What to see in Palermo

From the monuments, to the churches, to the local markets to the street food: a small guide of the main attractions of the city.

The historical centre of Palermo is one of the oldest and biggest in Europe. Declared UNESCO world heritage in 2015, it’s composed of numerous monuments and attractions that mix various cultures, from the Arab to the Norman one, to the French and even the Spanish one, without forgetting the Phoenician and Greek influences and even more ancient ones.

The Cathedral

It’s still possible to see the traces of the past styles, like arab-norman style in the main apse, in the main gothic entrance and, also, the baroque dome. A mix of architectonic styles that amazes and that gets the addition of the royal tombs, in which we can see the one of Federico II and even more importantly, the one of Saint Rosalia, Patron Saint of the city.

Palermo’s Cathedral is a perfect example of the mixture of styles and the millenarian  history of the city. At the beginning it was born was an early Christian basilica; then it became a mosque during the Arab domination; in the end it was turned again into a church with the Normans. Regarding the style, the architect Ferdinando Fuga of the royal court of Carlo di Borbone in the second half of the 700’, gave to the structure a vigorous neo-classic mark, reducing the elements of the past cultures (arab-norman, gothic and baroque).

Church of the Martorana

The Martorana belongs to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi and even if it’s under the Holy See, it follows the orthodox liturgic calendar. The “Cristo Pantocreatore” (Pantocrator Christ) on the highest point of the dome and the mosaic byzantine decorations are the charming points of the Church. The Church of the Martorana is available to be visited every day except during holy functions. The full ticket costs 2,00€ (reduced 1,00€ for groups of at least 5 people, over 65 and students and when showing a ticket of the Circuito di Arte Sacra).

The Martorana Church of Palermo was. Built in the 1143 by the admiral Giorgio D’Antiochia, servant of the Norman king Ruggero II. It’s one of the most gorgeous and fascinating churches in byzantine style in Italy. The contrast between the arab-norman style and the baroque additions made this holy place an Unesco world heritage. In the 1433 Alfonso D’Aragona gave up the church at the Benedictine monastery next to it, founded by the noble woman Eloisa Martorana, from whom the church takes its name.

Abatellis Palace

Palazzo Abatellis is a museum where, between the various medieval, modern and archeological collections, it’s possible to see the famous paintings “Il trionfo della morte” and “L’annunziata” by Antonello da Messina (in the picture). Lastly, l’oratorio dei Bianchi (Oratory of the Bianchi), base of the Nobile, Primaria e Real Compagnia del Ss.Crocifisso (Noble, Primary and Real Company of the Ss.Crucifix), where, also, it’s possible to admire the wooden door “Bab el Fotik”, renamed “Porta della Vittoria” (Door of the victory) by the Normans who put an end to the long Arab domination in the city.

Not far away from the B&B Arsenale Porto it’s possible to see the historical neighborhood of the Kalsa (from the Arab al-Khalisa). In this particular neighborhood it’s possible to visit historical palaces of both historical and artistic interest without comparison: Palazzo Mirto (Mirto Palace), Palazzo Abatellis (Abatellis Palace) and Oratorio dei Bianchi (Oratory of the Bianchi) are the places where the glorious past of the Kalsa -and of Palermo- is jealously kept. The first (Palazzo Mirto) has been for four centuries the home of the oldest Norman family of Sicily, the Filangieri, Counts of San Marco and after the Princes of Mirto.

Pretoria Square

The fountain lays on an oval base, surrounded by a balustrade which contains more tanks: tree positioned in concentric manner one above the other, followed by another series of smaller dimensions. Regarding the statues, they represent deities and mythological figures (Hercules, Venus, Apollo, Bacchus, Diane, Adonis etc…). Between the 90s and the 00s a long and complex restoration phase gave back splendor to the Fontana Pretoria (Pretoria Fountain), guaranteeing again, after years, the circulation of the water.

In the middle of the homonymous square, in front of the communal palace, there’s the “Fontana Pretoria” (Pretoria Fountain) also called “Fontana della Vergogna” (Fountain of Shame) because of the nude statues all around. The history of the Pretoria Fountain is rather singular, considering that it was going to decorate a garden in Florence, precisely in the garden of Don Luigi of Toledo who had commissioned the realization of the piece to the architect Francesco Camillani.

The markets of the Vucciria, Ballard and the Capo

Visiting these locations is a must to understand better the “genius loci” of the capital city of Sicily in which there are still evident influences of the long Arab dominations. Traces that remind of the terms used to attract buyers.

It’s also obligatory to mention the extremely famous street food, like the “pane ca meusa”, the arancine and the Sicilian pastries.

The word “abbanniare” is the expression that refers to the calls of the vendors of the markets of Palermo, famous for the screams rich of allusions and metaphors, useful to the selling of the products exposed. An habit that repeats itself in the three biggest markets of the city: the “Vucciria”, “Ballarò” and the “Capo”.

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