When I told the owner of the bed and breakfast where I was staying in Taormina that I planned to walk up to the Madonna della Rocca during the height of summer, he laughed and brushed off my idea. How difficult could it be? I thought. After all, Google Maps said it takes only 15 minutes to reach the church from Corso Umberto (it’s really only 800 metres to get there after all!?). He shook his head from side to side as I packed a small water bottle, sun cream and my hat. Later, as I was about to step outside, a plastic bag containing a two liter icy water bottle and two pieces of warm fruit wrapped in tin foil were pushed through the door, “You’ll need this!” he said. “And good luck!” And so my walking adventure from Taormina to Castello di Taormina (the site of the Madonna della Rocca) began.
The path to Castello di Taormina isn’t too difficult to find. You basically just walk up the Salita Castello (which you can access from Via Circonvallazione) – Salita means ‘climb’ in Italian. If you get to Via Circonvallazione and you’re already tired (it’s higher up than the Corso Umberto which is pretty much in the centre of town) – give up now. You’ll probably never get to the top unless you’re hoisted there by crane (a bus may be a better, albeit more cramped, option for you).
Despite Google Maps’ ambitious 15 minutes proposition, the walk to the top is no joke. I consider myself to be slightly fitter than most but even I struggled and had to stop numerous times (to observe the beautiful view and take plenty of photos…excuses, excuses). Luckily, there is an actual staircase right to the top but a good pair of running shoes is still a must. Anything other than this and you’ll contemplate rolling back down the hill to the starting point.
Along the route to the Madonna della Rocca there are Biblical sculptures depicting the crucifixion in its different stages. The construction of the cross, the mounting of Jesus to the cross etc. etc. By the time you reach the summit Jesus has been crucified and his body has in fact disappeared from the sculptures, leaving only the cross. By this point, when the final stages of the crucifixion have played out, the church becomes a sanctuary for your weary, heavy legs and you may completely ignore or forget the gorgeous view all around. Why anyone would build a church way up there in the 12th century, I honestly don’t know.
From the outside, the Madonna Della Rocca doesn’t really look like a church but more like a humble-looking building attached to the rock face. But as you open the doors and walk inside its easy to see why this is such an incredible, special place for many.
The inside is magnificent – a glorious melange of nature and spirituality in a single, small space. I was instantly astounded, removed my hat and sat quietly and respectfully on the pew in awe. All alone, with absolutely no tourists or anyone around. It was heaven.
After I relaxed and enjoyed the Madonna della Rocca’s beauty (and my warm fruit and by now, warm water – ideal for tea, I must add), I headed for an even more ambitious hike – Castelmola and the infamous Bar Turrisi which I’ve written about before (take a look, especially if you want a good laugh – this is no ordinary bar!).