Greek & Roman Sites in Sicily

6. Tauromenium


The first Greek colony in Sicily was Naxos on the northeast coast of the island. It was established by colonists from Chalcis in 735 or 734 BC. At that time, the eastern part of Sicily had been inhabited by the indigenous Sicels for a long time. This includes the eastern slope of Mount Taurus some kilometers inland from Naxos, where today’s town of Taormina is located.

It is not known when exactly the city of Tauromenion was founded. It must have taken place at the turn of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, after the Sicilian Expedition of Athens, in which the latter was decisively defeated by Syracuse. Since Naxos was an ally of Athens, Dionysius I of Syracuse, in revenge, attacked it right after, destroyed it, and gave its territory to the neighbouring Sicels. This event created a number of refugees from Naxos, who soon moved all around Sicily. In 358 BC they were invited to settle down in Tauromenion by Andromachus, the ruler of the Sicel city. Tauromenion soon became a Greek city, a kind of successor of the ancient Naxos, and it rapidly rose to prosperity.

The subsequent decades in the history of Tauromenion seem to be intertwined with Syracuse. It was together with Syracuse that it fell to the Romans in around 210 BC. In Roman Republic it was a relatively important city, even though in its last years less populated than the nearby Catana (Catania) and Messana (Messina). It is from the Roman period that its oldest structures survive.


6.1. Theatre

Original – 3rd century BC; reconstruction – 1st century BC or 1st century AD; extension – first half of 2nd century AD; modification – beginning of 3rd century AD

The plan of the theatre of Taormina shows that it was originally built in the Greek period. The initial structure was most probably linked to a small sanctuary, traces of which have been found above the upper part of the cavea. The theatre was reconstructed during the late Republic or the early Empire, possibly under Augustus. The current structure is, to a large extent, the result of an extension that was carried out in the first half of the 2nd century AD.


The cavea of the theatre has a diameter of 120 m and is divided into nine sectors. Its upper part is surrounded by a double gallery, with arches resting on simple pillars on the outside and on marble columns on the inside. The scaenae frons and its appendages are relatively well preserved. The scaenae frons consisted of two series of columns of the Corinthian order.



At the beginning of the 3rd century the theatre was adapted to host the venationes, or animal hunts on stage. The orchesta was turned into an arena, with the lower tiers of the cavea being replaced by a vaulted corridor. From that period is also the pit in the centre of the arena, from where stage machines created special effects for the fights. The portico behind the scaenae frons is also from that time.


6.2. Naumachia

Wall – 2nd century BC; front – 2nd century AD

The forum of Tauromenium (today’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II) stood at the junction of the cardo maximus (today’s Corso Umberto) and the decumanus maximus (today’s Via Teatro Greco). Parallel to to the former street runs a wall that is 122 m long and 5 m high. It is commonly called Naumachia, because it borders, together with another wall, a space which was thought to be used for staging water battles (naumachiae) in Roman times. In reality, it was just a terracing wall, built in the 2nd century BC, to contain and reinforce a huge cistern. Its frontal part was embellished with large arched and smaller rectangular niches in the 2nd century AD. The area in front of it may have been used as a gymnasium.



6.3. Pavement Mosaic on Salita del Carmine

2nd century BC

The polychrome pavement mosaic on Salita del Carmine features a diamond within a large square. In the middle of the diamond is a flower with fix petals. In each of the triangular corners is a darting dolphin. The mosaic is from the peristyle courtyard of a private house. Similar mosaics can be found in Athens, Delos and Eretria.

Another notable Roman structure is the Odeon of Tauromenium.