It’s time for a new day trip somewhere in Italy.
Are you ready to discover a new corner of Italy? I hope so because today we are going to such an amazing place it would be a shame to miss it. Today we visit Palermo, Sicily’s main city. I have to admit that I have never been to Sicily, but I am dying to visit it soon as everybody told me it’s an incredibly beautiful region. Take it into account, if you come to Italy!
Luckily, there’s no need of me going to Sicily to be able to make you discover this lovely corner of Italy. As you may know if you’ve read the blog lately, I asked some nice people around Italy to act as tourist guides and take you with them to visit the place where they live. This is great because you can really see Italy with the eyes of a local. Last month we went up north and visited Trento, today we go down south and discover Palermo. Isn’t it great?
Your host in Palermo will be Raffaella Saba, who takes you around this great city with her. Are you ready? Siete pronti? Shall we leave? Partiamo?
Palermo is a city full of surprises.
Bursting with art and vitality, it can also gift you with intimate and profound sites, which capture your heart and make you decide to come back. Or just stay forever. These are some of my tips for the not-to-be-missed things in Palermo, including monuments, churches, and other places.
Quattro Canti (four corners) is also known as Teatro del Sole (theater of the sun) because of the play of lights that the sun creates in these corners. It is the place where the two most important streets in the city, Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, cross. It is a ring-shaped baroque structure, divided into four corners: on the first one, there are the fountains with the seasons, on the second corner you’ll see the most important Spanish kings and on the last one there are four female saints: Santa Cristina, Sant’Oliva, Santa Ninfa and Sant’Agata.
La Cattedrale (the Cathedral) is the sum of all the dominions undergone by the city throughout the years, which now live together in peace in this huge garden under the attentive gaze of Santa Rosalia, Palermo’s Patron Saint. Built on the ruins of a mosque (which was built on a Paleochristian church), it has now a Gothic-Catalan portico, Renaissance domes, and Arab decors on the outer apsis. Do not miss the roofs of the Cathedral, you’ll see Palermo lay down on the Conca d’Oro, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other.
(looking up in Via Maqueda)
The church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is one of the most beautiful things in Palermo. It is widely known as la Martorana, because it is the place where Elisa Martorana established the order of the benedictine nuns in 1433. The nuns made an amazing almond paste, which is actually called martorana. The church, built in 1143 by Giorgio di Antiochia, admiral of the fleet of Ruggero II, as a private church, is filled with Byzantine mosaics and frescos inside the side chapels.
Capo is an open-air market which fills the days of many inhabitants of Palermo, exactly like Ballarò or La Vucciria. You can find everything there: fish, fruits, vegetables, and meat. It stretches down on a street between Porta Carini and piazza Beati Paoli and has a branch where you can find all non-food items: lamps, children clothing, furniture, sheets, shoes, and much more. Pay attention to the abbanniate: the call sellers make to attract possible clients, praising their stuff.
The Zisa has been built in 1165 by Guglielmo I inside the Genoardo, paradise on earth, in the royal garden. It has always been considered the summer residence, outside the city walls, of Norman emperors. It is outside the city center, but you can take a walk from the Cathedral and reach it in half an hour. It must be seen for its amazing beauty (el Aziz means the magnificent) and because from the Belvedere room you can see sea and mountains at the same time.
Teatro Massimo (Massimo Theater) divides the historical center and the new center, which goes from via Ruggero Settimo until via Libertà: it is the junction between the Arab-Norman and the Art Nouveau itinerary. Built at the end of the 19th century, it is the third biggest theater in Europe after Paris and Vienna. It was designed by Basile and it took more than thirty years to finish it. You can visit it with a guided tour or by attending one of the shows held there.
Villino Florio is outside the city center, near the Zisa. Open to the public at the beginning of 2016, it is an Art Nouveau masterpiece commissioned to Ernesto Basile by Vincenzo Florio. Even if it has been severely damaged by fire in the mid-twentieth century, it is possible to admire the restored interiors and use some imagination to envision it in the middle of a huge garden that occupied a vast area, now characterized by tall buildings built in the 1970s.
The church of Lo Spasimo is in the Kalsa, one of the oldest districts in town. It is an odd church, because it has no façade nor decors. It is as if it doesn’t exist, but its walls standing out against the sky (the church has no roof, fallen in the 18th century and never built again) and the tree grown inside will take your breath away. The church takes its name from the altarpiece by Raffaello, called Caduta di Gesù sotto la croce (Fall of Jesus under the Cross) and known as Lo Spasimo di Sicilia.
The Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo
If you walk down towards the sea, you’ll come across Piazza Marina (Marina square), which is the place where the Giardino Garibaldi (Garibaldi Garden) is located. In such garden, you can see the biggest ficus plants in the city and look for bargains at the vintage market held there on Sundays. This is the place where Joe Petrosino, the Italian-American policeman who came to Sicily to fight the mafia, was killed in 1909. During the Spanish Inquisition, it was the square where the auto-da-fé and other trials took place.
Raffaella describes herself as a “portatrice sana di insularità”, which basically means that she is the immune carrier of “islandness”, since living on an island has been part of all her life and she loves it.
Born in Sardinia, she now lives in Palermo, Sicily, where she runs the B&B Piccola Sicilia. She loves meeting people, has a lovely sense of humor, and is madly in love with Palermo.