3.10.16

Taormina, Italy

Ancient Greek Theatre at Tauromenion - Taormina - Sicily - Magna Grecia - 3rd Century B.C.
Volcano Eruption of ''Etna'' at the background

Taormina (Sicilian: Taurmina, Greek: Ταυρομένιον Tauromenion, Latin: Tauromenium, Arabic: طبرمين‎‎ Ṭabarmīn) is a small city and comune in the Metropolitan City of Messina on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Italy, midway between Messina and Catania. Taormina has been a tourist destination since the 19th century. Its beaches, the most famous being 'Isola Bella' are accessible via an aerial tramway built in 1992 on the Ionian sea and via highways from Messina in the north and Catania in the south.



History
The area around Taormina was inhabited by the Siculi even before the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast in 734 BC to found a town called Naxos. The theory that Tauromenion was founded by colonists from Naxos is confirmed by Strabo and other ancient writers.

The new settlement seems to have risen rapidly to prosperity, and was apparently already a considerable town at the time of Timoleon's expedition in 345 BC. It was the first place in Sicily where that leader landed, having eluded the vigilance of the Carthaginians, who were guarding the Straits of Messina, and crossed direct from Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) to Tauromenium.The city was at that time still under the government of Andromachus, whose mild and equitable administration is said to have presented a strong contrast with that of the despots and tyrants of the other Sicilian cities. He welcomed Timoleon with open arms, and afforded him a secure resting place until he was enabled to carry out his plans in other parts of Sicily. Andromachus was not deprived of his position of power when all the other tyrants were expelled by Timoleon, but was permitted to retain it undisturbed till his death. Little is recorded about Tauromenium for some time after this. It is probable that it passed under the authority of Agathocles, who drove the historian Timaeus into exile; and some time after this it was subject to a domestic despot of the name of Tyndarion, who was contemporary with Hicetas of Syracuse and Phintias of Agrigentum. Tyndarion was one of those who concurred in inviting Pyrrhus into Sicily (278 BC), and when that monarch landed with his army at Tauromenium, joined him with all his forces, and supported him in his march upon Syracuse. A few years later we find that Tauromenium had fallen into the power of Hieron of Syracuse, and was employed by him as a stronghold in the war against the Mamertines. (Id. p. 497.) It was also one of the cities which was left under his dominion by the treaty concluded with him by the Romans in 263 BC.

There is no doubt that Tauromenium continued to form a part of the kingdom of Syracuse until the death of Hieron, and that it only passed under the government of Rome when the whole island of Sicily was reduced to a Roman province; but we have scarcely any account of the part it took during the Second Punic War, though it would appear, from a hint in Appian, that it submitted to Marcellus on favorable terms; and it is probable that it was on that occasion it obtained the peculiarly favored position it enjoyed under the Roman dominion. For we learn from Cicero that Tauromenium was one of the three cities in Sicily which enjoyed the privileges of a civitas foederata or allied city, thus retaining a nominal independence, and was not even subject, like Messina, to the obligation of furnishing ships of war when called upon.The city, however, suffered severe calamities during the Servile War in Sicily (134–132 BC), having fallen into the hands of the insurgent slaves, who, on account of the great strength of its position, made it one of their chief posts, and were able for a long time to defy the arms of the consul Publius Rupilius. They held out until they were reduced to the most fearful extremities by famine, when the citadel was at length betrayed into the hands of the consul by one of their leaders named Sarapion, and the whole of the survivors put to the sword.



Tauromenium again played a conspicuous part during the wars of Sextus Pompeius in Sicily, and, from its strength as a fortress, was one of the principal points of the position which he took up in 36 BC, for defence against Octavian. It became the scene also of a sea-fight between a part of the fleet of Octavian, commanded by the triumvir in person, and that of Pompeius, which terminated in the defeat and almost total destruction of the former. In the settlement of Sicily after the defeat of Pompeius, Tauromenium was one of the places selected by Augustus to receive a Roman colony, probably as a measure of precaution, on account of the strength of its situation, as we are told that he expelled the former inhabitants to make room for his new colonists. Strabo speaks of it as one of the cities on the east coast of Sicily that was still subsisting in his time, though inferior in population both to Messana and Catana. Both Pliny and Ptolemy assign it the rank of a colonia, and it seems to have been one of the few cities of Sicily that continued under the Roman Empire to be a place of some consideration. Its territory was noted for the excellence of its wine, and produced also a kind of marble which seems to have been highly valued. Juvenal also speaks of the sea off its rocky coast as producing the choicest mullets. The Itineraries place Tauromenium 32 miles from Messina, and the same distance from Catania. (Itin. Ant. p. 90; Tab. Peut.)

Description
Tauromenion survived Antiquity with the same name and in the same site.

The fact that the modern town of Taormina was built directly over it meant, however, that a large part of the ancient urban fabric was destroyed and contributed much to its very particular identity.

The ancient city occupied the lower slopes of Monte Tauro towards the bay of Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily.

After the destruction of Naxos in 403 BC, Tauromenion replaced it in the 4th century BC. Reports of its dual foundation clearly highlight its direct descent from the earlier Greek colony.

This is also confirmed by the city’s coins characterized by the image of Apollo Archegetes. In 358 BC Andromachos, father of the historian Timaeus, gathered the survivors of Naxos and their descendents (Diod. XVI 6,7) and founded the new city, de facto Hellenizing the town that had previously been founded (in 396 BC) by the Sikels with Carthaginian assistence (Diod. XIV 59,2).

Finds in the agora area would seem to confirm the existence of a Greek settlement as early as the 6th century BC.

The Sikels had inhabited the heights of Monte Tauro (Diod. XIV 88,1). The tombs of the Cocolonazzo burial site point out early relations between native Sikels and Greek colonists, through grave goods comprising indigenous impasto pots and Late-Geometric Euboean vases.

After the foundation of Tauromenion in 358 BC, Andromachos supported the expedition of Timoleon. Under Agathocles the city lost its importance, subjected by Syracuse: in 312 BC the Syracusan tyrant exiled Timaeus. In the early 3rd century BC it regained its independence with the tyrant Tyndarion, who in 278 BC helped Pyrrhus to gain control of Syracuse (Diod. XXII 2,1; 7,4; 8,3).

This independence, however, was short-lived: in 270 BC, during the war between Syracuse and the Mamertines, Tauromenion was among the towns under Syracusan rule (Diod. XXII 13,2), as it also was in the treaty between Hieron II and the Romans in 263 BC. With the Romans the city forged and maintained good relations.

It thus succeeded in avoiding occupation by a Roman garrison during the Second Punic War and in participating in the war with its own troops. Fidelity to Rome ensured its status as an ally of the Roman people; as such it enjoyed the privileges of an allied city and was exempted from the more onerous contributions (Cicero, Verr. II, 4,50). In the first Servile War, however, it was one of the main strongholds of the rebel slaves, and only with difficulty was it re-conquered by the consul Publius Rupilius in 132 BC. Having become a Latin municipium under Caesar, it sided with Sextus Pompeius in his war against Octavian (Appian, Bellum civile, V. 449-65).

The price paid by Tauromenion for this alliance was steep: the brutal expulsion of its inhabitants and the foundation of a Roman colony by Augustus, probably in 21 BC (Diod. XVI 7,1).

We know little about its subsequent history: the city continued to enjoy some prosperity, in part due to the production of the wines for which it was famous in Antiquity (Pliny, Nat. Hist.,XVI, 26 and 66) and to the export of marble and timber, as already documented in the late Hellenistic period by inscriptions with financial accounts. The remains of public and private buildings testify to strong development and a considerable level of prosperity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.



After the conquest of Syracuse by the Arabs, Taormina was considered the capital of Byzantine Sicily: not until 902 would it fall after prolonged resistance.

Site Monuments 
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 250 metres (820 ft) above the sea, while a very steep and almost isolated rock, crowned by a Saracen castle, rises about 150 metres (490 ft) 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 purpose of which it is difficult to determine

Ancient Greek theatre

But by far the most remarkable monument remaining at Taormina is the Ancient theatre, which is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, on account both of its remarkable preservation and its beautiful location. 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 (358 ft) (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.

The Duomo dates from the 13th century



Others
Palazzo Corvaja (10th century)
Baroque fountain (1635)
Church of San Domenico
Anglican Church of Saint George
Public Garden, Giardini della Villa Comunale

The Ancient Pinakes from Tauromenion

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