Winter dreaming: the Greco-Roman theatre at Taormina, Sicily

January clouds…

On days that I work from home I’ll always start with a walk. Nothing special at all, just a way to get some fresh air and a little exercise before turning on the laptop. Today, leaving the house I looked at the sky and was confronted with a quintessential January day in southern England: it was 8:30 and the sun had been up for about 20 minutes or so, and what light there was had to pass through thick grey cloud. Pretty dull. As I walked, happily enough really, my mind wandered to sunny places and I thought about a trip I made to Sicily a couple of years ago, and a visit to the Greco-Roman theatre at Taormina, a town high up above the Mediterranean with views over Etna and the coast.

The ancient theatre from my lofty vantage point, Etna rising away to the right.

The first theatre here was probably built in the third century BC and rebuilt, at least in part, in the early centuries AD by the Romans. Using the site’s natural position to great effect, the seating hugs the hillside, facing south with the stage framed by the coast, the sea and Etna. It’s one of the Mediterranean’s great views and one of the best ancient monuments I’ve visited. I remember sitting quietly towards the top of the theatre seating watching people coming and going for a long while, soaking in the blue of the sea and the slopes of Etna, dominating the vista, steam rising from the top. And it was hot, the sun’s heat crackling off my skin.

The view of the theatre from the Chiesa Madonna Della Rocca reached by a long winding path above Taormina.

I also visited one evening, as part of the conference I was attending, where among the speeches and presentations, we were treated to a performance by a local mandolin orchestra who played some traditional Sicilian songs. I wasn’t expecting it but it was remarkably touching and I sat there realising that I was enjoying this place in a way people would have enjoyed it some two millennia ago. Quite something, and I considered myself very lucky to be able to experience it.

A mandolin orchestra.

So, it’s the middle of winter, the sun rarely shines – although to be fair the clouds did part a little this afternoon – and there won’t be any warmth in it for at least a couple of months but I can still enjoy my walks and dream of sunny climes.

Etna, steaming in the early morning September sunshine.

More information: Taormina is one of Sicily’s biggest tourist destinations. Much more info can be found on the town’s dedicated website which can be found here.

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