Throughout the centuries several foreign populations changed and shaped the history of Sicily: the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish, largely settled here and merged with the previous populations, creating original culture and art forms, as you can see for example in the beautiful architecture of towns like Palermo. However, in a small village as Taormina, the connection with foreign cultures manifested more with a few individuals who chose this location to stay and live here, mainly because of its specific landscape. The story of one of the most awesome places in Taormina is inextricably tied to the life of a Scottish woman, named Florence Trevelyan. This place is the public gardens, or as people from Taormina call it: “la villa”.
A SHORT DESCRIPTION AND WHERE TO FIND THE GARDENS
The public gardens are located at limit of the town center of Taormina, stretched along the hill’s edge, like a long terrace facing Mount Etna and the coast towards Giardini and Riposto. There are three different entrances, one on via Roma, and two on via Bagnoli Croci. Exploring the public gardens is a pleasant activity especially in sunny days during the spring and summer, when the many trees provide shade and fresh air. Next to the gardens there is also a very active tennis club with 3 fields. The gardens host a variety of both local and exotic plants and trees, and a few items from WWII. Many olive trees flanking the walkway at the entrance of via Roma bear plaques with the names of soldiers who died in the first and second world wars. In the center of the gardens there is a small circular pool, with a fountain in the middle, full with goldfish, and in some areas of the gardens you can find cages, which used to have animals inside: today there are a few colourful parrots in some of the largest cages. At the main entrance on via Bagnoli Croci, and close to the pool you can find some informational panels illustrating the story of this park and the plants growing here.
STORY OF THE GARDEN
As mentioned, the story of this beautiful park is linked to an interesting Scottish lady who was born in in 1852, and moved to live in Taormina about the end of the 70’s: she acquired this parcel of land, which was previously used for agricultural production, and during the following 25 years transformed it into a park, inspired by the local nature and exotic suggestions. Thanks also to her gardening experience, she was able to create a unique garden, connected to her house, which she used to call the “Hallington Siculo” after her hometown. Subsequently to her death in 1907, her husband inherited the park, and then it passed to some Florence’s relatives, until it finally became property of the municipality in 1923. The actual name of the park is “Parco Giovanni Colonna Duca di Cesarò”, since the Duke of Cesarò, Giovanni Colonna, who was the ministry of the Royal Posts and Telegraph, authorized in 1923 the expropriation of the park for public use: the grateful citizens then decided to dedicate the name of this park to his memory.
SPECIAL FEATURES OF THE GARDENS
When Florence Trevelyan transformed the fields into the park we can see today, she designed a group of building, realized with stones, wood and bricks, called “the beehives” or Victorian follies. During your visit in the park you will see many of them, with their characteristic appearance, which is an odd mix of different architectural styles, combining the Gothic, Romanesque, and Rococo style with the concept of the Oriental pagoda. These open buildings were created as a decoration to enhance the aesthetical value of the park, and were used by Florence to sit, enjoy reading and probably host special guests. Another original feature of this park is the “cromlech”, a miniature stone garden made of small menhir and dolmens, inspired by the megalithic sites, which Lady Trevelyan wanted to build as a funerary monument to commemorate her five dogs. Walking in the public gardens, also a few relics from the first and second world wars can be observed: entering the gate in via Roma, a long walkway is flanked by olive trees bearing plaques with the names of the soldiers who died during the wars. An Austro-Hungarian cannon and a copy of a torpedo used in WWII lay close to each other next to a large square where the war memorial is also located.
Telling the story of the public gardens in Taormina it is worth spending a few words about the interesting life of the founder, Florence Trevelyan, who affected Taormina in so many ways. Born in the vicinity of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1852, and orphaned at the age of two because of the suicide of her father, Florence and her mother, who was cousin of Queen Victoria, moved with the court to the Scottish countryside close to Edinburgh after the King died. During this time of her life she learned a lot about botany and animals care directly from the Queen. In 1877 she started a long travel with her cousin, which lasted about two years during which they visited many countries from India to Australia and Maghreb, and described her travels in letters she wrote to her cousin who was ministry of finances and Madras’ governor. She finally moved to Taormina when she turned 27 to never go back to the United Kingdom, as she was invited to leave the country because of an alleged affair with Edward VII, who was already married. She met her future husband, Salvatore Cacciola, who was a doctor, while looking for a veterinary for one of her dogs who was ill. A pioneer of nature conservation, after getting married to Salvatore Cacciola she bought and transformed lots of lands, among which also Isola Bella, provided dowries for poor girls in Taormina, and even financed Oscar Wilde when he was imprisoned. Her last will was to be buried in a place in Monte Venere, a mountain over Castelmola where she used to walk and spend some time, which today is known as “a francisa”, the French woman, since at that time all foreigners were generally called this way. Today in one of the small clearings of the Public Gardens, you can see a bronze bust of Lady Trevelyan, where still today you may also see some flowers, a sign that her memory is alive in the hearts of Taormina’s people.