An iconic destination has begun a new era as a Four Seasons hotel, continuing the San Domenico Palace’s legendary reputation!
Perched on a rocky promontory high above the Ionian Sea, the emblematic San Domenico Palace welcomes you to a 14th-century convent with panoramic views of Mount Etna and the ancient Greek theatre. With award-winning dining, a luxurious spa and a clifftop infinity pool, this historic property is the definition of high-class hospitality. A world of timeless beauty, with the charming town of Taormina at our doorstep and the best of Sicily waiting to be explored.
With its history dating back to the 1400s, San Domenico Palace is a jewel of Sicilian art history. But it is two women who played a key role in its renovation: architect Valentina Pisani, who oversaw the design of both the interior and outdoor spaces, and Rosaria Catania Cucchiara, head of the historical restoration project.
With their passion, determination and expertise, both women made a significant contribution to the rebirth of this historical property, a former convent dating back to the 14th century that first opened as a grand hotel in 1897 and reopened as a Four Seasons Hotel during the summer of 2021.
A little history of San Domenico Palace
The origins of San Domenico Palace in Taormina reach back to the year 1203, with the founding of the Dominican religious order by Saint Dominic in Toulouse, France.
One of the most important religious organizations in the history of Catholicism, the order spread across Europe, leading to the establishment of a San Dominican convent in Taormina in 1374. The convent was first based in a small church. At the time the patron of the religious community in Taormina was Baron Damiano Rosso d’Altavilla (for whom Rosso restaurant is now named). Rosso made his first gift to the order in 1388 and converted to the monastic life himself. His largest gift was given in 1430, five years after his death, having bequeathed his residence to the religious community so that it could be turned into a convent. His home was the oldest in Taormina, in a beautiful location overlooking the Ionian Sea. The convent was established.
The building’s new owner Prince Cerami (for whom Principe Cerami restaurant is named) had the vision to transform the convent into a hotel. In 1896, he added a large wing in the Liberty architectural style, creating one of Europe’s first grand hotels. At this same time in the late 1800s, Taormina was becoming a fashionable location for European tourists, attracted by the beautiful scenery and the town’s reputation for wild parties and a liberal sexual atmosphere. Several years later, the family sold the hotel to SGAS, a hotel management company.
Through the early 1900s, the hotel’s reputation grew, attracting nobility and famous writers and artists, such as King Edward VII of England, the second Baron Rothschild, Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence. During World War II, San Domenico Palace was used as a headquarters by the German army, and as a result, it was bombed by the Allies in 1943. The convent’s church was almost totally destroyed and required reconstruction, using elements of the original architecture.
Upon reopening as a hotel around 1946, San Domenico Palace was the scene of many over-the-top parties and from the 1950s and beyond, San Domenico Palace welcomed the world’s most illustrious stars of stage and screen, including Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren.
Two women behind the restoration
Architect Valentina Pisani oversaw the design of all interiors of the Hotel, including guest rooms, the Bar & Chiostro featuring the Grand Cloister, Principe Cerami restaurant as well as the gym, the outdoor infinity pool and its poolside restaurant Anciovi.
Her interiors respectfully blend with the historic features of the Hotel, bringing contemporary elegance to the spaces. Her design is characterized by light colours and neutral tones, occasionally peppered by vivid colours, such as the coral red in the main hall, Sala Della Grande Madia, and aqua green in the Princess Cecilie Suite.
For Rosaria Catania Cucchiara, one of the most important challenges in the Hotel’s renovation was the restoration of all the works of art, paintings, frescos and statues, as well as the period features of the Hotel, such as its columns, arcades and vaulted ceilings. All this had to be done under the superintendence of the local council, which fiercely protects Sicily’s artistic heritage.
A native of Messina, Sicily, Catania Cucchiara studied in her hometown and at the Vatican, working on numerous prestigious restoration projects throughout Italy. For the San Domenico project, she headed up an all-female team of four art restoration specialists.