One of the most famous films in cinema history, “The Godfather” was filmed in the pretty village of Savoca, just 20 minutes north of Taormina. Today you can retrace the places and spaces that were the open air theatre for this mammoth production, such as Bar Vitelli, one of the favorite eateries of the director Francis Ford Coppola, and churches like St. Lucia, in which the wedding scenes of Apollonia and Michael Corleone were filmed. Suggestive takes were also filmed at the beautiful and impressive church of St. Nicola, on a cliff overlooking the entire valley, whose structure is fully embattled, making it quite similar to a castle.
Savoca has also lent its image more recently: it was selected as the set of a TV drama produced by RAI, “Stolen Life”, and again Bar Vitelli was the chosen location for a TV commercial for Birra Moretti, directed by Rocco Papaleo with the participation of Orso Maria Guerrini. But the visit to Savoca is not only limited to a nostalgic tour of film sets. Getting to know this village, strolling along the narrow cobblestone streets, becomes an opportunity for an interesting journey through the culture and traditions that allow you to discover the authenticity of a typical community.
Not to be missed either is a visit to the catacombs of the Capuchin Convent, where even today the mummies of nobles and local clergy are kept. The Convent of the Capuchin Friars Minor of Savoca, dating from the 17th century, preserves inside the crypt below the adjacent church, the mummified bodies of prelates and well-known people of Savoca and its hamlets.
Another curious tradition is the one that takes place on the occasion of the Martyrdom of Saint Lucia, during which the main character is dressed as “u Diavulazzu”, a character wearing an ancient and scary wood mask. According to the legend, this mask was carved by a shepherd from Savoca towards the 16th century. The devil himself appeared to the shepherd, saying, “veru eti ca iò sugnu lariu, ma tu troppu lariu mi facisti!” (Translation: It’s true I’m ugly, but you’re so ugly you have recreated me!). The poor shepherd, was literally frightened to death.
Even the centre of Forza d’Agrò has no reason to be envious of Taormina. Nestled in the rock it offers visitors breathtaking landscaped views. Its conformation seems to be explained by an ancient legend. It is reported that a terrible mountain landslide above the village buried it, forcing its inhabitants to move to a safer area called Magghia, just below the walls of the castle and that it is in this place that the people begin to have more space. In addition to Magghia, the quaint village of Quartarello was built around the castle. It is due to the presence of this fortress that these lands assumed the name of Forza d’Agrò, and the town curled around it began to take shape.
Forza d’Agrò, like Savoca, has lent its own stage immortalised in the famous film “The Godfather”. It is famous for the scenes in which Michael Corleone and Apollonia receive the blessing on the parvis of the church after the celebration of the wedding ceremony. The wedding procession then moves along the panoramic city street, overlooking the Ionian coast. Recently, the film celebrated its 45th anniversary at the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival directed by Robert De Niro. The cast was almost complete, except for Francis Ford Coppola.
It is this dimension and form which has inspired authors such as Stefano Bottari who described the city centre as follows: “The topographic shape of the ancient inhabited hillside around the castle’s austere belt as if it looks for protection between the deep ravines between the marina and the mountain “. And also “You walk through the warm and sunny alleys, and the soft grace of the arches, the quiet architraved structures, the Baroque and eighteenth-century compositions, always contained in sober and elegant lines, the characteristic gates of the ancient shops seem to grow lurking in that colourful silence, the palpitations and the vibrations of the ancient forts.”
These lines express the sense, the emotions that the village of Forza D’Agrò conveys to its visitors. In addition to an almost intact old town where you can admire the ancient buildings perched at the foot of the Norman castle of 1100, Forza D’Agrò is characterised by the presence of its houses all having at least one window overlooking the sea. Also of remarkable beauty and grandeur is the Norman Castle, built on the most strategic part of the valley, Magghia, aimed to defend the territory of Agro and the connecting road which from Messina stretches along a mountain route to the western part of the island. Buildings, mighty and ancient, break the continuity of small houses that weave the urban fabric.
Giardini Naxos is a village located under the city of Taormina, whose ancient origins can be found in the Archaeological Park – one of many interesting sites to see, which covers around forty hectares between Cape Taormina and Cape Schisò. Inside it, archaic sacred buildings surround simple constructions for residential purposes, and furnaces in which clay was baked. Churches such as the 18th century Santa Maria della Raccomandata also merit interest, where you can view various works of art, and the Churches of San Pantaleone and San Giovanni which are located at the homonymous beach. Also not to be missed is Schisò Castle, a military fortification built in the Middle Ages.
Of particular interest is the Greek iron statue, the “Nike” of Carmelo Mendola in the Recanati neighborhood, built to commemorate the twinning of Giardini Naxos and Halkida Evia, while in the streets of the south district you can still see the remains of the Roman consular road Valeria and the statues of Teocles and Silenus, the gateway of Naxos and the Olympic Temple. Also worth visiting is the Apollo Archegeta Park where you can admire the ruins of an ancient greek sanctuary. Another highlight is the Museum of Natural History, which exhibits mineralogical, palaeontological and malacological collections and the Alcantara River Park.
The beautiful seafront, which is made up of sandy and pebbly beaches, all linked by the beauty of the clear seabed, is ideal for those who love diving. Among the most beautiful beaches of Giardini, we find Recanati, Schisò, and San Giovanni, a small cove, surmounted by the homonymous Church and the Old Town.