, it waits for all
Charles Webster Leadbeater,
the theosophical author, found out that Taormina had the right
magnetics fields for Jiddu Krishnamurti to develop his talents.
In 1927 the young Icelandic writer Halldoer Laxness (born 1902)
published his first major novel, Vefarinn mikli fra Kasmir
(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, Skaldatimi
(The Time of the Poet) from 1963.
Between 1948 and 1999 the English writer
lived in the Casa Cuseni designed and built by Robert
H. Kitson in 1905, and entertained
various friends including Bertrand Russell,
Ronald Dahl, and Tennessee Williams.
Daphne Phelps, who has died aged 94, was for nearly 60 years the
dutiful custodian and hospitable locandiera of Casa Cuseni, the
villa built a century
ago by her uncle, the artist Robert H. Kitson.
The site commands spectacular views of Mount Etna and the Bay of
Naxos over the rooftops of Taormina, and has ample cisterns to
collect water for
the 13 garden terraces and fountain courts.
Daphne was also the author of A House in Sicily (1999),
published by Virago, which provides her account of notable house
guests and local people who
enjoyed her patronage.
Daphne embellished Casa Cuseni's terraces and courts with exotic
plants and fruit trees.
These flourished in the rich humus she
produced, according to the
principles of the Soil Association, of which she, encouraged by
her friend Michael Bruce, became a life member.
The gardens and house, itself a casa museo with a unique dining
room furnished and decorated by Sir Frank Brangwyn
and Sir Alfred East, have been
declared of "cultural and historic importance" by the Belle Arti
in Messina, and Daphne's heirs intend to maintain this legacy,
one of very few Sicilian
properties still in the care of its expatriate creators.
The family fortune was built around Kitsons of Leeds, locomotive
manufacturers from the 1830s. By the 1890s, Daphne's mother was
on her way up to
the stimulating company of Newnham College, Cambridge, and met
Alys and Bertrand Russell, who put her name forward to the
Fabian Society, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, for whom she undertook research for their
history of English local government.
Marriage, 3 daughters and a son, and the depressive impact of
the first world war on their father, curtailed her activities -
and profoundly affected Daphne.
St Felix School, Southwold, Suffolk, she trained in psychiatric
social work at St Anne's College, Oxford, and the London School
of Economics. Seeking further experience, she embarked for New
York in 1939. The war blocked her return until
and her hand-to-mouth existence included taking a homesick
Benjamin Britten for a drive on Long Island and enjoying the
hospitality of the Russells on Lake Tahoe, and in the
bizarre stockade of the Barnes Foundation, near Philadelphia.
Back in London, she worked in Sir Solly Zuckerman's team,
researching the effects
of the blitz, and then at the London Hospital before joining the
West Sussex child guidance service, set up by her guru from the
LSE, Dr Kate Friedlander.
The death of her uncle Robert in September 1947 redirected
He had just returned to Casa Cuseni, which had
in turn by Italian fascists, the German high command, Lieutenant
Alan Whicker's Army Film Unit, and, as a rest camp, by a
Daphne went to sort out the estate and sell up, but the sale
fell through, and by then she had a good working relationship
with her uncle's cook.
She reduced costly commitments, fended off local suitors with an
eye on her inheritance and found she could just afford to live
there if she had studio flats built on the roof terrace and took
These were attracted through an extensive network of artists,
writers, academics and other interesting people.
children and grandchildren were to follow.
The first guests included the artists
Julian Trevelyan and his future wife, Mary Fedden.
His father, Bob, probably
introduced Kitson to Taormina where a Trevelyan aunt had settled
many years before, and his cousin, Raleigh, became a regular
Gaylord Hauser took the house and reputedly entertained
The Russells came, as did the novelists Jocelyn Brooke,
Dame Janet Vaughan and other Somerville College alumni,
Alison "Monroe of Arabia" and Janet Adam Smith, and Robina Addis
of the World Federation for
Mental Health. Dennis Mack Smith of All Soul's College, Oxford,
drafted his History of Sicily at Casa Cuseni.
Bob Macrae of
Toronto University drafted his study of John Stuart Mill there.
Daphne had misgivings about some guests, such as German matrons
whose songs she associated with the Hitler Youth, and she kept
out Caitlin Thomas, widow of Dylan, with her clinking bottles.
But she always found room for the wayward Kentucky artist, Henry
Faulkner, and his menagerie, which sometimes included Tennessee
Daphne provided a heaven for the young people who came with her
nephew to support those made homeless by the Belice
valley earthquake of 1968, and the Italian archaeologists
whore vealed the ancient Greek city at Gela.
American guests included Alfred Barr
of New York's Museum of Modern Art and academics such as Bette
and John McAndrew,
the architectural historian and founding director of Save
Bette McAndrew was so impressed by Daphne's Venice in Peril
fundraising - she opened the house to tour groups and displayed
its collection of Venetian, Moroccan and Balkan costumes - that
she left Daphne the residue of her estate.
This enabled her, in the 1980s, to refenestrate the front of
Daphne did not publish her recollections of her uncle's close
friend, Don Carlo Siligato, and never wrote up her
about the princes of Biscari who lived next door for some
years, but her accounts indicate her close integration into
She was on good terms with the same Mafia boss as her uncle. And
she is remembered with affection for continuing her uncle's
support for the hostel for the aged poor, recommending
struggling restaurants and shops to her guests, and patronising
the now renowned Macri marionette theatre of Acireale.
Daphne found a soul mate in her housekeeper,
who shared her love of horticulture, cooking, children and
dogs, and was given the house at the garden gate for her family.
When aroused, Daphne was formidable, and had no difficulty
gathering a petition against the demeaning appendage of her
uncle's name to an unkempt cul-de-sac.
The Taormina Comune
transferred it to a prominent highway.
When Daphne had to give up travelling to England, she asked
Concetta to implement her donation of her uncle's sketchbooks
and a selection of his watercolours to Leeds University, for
which Kitson had commissioned Brangwyn to design the ceremonial
verge on its foundation in 1905.
The success of A House in Sicily paid for repairs and air
conditioning in her own apartment during what she termed her
Many are glad to celebrate Daphne's
indomitable vitality and her legacy to future generations.
so many artists and lettered, we remember
Dumas, Gabriel Faure,
Among musicians and conductors we remember
Bernstein, Nikita Magaloff,
Among the men of cinema, theater and performance we remember
Francis Ford Coppola,
Among the men of State, magnates of finance and ruling families
King Juan II of Bourbon, Urho Kekkonen,
Grand Duke Paul of Russia,
Humbert I of Italy.
Pietro Rizzo writes in his "Tauromenium" book: "From
the Tauro Mount, from the Theater, from the Vergin Mary of the
Fortress Church and from
the Castle, the sight flows freely from the mountains to the sea
and to the coast horizon of the south toward Catania, through
the slopes to the smoking crater of the immense and imposing
Etna. Northward we could admire the lines of the coast, always
beautiful and picturesque, which runs toward Messina. From those
different places perspectives open out before our eyes and
marvelous landscapes of light and color, fluffy distances
and verdant hills, foreshortenings and rural profiles and steep
and leaning cliffs, green balconies crowned of white cottages
and sea beaches on
which the shades of the beach houses are inverted reflected in
the water under a clear and dazzling brightness..."
Filippo Calandruccio writes in Beehive: "as
reading The Thousand and One Nights one feels himself like
Bulukiya, the young sultan who goes around
the roads of the world to meet Mohammed and to placate his
anxiety of search which will be placated by an island seldom
similar to the heaven of the Islam. Now this Taormina, glad
island, is reality and it is fable."
Johannes Wolfang Goethe writes:
"View extends for the long hilly ridge of the Etna, for the
beach to Catania, and farther as far as Siracusa.
The colossal smoking volcano closes the endless view, without
rawness, because the atmospheric vapours make it appear farther
If then we look at the passages built behind the anlookers, here
on the left there are walls of rock, and between these and the
sea there is the road which winds toward Messina, and groups and hoards of rocks, the
coast of Calabria in the last background, which you could
perceive only carefully watching through the clouds that sweetly rise.
Seeing how this country, in all its interesting details, sunk
into an abyss, has been a scene of inexpressible beauty."
"...We went into raptures at the sight of Taormina.
On our left, closing the horizon, Etna rose, that sky column, as
Pindaro called it, which with its violet mass was silhouetted
against the reddish sky
because all crossed by the borning rays of the sun.
In a second plan, two tawny montains which one could have said
covered with a boundless skin of lion.
After having appreciated a so great view, magnificent and
bright, -so that Jadin, impressed, didn't want to make either a
sketch, -we turned the bow
towards the east."
Guy de Maupassant writes:
"If somebody might pass one day only in Sicily and asked: "What
should I visit?" I would answer without hesitate: "Taormina".
It is only a landscape, but a landscape in which you can find
all that seems to be created on earth to seduce the eyes, mind
Where are the peoples who could make, today, things like these?
Where are the men able in building, for the crowd pleasure,
works like these?
Those men, the ones of a time, had soul and eyes different from
the ours; in their veins, with blood, flowed something lost:
love and cult for Beauty."
Edmondo De Amicis writes:
"...What you see is a view that Naples, Constantinople and Rio
de Janeiro haven't so great. Down, you see the little smiling
town, which extends as
an arc among almond and orange trees, cactuses, pines; on the
back of the town, an half-circle of mountains which rush at sky
its rocky vertexes crowned with castles and villages; further on
there is the huge Etna, with its white head coloured with pink,
overhanging the Jonio Sea, and it seems
that it advances to dip there its flank; on the right and on the
left you see almost the whole eastern coast of Sicily...and this
huge view of breasts, promontories, woods, villages, gardens
smiles upon the sea beauty and under the sky beauty of which the
human word couldn't give idea.
I don't believe in hell, but in paradise, because I've seen it
....and it's this one."
Truman Capote writes:
"...Sicilian spring begins in January, and it gathers in a
bouquet worthy for a queen, in the garden of a magician where
all is in bloom.
April, writes Eliot, is the cruellest month: but not here.
Here it's bright, as the snow on the Etna...
I noticed with surprise, sat on that wall, an old man with
velvet pants, winded in a black mantle...It was an astonishing
theatrical apparition and
nothing more; only after having watched with more attention I
noticed he was Andre Gide..."