Half way up the mountain path one comes upon this tiny gate called Porta del Saraceno which is dated to around 950AD. The little window narrows on the outside – for protection I guess. But it stands alone … Castelmola is far above. The path continues around the steep and desolate hillside with occasional prickly pear and olive trees.
During my hot sticky climb (where is my water bottle when I need it?!) I pass abandoned farmers’ huts; they are literally in ruins which is hardly surprising since the only access is on foot and I have already been walking steadily uphill for at least 15 minutes and land drops off all around me. No way could they bring a road in here! and yet suddenly here is a restored church dedicated to San Biagio (St Blaze) standing against the rock. It is the oldest in the village.
I enter the mountain village of Castelmola. I am entirely alone – it is siesta time but mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun! It is as I have never seen it before. I am alone and enjoying the sense of discovery. I feel tempted to consider how I might restore one of the ancient houses on “Saracen Street”!
Here a fig tree has used the mortar in the walls of an old house to grow and be the substitute roof !
On the opposite side of the square stands the exquisitely maintained church of San Giorgio.
Inside the church there are many interesting statues but the main alter is dedicated to Saint George and the dragon. I thought this saint had been demoted in recent times! Well, whatever the case he is still venerated here in Castelmola – dragon and all!
The end of the street was a dead end into the rock wall ! But the locals have built an iron staircase which leads to the top of their world – the piazza with one of the most gorgeous views of Taormina and Naxos bay.
I sat down in the piazza and cooled off with a nice cold glass of beer and watched the village gradually return to life as people emerged to open the shops and the local bus brought up tourists to browse around and enjoy the late afternoon sun.
What luck – I am staying here for 2 nights in a lovely hotel with a to die for view of Mount Etna!!