Palermo is the main urban center of Sicily. The city boasts a long history and has played an important role in the events of the Mediterranean and Europe.
Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians between the 7th and 6th centuries BC and in subsequent centuries the succession of numerous civilizations and peoples, including the Romans, Greeks, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Saracens and Normans, gave it a remarkable artistic and architectural heritage (Palermo was the coronation city for the numerous kings of Sicily). Numerous buildings, including churches and palaces, are recognized as national monuments in Italy. Palermo was declared World Heritage by Unesco in 2015, Italian Youth Capital in 2017 and Italian Culture Capital for 2018.
Among the monuments included in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites are the Arab-Norman residences along with the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù (“Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale”), in particular:
- The Cathedral
- The Palazzo dei Normanni with the Palatina Chapel
- La Zisa
- The Ponte dell’Ammiraglio (Admiral’s Bridge)
- The Church of St. John of the Hermits
- The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (or Martorana)
- The Church of San Cataldo
Among the National monuments located in Palermo and its metropolitan area we find:
- the Church of St. John of the Hermits,
- the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena,
- the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (or Martorana),
- the home of Francesco Ferrara,
- the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova in Monreale (famous for its Pantocrator Christ and its mosaics),
- The Abbey of San Martino delle Scale in Monreale,
- The Temple of Victory (known as Temple of Himera) between Termini Imerese and Campofelice di Roccella.
The influence of the multiethnic past in Palermo is clearly visible in the Cathedral, a majestic building started in the 12th century and later enriched with a medieval bell tower and an eighteenth-century dome. The Cathedral was converted into a mosque by the Arabs and then redeemed by the Normans and the Christian religion; it is surrounded by Gothic decorations and carries the relics of the patron saint of Palermo, Santa Rosalia. Inside the cathedral are also the tombs of the emperors Ruggero II and Federico II.
Not far from the cathedral is the Palazzo dei Normanni, of Arab origin, which has always been the seat of local powers (now the seat of ARS, the Sicilian parliament). The building contains the Palatine Chapel, full of Byzantine influenced mosaics, which are truly masterpieces of art.
Piazza Vigliena, called the “Quattro Canti” (Four Cantons), is a junction decorated with sixteenth-century statues and fountains representing the rivers, kings and patrons of the ancient city. From here you can easily reach Piazza Pretoria (also called Piazza della Vergogna for the nudity of the statues that make up the beautiful fountain of the sixteenth century carved Carrara white marble), overlooking the seventeenth-century palace of the Town Hall.
In Palermo there are two main theaters, the neoclassical Teatro Massimo, the Opera temple, one of the largest theaters in Europe, and the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, erected in the mid-nineteenth century in Pompeian style on the square of the same name. Besides is the characteristic Teatro dei Pupi, theatre of marionettes, whose protagonists have always been Carlo Magno and his paladins.
The Botanical Garden, founded in 1789 and considered a huge outdoor museum, is famous for plant species from all over the world.
Palermo, for its history and its present, is an expression of the various European cultures that interact with the Arab world and, also, medieval capital within the complex European culture. Also for these reasons Palermo was named Capital of Culture for 2018. Several cultural activities will take place from Monreale to Castelbuono, crossing Palermo and the coastal towns, including Bagheria and Cefalù, to discover the area, its history and its traditions.
Among the many museums in Palermo are worth a mention:
- Regional Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas, where there are evidences of much of Sicilian history. The museum ha salso one of the richest collections of Punic, Etruscan and Greek art of Italy.
- Palazzo Abatellis: a 15th-century palace that retains a large collection of medieval and Renaissance artworks including the Annunziata of Antonello da Messina and the Triumph of Death.
- Gallery of Modern Art Sant’Anna (GAM): with works by De Chirico, Guttuso, Campigli, Carrà, Casorati, Sironi, Ettore De Maria Bergler, Giuseppe Sciuti. The museum also includes the former convent of the Franciscans.
- Contemporary Art Museum of Sicily (RISO): Today it is the most important contemporary art museum in the region and presents works by leading artists such as Carla Accardi, Emilio Isgrò, Pietro Consagra.
- International Puppet Museum Antonio Pasqualino: exposed are the Sicilian Pupi and their centenary tradition, together with puppets and marionettes from all over the world.
- Treasure of the Cathedral: includes a precious collection of sacred objects and jewelery from the Norman period to the 1800th including the crown of Empress Constantine of Aragon.
- Treasury of the Palatine Chapel: collection of liturgical objects, sacred vestments, precious objects and parchments from the XI to the XVIII century.
- Palazzo Asmundo: preserves various collections of pictorial works; geographic maps; wood sculptures; porcelain; Sicilian tiles; marital chests; prints; numismatic collections; seals; sedans and wagons of the Martorana Genuardi collection; weapons, cannons, rifles.
Ancient Markets in Palermo
Passing through demolished neighborhoods with ruined memorials and walking along streets and lanes, where you are driven by an intense sea smell, you can reach the four most important and historic markets in Palermo: Vucciria, Borgo Vecchio, Capo, and the oldest Ballarò, in the heart of the city.
The markets of Palermo, frequented daily by hundreds of people from all over the world, are the ideal place for an authentic experience into the past and the oldest traditions of the Palermitans. Pleasant mixes of voices, smells and noises, corners of the city where time seems to have stopped. Here sellers create that music that can penetrate with a deafening cantilene in a Palermo dialect, inviting passers-by to buy their goods.