Lively, varied and colorful, Palermo is a city of a thousand lives, the result of influences from distant peoples and cultures. Among mazes of narrow streets, majestic cathedrals and monuments of rare beauty, passing through intense and aromatic flavors, a visit to Palermo is an experience that covers the five senses.
Located at the foot of Monte Pellegrino – nestling towers, ancient palaces and monuments including the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, in Baroque style, and the complex of the Addaura Caves with its rock graffiti – Palermo is a city waiting to be discovered. Walking through its alleys and palaces rich in history is the best way to appreciate the thousand faces of the city, whose culture and architecture has been influenced by the peoples who have inhabited it, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards. One of the clearest testimonies is the Kalsa, one of the oldest neighborhood in the city, dating back to the period of Islamic domination, and built around the 10th century outside the ancient walls, near the port. This picturesque popular district seems a city in the city, where you can still breathe the ancient Arab culture, accomplices also the spicy scents in the air.
Among the not-to-be-missed destinations in the city, the Palazzo dei Normanni, the splendid building in Arab-Norman-Byzantine style built in the 12th century and considered the oldest royal residence in Europe, the former imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV at the time of the Kingdom of Sicily. On the second floor of the palace, the Palatine Chapel (private chapel of the royal family), with its marble, mosaics and the richness of its decorations, testifies to the refinement and elegance of the Norman court, which have earned it the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the heart of the city, the Cathedral of Palermo (Basilica Cattedrale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta) will capture your gaze. If its exterior and its portico are considered masterpieces of Sicilian art, its interior is a mixture of Roman, Byzantine and Arab decorative elements, dating back to the period when the cathedral even became a mosque. Speaking of Norman treasures in Palermo, a special mention goes to the nearby cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale”. Among the Arab-Norman cloisters and apses decorated with precious golden mosaics, a visit to these jewels of the past is a must.
Remaining in the center, the beautiful fountain in Piazza Pretoria, with its marble basins, statues and water games is a must for lovers of photography, as well as the nearby Piazza Vigliena, known to the Palermitani as “Quattro Canti“. If its octagonal shape is due to the presence of four Baroque buildings with convex facades, its name is probably a reference to the presence of several nuclei of statues dedicated respectively to four kings, four patron saints and the four seasons. Among the most characteristic attractions, then – although not recommended for the most impressionable – there are the Catacombs of the Capuchin Convent, which preserve the mummified remains of thousands of monks who lived in the convent between the 17th and 19th centuries. For a more affordable experience, plan a visit to the neoclassical Teatro Massimo, the temple of culture and ballet in Palermo.
But Palermo is also synonymous with a unique food and wine tradition. Among the local markets, with a structure similar to the Arab souks, where you can also find typical handicrafts, the kiosks and the bakeries along the road, the occasions to taste arancine, crocchè di patate (potato crocché), verdure pastellate (battered vegetables), panelle, Martorana fruit made of almond paste and cannoli are not lacking for sure.