Palermo is the city in Sicily and the fifth largest city in Italy (660,460 inhabitants, and over a million if we include the suburbs). In the middle of the Mediterranean sea, Palermo - the cradle of ancient civilizations - has always been a crossroads of cultures between East and West: a strategic transit place, a privileged port of call for commerce and trade, a landing-place for people of various race, language, and religion. Palermo has always enchanted visitors and foreigners alike with the charm of its location, the mildness of its climate, and the splendour of its buildings. And for these same reasons it has, over the centuries, been dominated by a succession of different rulers.
Palermo is not simply a city in Sicily but one of the few cities in the world that have preserved considerable traces of the culture of their successive conquerors: from the Romans to the Byzantines, from the Arabs to the Normans, from the Spaniards to the Austrians, they have all left unmistakable marks of their passing; and these are invaluable testimonies, since this convergence of different styles and shapes, from the North of Europe to Africa, from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, has given birth to a variety of absolutely original artistic, architectural, and decorative creations.
Among the sightseeing in Palermo we should name:
Palazzo de Normanni
In the 9th century, the Arab emirs built this majestic building. When they were ousted from Sicily, the building was transformed into a luxurious palace by the Normans, who extended it and made it even more beautiful. During the reign of Frederick II, the Palace enjoyed a period of splendor, and became the center of cultural life in the city, as the headquarters of the "Sicilian School". The internal courtyards, the huge marble staircase, the towers and the extravagant great hall are sights to be seen. Palazzo dei Normanni has been the seat of the Regional Sicilian Assembly since 1947.
This wonderful sixteenth-century fountain can be found in the centre of the square carrying the same name. It was built by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani, and originally decorated the garden of a villa in Tuscany. It was then purchased by the city this city in Sicily ( Palermo), dismantled and rebuilt in Piazza Pretoria. The fencing around the fountain, designed by Giovan Battista Basile, was built in 1858.
Castello della Zisa
In Europe, this is one of the best buildings built in Arabic style. Its name comes from the Arabic word "al-aziz" that means "the splendid one". This indeed splendid, charming castle was built by Arabic architects on the wishes of the Norman king William II d'Altavilla and was completed in 1175. It was later transformed into a fortress and then into a residence for aristocratic families. It is now the home to the Museum of Islam.
La Cuba - There is not much information available about this mysterious Norman building, built by William II d'Altavilla in 1180. Its original purpose is unclear, although we know that it was used as a lazaretto - a leper's hospital - and later as a barracks for the Spanish garrisons. Some old papers state that it was once surrounded by a luxuriant park and a large lake named Pescheria.
The Teatro- Massimo is one of the largest opera theaters in Europe and is one of Palermo's most important buildings. The theatre was designed by Gian Battista Basile around 1868 and was built by his son Ernesto, who supervised the works starting from 1891. In 1997, the theater was renovated and reopened to the public, after twenty years of neglect and disuse.
Places and charm - the places to see to get to know the true essence of this city.
This is the heart of the old city centre of this city in Sicily and corresponds to Piazza Vigliena, which has been known as Quattro Canti for centuries, but also as "Teatro del Sole" as one can always see the sun from this spot, from dawn to dusk. The square is located at the crossroads between the city's two main streets: Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda that cut Palermo into four parts, known as "mandamenti". In the four corners of the square there are four seventeenth-century palaces, whose facades have a convex shape facing onto the square, and four basins with statues that represent the four seasons.
This is Palermo's Arabic quarter, built close to the sea in an era of people's riots, in order to allow the Emir to escape in the event of revolt. In ancient times it was home to the Arabs' entire military contingent when they ruled this city in Sicily, their administrative and political offices, and also their prisons. Today it is a working-class area of the city, extremely picturesque, where it is still possible to capture a feel of the ancient Arabic-Sicilian culture and often smell the strong aromas of the food that is prepared in the several kiosks along the streets. The sixteenth-century gateway, Porta dei Greci, also known as Porta d'Africa, from where it is possible to glimpse the sea, is a sight worth visiting.
Orto botanico - Botanical Gardens
This wonderful, charming garden was laid out at the end of the eighteenth century and is still one of the largest, most important gardens in Europe today. The Orto Botanico in Palermo stands on about eleven hectares and it is possible to see plants from all over the world, including some very rare, valuable ones. The gardens contain 12,000 vegetable species, including tropical, aquatic, medicinal and carnivorous plants, and many others too. The giant species of ficus magnolioides are not to be missed.
To truly see a cross-section of Palermo life, we suggest a walk round the Vucciria market, that spreads outs between Via Roma and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This is one of the most characteristic places in Palermo, where there is a unique, strongly atmosphere of the city in Sicily, that is made even more intense through the aromas of the typical local produce from the land and sea. This picturesque market was immortalized by Renato Guttuso, the famous artist who was born in Bagheria, in his painting entitled "La Vucciria".