Today I am very excited to share photos of my mother’s family’s home town, Giardini-Naxos! In 2012 I was lucky enough to go and visit with my family for two weeks. Not only did we explore the seaside, but we also got to see nearby Taormina and Messina. This town is literally marked by my family’s history. And with the many cousins who still live there, it will always feel like it is a part of me too.
Giardini-Naxos has a fraught history filled with war and changing occupation by different races. Giardini-Naxos’ history first begins in 735 BC when a group of settlers landed at Cape Schisò and founded the first Greek colony in Sicily. They named is Naxos after an island in the Aegean Sea. But this Naxos was destroyed in 403 BC by Dionysius I, the tyrant of Syracuse, and its citizens were sold as slaves. The remaining population withdrew to a hill called ‘Taurus’ where the town of Tauromenium (today Taormina) was founded. A few ruins remain of original Naxos including antique basalt walls along the Santa Venera river, and some tombs dating from the fourth century BC.
For 2000 years Naxos remained quiet, with occasional use as a station for changing horses or for growing citrus fruits and sugar cane. In the 15th century the bay was reinforced with towers added to the ancient medieval castle. Naxos slowly increased in importance and in the mid 19th century it became independent from Taormina under the name of Giardini. (The word Giardini is from ‘gardens’ after the citrus groves in the region). Later it would combine its original name of Naxos with its new name to become Giardini-Naxos.
My earliest ancestors to arrive in Giardini are the Sterrantino’s, Cundari’s and Nucifora’s. They all descended to Giardini from Taormina, a picturesque village that I will leave for another day. My Sulfaro ancestors, Paolo and Giuseppe were fisherman. They would go out late at night in this very town to get fish for the next day to sell at the markets. Ignazio Stagno, also was a fisherman when he moved to Giardini.
Earlier I said that this town is literally marked with my family’s history. Well, in one of the local church’s, Parrocchia di Maria S.S. Della Raccomandata, there is a plaque with my great-grandfather Paolo’s name on it. He was killed in the first world war. His life is one of the most interesting of all my ancestors, and I will leave it for another day, but this is a blogpost about Giardini and I want to share this photo with you now. It also happens to be the church where my grandparents Giuseppe Sulfaro and Maria Stagno were married.
Below is a picture inside the church for anybody who was curious.
The best way to get to know a place is to see it. I have included photos of some historical monuments, and the spectacular views from the boardwalk that takes you around the beach and to the right side of Giardini where all of the restaurants overlook the Ionian Sea. When it was a very clear day you could see the coastline of Reggio Calabria, on mainland Italy. I would be remiss if I did not mention the beautiful restaurant, La Lanterna that my mother’s aunts and uncles started in 1962. It is still a functioning restaurant today where they serve the best fish, pasta and pizza dishes. Be sure to read the captions to get a better understanding of Giardini-Naxos!
A Greek replica to commemorate Giardini-Naxos’ history.
This beautiful majolica statue of a mermaid surrounded by an artistic fountain, was placed on the promenade of Giardini-Naxos in 1962. It was created by the ceramist Giuseppe Cuscona and it is about 4 metres high. When we visited its arm had been snapped off. I believe they have fixed it now.
Above you can see Nike, the work of sculptor Carmelo Mendola , was erected on November 27, 1965 to to commemorate the bond between Giardini Naxos and Halkida Evia, the island of Naxos where many came from when Giardini-Naxos was first founded. The statue was placed at the tip of Cape Schisò with an eye towards the sea that had led to these shores the ships of colonists from Greece. It also happens to be right in front of my family’s restaurant!
The street in which we stayed during our Giardini-Naxos visit. All the houses in Giardini-Naxos, and most of those in Italy, are double or even triple story, with families often living only in one level and other family members living in another. There isn’t much space left for building new homes. These small apartments seem to be enough room for the Italians, however, who would rather be spending time outside. Especially in summer with the beach so nearby. We were literally only a block away from the beach.
La Lanterna, the restaurant my mother’s aunts and uncles built in Giardini Naxos in 1962 and have owned and passed down to their children. It is still running today. They cook the best fish and pasta dishes I have ever tasted! We would walk from the place we were staying to this restaurant. It was only a five minute walk and the humidity was so strong that summer that it never got cold at all.
A delicious tortollini dish created by our relatives who own the restaurant, La Lanterna. Their specialty was fish, but my brothers and I always ordered pizza or pasta. They even made a special pizza that I guess they like to make for the tourists: fries on pizza.
While we are on the topic of food, there is a mouth-watering cafe called Lido Di Naxos that is right on the beach. They serve the most amazing sweets you can get. Here is me with one of their cannolis:
Just in case you can’t get enough, here’s some more photos of the picturesque view. In the above photo you can see the town of Taormina in the top right, and on the hilltop in the top left is Castelmola. We were lucky enough to visit both places via bus. More pics on those trips in another blogpost.
In our second week in Giardini two very large cruise ships docked in the bay. You can see them in the background of the photo above. They dropped off a lot of tourists but they spent most of their time in Giardini, which was nice, because I think we were very sick of tourists after a 10 day tour of Italy’s most famous tourist locations.
This little place on the beach had the best granita! A very refreshing beverage/dessert for those sweltering hot days. Lemon, orange and even chocolate flavoured, it resembles gelati but is in a more liquid form.
It was a very frequent sight to see Mt Etna smoking in the distance. Often the smoke would cover Giardini like a fog and it was difficult to see Taormina, let alone the coast of mainland Italy. Seeing a live volcano smoking is kind of unnerving for an Aussie who has only ever seen dead volcanoes, but the locals and our relatives weren’t concerned so we eventually forgot about it and took photos like eager tourists instead.
Finally, the nightly view of Taormina and Castelmola’s lights in the distance. If you are interested in seeing any more photos, all of my Giardini-Naxos photos can be found on Flickr.