From Reggio to Taormina, and some history

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Sun 14 Sep 2008 07:51

We have had a perfect day’s sailing from Reggio to Taormina, with the wind gusting behind us at 10 -15 knots and Vasco averaging a good speed of 6 knots.  Having left the Straits of Messina  and being in a fairly empty stretch of sea, there has been time to think and read about this historic region.

We chose to stay at Milazzo and Reggio rather than Messina as we read that Messina was very industrial with not very attractive architecture, having been extensively damaged in the twentieth century by earthquakes and heavy bombing in WW2, and rebuilt in a style to withstand earthquakes rather than to attract admiration.

 Milazzo is built on the side of a narrow strip of land, 7 km long and less than 1 km wide.  Its strategic location, close to Italy and the Straits has meant that it has been the site of many well documented battles on land and sea during the last 2000 years.  The Roman fleet defeated the Carthaginians  here in 260 BC in the first Punic War and 200 years later, in 36 BC, Milazzo was again the site of a decisive naval victory when the fleet of Octavian and Agrippa defeated Pompey in the civil war which broke out after the murder of Julius Ceasar.   The Moors, usually called the Saracens in Italy, built a castle in the 10th Century, which still dominates the town.   The castle was enlarged by Frederick II, the King of Sicily in the first half of the 13th Century.  He was king because his mother was the daughter of the Norman king, Roger II, and his father, Henry VI, King of Germany, won the throne from a rival, illegitimate grandson, but died in the year of Frederick’s birth.  His mother died four years later, so as a boy he became king of Sicily and Germany, and, still a young  man, was elected to be Holy Roman Emperor as well.   He was an outstanding personality of the 13th Century.  He lived in Palermo until he was seventeen, and did not return during his life, but after he died he was buried in Palermo Cathedral .  His grand tomb, of dark red porphyry, stands alongside the tombs of his father, mother and grandfather.   When I visited the Cathedral and stood beside the tombs, I noticed that Frederick still has admirers, as flowers and wreaths had recently  been laid on his grave. 

Nearer our own time, in 1860, Garibaldi launched his campaign to reunify Italy and defeat the foreign rulers, who were Austrian in the north of Italy and Spanish in the south, in Sicily.  His last decisive victory against the Spanish Bourbon rulers of Sicily was in Milazzo.   In 1943, the 7th Army of the USA under the command of General Patton and the British 8th Army, commanded by General Montgomery successfully invaded Sicily from North Africa, and drove the German and Italian forces out of the island into Italy.   Their armies escaped the allied invasion from the ports of Milazzo and Messina.

Visiting the friendly small town of Milazzo , which is the main ferry port for the volcanic Aeolian islands to the north, you would not guess it has had such a dramatic history.