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A small Sicilian city with an ancient past

Site of G7 summit was once the power centre of Muslim rule in the northern Mediterranean

Gulf News

MADRID

Next weekend, the historic Sicilian city of Taormina will be hosting the annual G7 summit, where the leaders of the US, Germany, the UK, France, Japan, Italy and Canada gather to discuss and plan policies that shape our world.

Any such gathering is important – but the May 26-27 event is the first foreign trip for US President Donald Trump. It’s also his first G7 summit – and the same goes for French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni.

The leaders will gather for their traditional G7 photo op centre stage on a Roman-era theatre that has roots dating back to Greek rule some 2,400 years ago. Taormina, strategically located on the eastern coast of Sicily on the Strait of Messina – almost at the point where the ‘toe’ of Italy’s ‘boot’ kicks the Mediterranean island – has been ruled by ancient civilisations and, at the turn of the first millennium, was the strongly fortified centre for Muslim rule.

With the disintegration of the Roman Empire into east and west, and the fall of the Rome-centric portion in the fifth century, Taormina continued under the eastern, or Byzantine emperors based in present-day Istanbul.

The small city is located on a rocky promontory and sits 85 metres above the sea on a natural terrace. And above the city itself, another 50 metres higher, is a medieval-era fortification that is built upon even older outlines of a fortress.

It’s here that the citadel of Taormina fell to Islamic Fatimid forces in 962.

The Fatimid Caliphate between 909 and 1171 stretched from the western shores of Saudi Arabia up into present-day Syria, from Sudan to Tunisia, with Sicily being its only territorial holding north of the Mediterranean Sea in Europe.

It took the Fatimids 30 weeks of siege to break the Taormina citadel, and the city was renamed Al Muizziyya in honour of the Caliph Al Muizz, who reigned from 953-975.

There had been a Muslim presence in Sicily from 902, but the fall of Taormina set the stage for the Emirate of Sicily to flourish until 1078, when the town was retaken by Roger I of Sicily, a Norman knight.

Taormina continued under Norman rule until taken by the Crown of Aragon, the dynastic naval power and state based in Catalonia in the region around present-day Barcelona.

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