Palermo reveals beautiful surprises: while strolling through the wide streets and the famous markets we find ourselves discovering palaces, churches and other buildings in typical Sicilian baroque style.
The Baroque we are used to in Piemonte is different to the Sicilian one that has, in our opinion, a special charm in its own.
The churches, especially, are richly decorated and you will find many in each and every corner of this city. At every street corner or among majestic palaces will find wonderful churches: if you give a glance inside you will be immediately tempted to enter as from a mermaid song.
Then here are 10 things that you can not miss while visiting Palermo:
1. Teatro Massimo This theatre, which opened in late 1800, is really impressive. It can accommodate about 1,500 people and has a special feature in the roof, built with a special structure that could be opened to air out the boxes and stalls below.
The program of the Theatre is really full, every year there are about 140 planned evenings and you can find tickets for all kind of budgets. Just ask at the hotel or at the ticket office of the theatre.
2. Vucciria is the famous market in Palermo, which I really wanted to visit. I stumbled upon it by accident the first time on Friday evening, looking for a restaurant that was right behind the Church of St. Antonio.
This place at evening is very characteristic: in the square you will find several street vendors selling grilled sausages, bread with spleen and bread and cake.
During the day you can not miss a walk through the narrow streets which overlook the shops of the market, local products, vegetables, meat, fish: here it is just about everything.
3. Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel This palace, also called the Normans Palace, is now the seat of the Sicilian Region commission.
This is one of the historic Sicilian and the first palace was built here in the eleventh century by the Arabs.
Inside it there is a treasure that is really worth a visit: the Palatine Chapel. The beautiful mosaics of this chapel are very similar to those of Monreale Cathedral.
Inside the building you can also visit the Royal Apartments with the famous Sala di Ruggero.
4. The Cathedral of Palermo is remarkable and imposing : one of the things that you absolutely can not miss, even if your stay in Palermo is “hit and run”.
In my opinion it is much more beautiful from the outside than inside.
The grandeur of the façade, the combination of Arabian styles and Gothic-Catalan and the beautiful front garden make it a real jewel set in the city.
Inside, besides admiring the dome and walking through the aisles I recommend three things: the tombs of the Norman kings, the treasure museum [where you will see the precious crown of Constance of Aragon] and the sundial [through a hole in the center of the dome the sun reaches a golden line on the floor along which are represented the 12 signs of the zodiac]
5. English Garden On Via Libertà [wide street with many shops where you can lose yourself in a round of shopping spree] there is the beautiful English Garden. The exotic plants, fountain and buildings enrich this city park where families with children, athletes and tourists walk around quietly.
6. Zisa Castle This castle is located just outside the city center, not far from Villa Malfitano [another city park] and it is a beautiful example of Arab-Norman architecture in Palermo. Inside it there is the Museum of Islamic Art and the park in front, a little “bare” in winter, is enriched with flowers and fountains in spring / summer.
7. Piazza Vigliena Quattro Canti this very original square with its octagonal shape, is known by all as Quattro Canti.
Here there is the junction of two main streets of the city center: Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele.
This square is overlooked by four beautiful palaces and on the corner of each one you can see statues and fountains depicting saints, Norman kings and crests.
In this square you can climb one of the horse-drawn carriages, which stations here waiting for the tourists and take them for a tour through the historic center.
8. In Piazza Fontana Pretoria, not far from the Quattro Canti, there is a beautiful fountain that occupies most of the space in front of the town hall of Palermo, housed in the Palace of the Eagles. This fountain is also called the Fountain of Shame. This because the statues reproduce nymphs, gods and newts completely naked was placed in front of the convent of the nuns of St. Joseph of Theatines. The nuns looking out and seeing all those naked statues exclaimed: “what a shame!”
9. Churches Palermo is full of churches. There are hundreds, in every corner and in every square. Some churches I have endorsed and I can advise you to visit [all near the center] are:
Church of San Domenico: next to the Vucciria market, where the most illustrious men of Palermo were buried in the nineteenth century .
Martorana Church, and Church of San Cataldo: these two churches behind Piazza Pretoria have a particularity. The first is an Orthodox church which contains beautiful mosaics, and the second has maintained the linearity of the Arab-Norman style with three red domes overhead.
Church of St. Catherine, near Piazza Pretoria, is a veritable riot of decorations, stucco, marble, frescoes. It is characterized by a double staircase entrance and a beautiful dome, which dates back to the mid-eighteenth century.
Waldensian Evangelical Church: behind the Teatro Politeama there is a beautiful neo-Gothic church built in 1927. Here is where the Waldensian community Palermo meets.
Holy Cross Anglican Church: Not far from the hotel where I stayed, there is this beautiful little church made of stone with a very unique style that combines the English and the Arab-Norman. Inside it there is an organ that is smaller than that in the copy of the Cathedral of New York.
10. Santa Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino, about 600 meters in height and about 10 km from the center of Palermo is the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia. I climbed the mountain on Saturday afternoon with the Smart car I rented. Unfortunately I arrived late to the function [that is celebrated in winter at 5 p.m.], but in time to visit the cave. This place is very impressive for both catholics and non-catholics.The church was built above the rock and is in the cave where, according to legend, lived Santa Rosalia.
From the walls of the cave drip drops of holy water that are collected in a fountain.
In case you do not have a car, there is a bus that makes shuttling between the city center and the Sanctuary. It is bus no. 812 to its terminus in Piazza Don Sturzo.
Here are my suggestions. In principle, in a day you can visit most of the monuments and churches that I have mentioned above.
Another thing that you can not miss, and you can enjoy between a monument and a visit, is the food.
It’s always time in Palermo, for a tasty break: arancini [rice balls], potato cazzilli, calzones, bread and panelle [made with chickpea flour], bread ca meuza [spleen usually seasoned with lemon juice] and to conclude in sweetness then you can not fail from tasting the fabulous cannoli [waffles stuffed with ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate chips] and greedy cassate [sweet ricotta and candied fruit covered with almond paste]. There’s something for everyone!