Palermo‚ the regional capital of Sicily‚ is one of those cities with a very distinct‚ almost tangible atmosphere‚ a place of mystery‚ where reality often outperforms the traveller’s imagination and preconceived stereotypes. It is a buzzing Mediterranean center whose 1 million inhabitants are a fascinating cocktail of apparently conflicting characteristics. For sure a must-visit city during your Sicilian holiday.

A city raised by many cultures… 

Palermo’s history has been anything but stable‚ and the city has passed from one dominating power to another with remarkable frequency. Its strategic position at the heart of the Mediterranean brought wave upon wave of invaders‚ including the Phoenicians‚ the Carthaginians‚ the Greeks‚ the Romans‚ the Arabs‚ the Normans‚ the Swabians‚ the French‚ the Aragonese and the Bourbons just to name the most influential. The result of this quilted history is evident today in the vast range of architectural styles‚ the intriguing fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes‚ and in the many place names whose etymology bypasses Italian linguistic traditions.

The historical center is relatively small and you can easily visit all the Palermo highlights making just a few chilmetres of walking distance.

…who left their marks on streets‚ neighbourhoods‚ squares‚ monuments‚ churches…

The Politeama theater is a splendid building from the end of the 1800s in neoclassical style‚ designed by the architect Damiani Almeyda. The "theater of the people" was built in 1874‚ has a huge horseshoe-shaped hall with two rows of boxes‚ dominated by the large gallery. It can hold up to five thousand spectators. On the roof‚ above the entrance‚ stands a bronze quadriga of Apollo by Mario Rutelli and‚ next to it‚ a pair of horses always in bronze by the artist Benedetto Civiletti. The Politeama currently hosts symphonic music shows‚ continuing to give us moments of great intensity.

Close to the Politeama stand another theater‚ the Teatro Massimo. Being the second theater of Europe after the Opéra de Paris‚ the Teatro Massimo opens its doors on May 16th 1897 with the Falstaff‚ "brand new" opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The large anonymous epigraph engraved on the architrave of the portico warns us: Art renews peoples and reveals their life. Scenes are the delight where you do not aim to prepare the future. Put simply‚ the epigraph invites you not to look or listen to junk‚ because in the long run this makes you idiotic. Today the Massimo hosts the official seasons of opera‚ operas and ballets.

Along the street of via Maqueda‚ lies the Piazza Vigliena‚ better known as the Quattro Canti. The Quattro Canti refers to four richly decorated and rather suggestive facades‚ which divide the olde city into four districts (the Loggia‚ the Capo‚ the Kalsa and the Albergheria).

The cathedral of Palermo lies right in the heart of the historic center. This majestic building was started in 1185 by the norman archbishop Gualtiero Offamilio. It is characterized by the presence of different styles‚ due to a long history of additions‚ alterations and restorations‚ the last which occurred in the 18th century. Here‚ you can visit the Royal and Imperial Tomb of Frederik the II‚ the urn with the relics of the patron Saint of Palermo‚ the Rosary‚ a treasury with a precious medieval crown and a crypt from the VII century. You can visit the church and the monumental area composed of royal tombs‚ treasury‚ crypt and the roof. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Palazzo dei Normanni is the oldest royal residence in Europe that once housed the sovereigns of Sicily. Pride for the city for its architectural extraordinariness and the richness of its interiors including the Palatine Chapel‚ the Pisan Tower‚ seat of the Treasury room‚ the Hall of King Roger and the Hall of Hercules; today it is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly whose first call was by the Norman king Roger II of Altavilla in 1130. It is one of the oldest legislative bodies in the world‚ testifying to an era in which Sicily dominated the Mediterranean and affirms Palermo as the island’s capital.

Experience the atmosphere of the Palermitan markets

The Vucciria is one of the historic markets of Palermo which‚ in its best times‚ hosted artists and intellectuals. In the stalls we find fresh fish‚ fragrant spices and beef and pork. Its charm lies precisely in the bright colors‚ in the peaceful shouts that accompany the sale of goods. But also visit the most famous market of Italy Ballarò and the closely lied mercato del Capo.

But the is so much more. Don’t miss out on visiting the Church of Casa Professa is the most eloquent expression of the Sicilian baroque. Do visit the Museum of Stanze al Genio and admire this late eighteenth century palace and original frescoes. Here you can find a unique collection of over 2‚300 Italian majolica tiles‚ which are pieces of a huge artistic puzzle that comes mainly from southern Italy‚ Campania and Sicily. You have to see an Opera dei Pupi‚ a puppet show by professional traditional puppeteer artists at the Puppet Theatre and visit the the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino. These puppet shows have turned into an icon of the world of art and were the first Italian Heritage to be included among the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – UNESCO 2008.

Palermo is full of historic buildings to see‚ from baroque style like the Palazzo Comiti and Palazzo Sant’Elia to Deco soul that can be recognized in the architecture of the early twentieth century as in Palazzo delle Ferrovie and finally the Belle epoque style of Palazzo Jung and its tropical garden.

The Capuchins catacombs of Palermo are surely and impressive place to visit. Here you can find 8‚000 bodies mummified by the Capuchins that are kept belonging to noblemen‚ bourgeois and representatives of the clergy from 1500 to the late nineteenth century. A macabre spectacle that brings out the uses‚ customs and traditions of the society in the city of Palermo which lived from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.

Enjoy the food!

Surely don’t miss out on Palermo’s great food and wines! The ranking‚ prepared by the American network Virtual Tourist‚ puts Palermo in 5th place among the best producers of street food in the world. But not just street food‚ the Sicilian Cuisine is among the most famous worldwide and there is a reason for this. Try it out yourself!

Must See:

  • Teatro Massimo
  • Politeama
  • Cathedral
  • Cappella Palatina
  • Palazzo dei Normanni
  • Quattro Canti
  • Piazza della vergogna
  • Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti
  • Vucciria
  • Mercato Balarò
  • Mercato del Capo
  • Church Casa Professa
  • Stanze al Genio
  • Opera dei Pupi
  • Palazzo Comiti
  • Palazzo Sant’Elia
  • Palazzo delle Ferrovie
  • Palazzo Jung
  • Capuchins catacombs
  • Palazzo Abatellis
  • Palazzo Mirto
  • Piazza Marina
  • Villa Garibaldi
  • Palazzo Steri
  • Palazzo Chiaramonte
  • Orto Botanico
  • Palermo streetfood

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