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Palazzo Duca di S. Stefano

The square structure, the entire mass, its position, the embattled walls which make it similar to a fortress, are all reasons to believe that the original builder was perhaps a Norman. Close to the Catania entrance, the thirteenth century building, has a beautiful garden in front of the two main façades to the east and the north and was the residence of an originally Spanish noble family, the De Spuches, Dukes of S. Stefano of Brifa and Princes of Galati, two towns on the Messina Ionian coast. Palazzo Duca di S. Stefano is certainly a masterpiece of Gothic Sicilian art, which combines elements of Arab and Norman art.

The Arab remains can be seen in the decoration at the top of the building: a wide frieze which runs along the two façades to the east and north comprising one wavy frieze in lava stone alternating with white Syracuse stone dowels in the shape of rhombi, which together form a magnificent inlaid embattlement. The Norman artwork can be seen in the square keep and the remains of the swallow-tail embattlements which decorate the top of the building. The Palazzo consists of three square overlapping elements. The entrance on the ground floor is through a Gothic (equilateral) arch, which was built with square black basalt (lava) stone and white granite (Taormina stone).

The entrance to the first floor is by means of drawbridges and moving staircases, through the little doorway which, can still be seen today, through the two mullioned windows on the first floor. An internal wooden staircase has been reproduced during the course of renovation. On the second floor, there are four beautiful windows of undisputed Gothic style, two on the eastern elevation and two on the northern one, the principal elevations of the building. Very intricate are the four mullioned windows with roses cut out, flamboyant trefoils and with triple coping of the jambs on the acute arches. In the centre of the ground floor there is a column of rose granite which is said to be from the Greek Theatre.

In the garden in front of the two main façades, there is a well collecting rainwater which supplied all the needs of the building. The town council of Taormina came into possession of the Palazzo of the Duke of St. Stefano only in 164, when, for the sum of 64 million lire, it bought it from Vincenzo De Spuches, a young descendant of the house of De Spuches who lived in Palermo. However, there are some people who say that, before 1400, the Palazzo was perhaps the town residence of the Lord of Castel Mola. Today, Palazzo St. Stefano is the headquarters of the Mazzullo Foundation, a clever sculptor who has ably modernised the traditional. Many of his works are preserved in the building.