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Though it overlooks Taormina, one of Sicily's most popular attractions, the nearby town of Castelmola is rarely visited by non-Sicilians. Yet, the spectacular views from this fascinating spot make those from Taormina seem almost mundane by comparison. This includes Mount Etna, of course, but on a clear day you can see beyond the Etna region to Siracusa and Augusta farther down the Ionian coast, beyond Catania. More than an outgrowth of Taormina, Castelmola is a locality in its own right.
The human presence here is an ancient one, dating at least from the Bronze Age. It was the Greeks who began complete colonization, linked to their establishment of Taormina. That's when the first fortresses were constructed. Little remains of these, or of the subsequent Arab and Norman fortifications, though some walls have been rebuilt. The sanctuary of the Madonna della Rocca, locally famous for its annual procession descending down steps to Taormina, offers some fantastic views. A small town eventually grew here, but rather few people live here year-round. Castelmola is better known for its restaurants, bars and pizzerias. The Turrisi Bar, with its bizarre phallic theme (in sculpture, paintings and other art) remains the most eccentric attraction. The local specialty is almond flavored wine. The piazzas and winding streets are charming.
Unless you're arriving by helicopter, there are two ways of getting up to Castelmola. By car, simply follow the winding Castelmola road; during the day there's also a bus to Castelmola. On foot, take the steps which ascend to the sanctuary (or convent) of the Madonna della Rocca. This can be reached from the streets behind and above the Church of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe) off one of Taormina's main squares. This presumes that you're in good health. (If it's hot, bring some water with you.)
Up on Mount Tauro, there are actually several parts of Castelmola beyond the main town and the few remaining piece of the "primary" castle. The area of the sanctuary is one of these, near the newer "secondary" castle (built upon the foundations of an ancient Greek acropolis), which is visible from Taormina. This conventual church is usually closed. In the town itself the main church, Saint George, is a newer structure built upon medieval Byzantine foundations. The local feasts are Saint George's Day (23rd April), sometimes celebrated April 22nd, and the Summer festival on August 28th.
About the Author: Architect Carlo Trabia has written for various magazines and professional journals, as well as this online magazine.