Pottery Painting Lessons and a Hike up the Flanks of Mount Etna

On a gorgeous morning following a good sleep after last night’s cooking lesson I woke up at about 6 am and stepped out on the balcony of my hotel room. The sun was just coming up, and the sky was filled with shades of purple and pink. Far away I could see the outline of a strip of land: the Italian mainland, more precisely the Region of Calabria, was visible on this clear day for the first time. The aerial distance between Taormina and the southern tip of Italy is about 40 kilometres, and this sunrise view across the Ionian Sea was simply gorgeous.

Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina

I decided to get up early and take a stroll through beautiful Taormina, before the hustle and bustle of the day would kick in. My hotel, Hotel Villa Nettuno, is located on the north side of town on Via Pirandello, outside of the city’s gates. I really enjoyed the location since it was quieter and yet just steps away from the amazingly busy Corso Humberto, Taormina’s main street in a pedestrian area.

Lookout point towards Mount Etna

Having strolled through the northeastern Porta di Messina I reached a still quiet piazza in front of the Palazzo Corvaja, seat of the first Sicilian Parliament and today the location of Taormina’s tourist office. A few of the locals were already up, taxi drivers were getting ready for their first fares, while the pedestrian street of Corso Humberto was still almost completely devoid of people. I reached Taormina’s main square: Piazza IX Aprile which features a large panoramic terrace facing the Mediterranean and Mount Etna. Two churches, San Giorgio and San Giuseppe, adorn this square, and the famous Torre dell’ Orologio (“clock tower”), featuring the Porta di Mezzo gate, and the famous Wünderbar Café anchor this public space on its western side. I could even see most of the volcano today on this relatively clear day. There are not many views that compare with the beautiful vista that spread out in front of me from this lookout point.

Torre dell’Orologio and the Wünderbar

My walk on the Corso Umberto continued to the western edge of town where I passed through the Porta di Catania, the western city gate featuring the coat of arms of the Municipality of Taormina. From there I walked to a small park which features another beautiful lookout point that faces straight towards Mount Etna. After absorbing this gorgeous picture and trying to burn it permanently into my retina I started to make my way back, this time along the Via Roma, the picturesque road on the southern edge of town high above the coastline of the Ionian Sea. No wonder Taormina is such a popular tourist destination, the physical beauty of this town and the surrounding area is stunning.

Byzantine mosaic in the Torre del Mezzo

Well, after this hour long walk I definitely deserved my breakfast and reviewed a bit of Italian grammar on the gorgeous terrace of the Hotel Villa Nettuno before I made my way to the Babilonia Language School. Punctually at 9:30 our lesson started and our grammar teacher Carlo familiarized us with the “preposizioni semplici” – the contracted Italian prepositions that are formed from a combination of the actual preposition together with the article. Prepositions are always complicated topics in any language, and Carlo patiently and succinctly explained to us the usage of “in” or “per” to express time in different contexts. We continued with a variety of games to help us remember the use of Italian prepositions, a fun and effective way to learn and retain complicated linguistic concepts.

The famous fountain of Taormina

Just before noon I had an opportunity to complete another interview: Alessandro, Babilonia’s director, connected me with Donatella Rapisardi, a local Taormina based artist, who provides some of the Pottery Decorating Classes for Babilonia students. For millennia, Sicily has been at the confluence of cultures: the Phonecians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swebians, Spanish and French have all left their imprint in this culturally rich area, and pottery has been an important craft in Sicily for many centuries.

Donatella Rapisardi, renowned local artist

I met Donatella at the local Hotel del Corso, right on Corso Umberto, where she offers pottery decorating classes on the rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Palazzo del Duca Santo Stefano with Mount Etna as a backdrop. The weather was gorgeous, the sky was blue: I cannot imagine a more scenic location for pottery painting than Donatella’s rooftop retreat.

Pottery painting on the rooftops of the Hotel del Corso

Donatella Rapisardi is a gifted local artists who works in a variety of media. She also heads an organization called the “Grupo Artistico de Perseo” which organizes various exhibitions and art projects throughout town and the entire region. The group consists of five permanent artist members and a number of other affiliated artists that are coordinated by Donatella and her team. In addition to ceramics, Donatella also creates mosaics using marble and different types of stone) and handles wood restoration.

Some of Donatella’s masterpieces

She explained that the pottery decorating lesson starts with plain terracotta pieces such as vases or tiles on which students apply the design they wish to paint. Two different types of processes are used for pottery painting, Donatella explained in her machine gun Italian: “lavorare a freddo” means that the pieces are painted without firing them, and “lavorare a caldo” refers to painted pottery pieces that are fired in a kiln to preserve the painting.

Traditional Sicilian colours such as blue, yellow and green are often used in the ceramics decorating process, although the students are completely free to create their own design and colour choices. Donatella guides them, makes suggestions and gives the students advice when they need it. She also explained that the tiles offer an advantage since they are easy to handle and transport and they offer a great surface for landscape images.

The “Duomo” of Taormina


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