Palazzo Cisa in Palermo. Italy travel itineraries

10 places to visit in Palermo

Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Greeks and Romans, the Arabs made the city their capital, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish left their mark. The fertile soil has for centuries absorbed the traditions and culture of different peoples, mixing the artistic and architectural ingredients in the cauldron of history, so modern Palermo is a “spicy dish”, seasoned with Arabic spices, Eastern elegance and Western freedom. In the streets of Palermo, Baroque churches rub shoulders with Art Nouveau palazzos, neoclassical theaters look out over colorful bazaars, and Arabian domes shade the greenery of parks. Palermo is a large and bustling city, we decided to highlight 10 attractions of all the variety that the Sicilian capital offers.

1. Palace of the Norman Kings

The Palace of the Norman Kings is the most important landmark of Palermo and was built in the IX century during the Arab domination of Sicily. In 1132, Roger II added the Palatine Chapel, which became the most important decoration of the palace. The chapel played the role of royal chapel. The small room is richly decorated with splendid Byzantine mosaics. Address: piazza Indipendenza An entrance ticket to the Palatine Chapel costs 7 euros. Read more about the Albergeria and Seralcadio quarters

Palatine Chapel

Palatine Chapel. Palermo.

2. Church of the Martorana

The Church of Martorana was built in 1143 in honor of the victories of George of Antioch, admiral of King Roger II. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the church underwent significant alterations, such as a new Baroque facade, but the Arab-Norman structure was retained. The inside of the church is covered with splendid Byzantine mosaics. Address: Piazza Bellini, 3 Open: Monday to Saturday, 9 to 13 and 15:30 to 17:30. Sunday from 9 to 10.30. Ticket: 2 euros More about the Kalsa quarter.

Martorana Church

Church of the Martorana. Palermo.

3. Palermo Cathedral

The cathedral was built in 1185 on the site of an ancient Christian basilica. In 831 the Saracens turned the church into a mosque and it was not until 1072 that the cathedral returned to its origins. The imposing building, which occupies a spacious area, is a mixture of styles. Norman kings, including Frederick II and Roger II, are buried in the cathedral. Read more about the Albergeria and Seralcadio quarters

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Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral

Historic Palermo Markets

There are 3 historical markets in Palermo that a walk through will leave a lasting impression on the traveler’s soul. Ballaro’, Capo and Vucciria differ in size, selection and prices. Perhaps the most colorful is Ballarò, it is also the oldest and cheapest. In the markets you can buy local products and try street food. In Ballarò’ there are several taverns where fish or seafood bought at the market is cooked. Read more about Ballaro’ market. Read more about Vucciria market.

Historic Markets of Palermo

Historic markets of Palermo

5. Zisa.

Palazzo Cisa is located in the quarter of the same name. A large part of the area is occupied by a Norman-period park called “Paradise on Earth”. The rulers used to hunt and relax here. Palazzo Cisa is the Arab heritage of Palermo and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its name comes from an Arabic word that means “shining, glittering”. The same word, written in Naskh script, is imprinted at the entrance, as was customarily done on many Islamic structures of the time. The first mention of the palace dates from 1165. Construction was begun by William I the Wicked, but he died a year later, and it was his son William II the Good who finished the work. The Palazzo Cisa was the summer residence of the kings. It is a splendid example of Norman architecture combined with Arabic decoration and engineering, which was particularly evident in the organization of the cooling system, i.e. “air conditioning”. The palace is turned towards the sea, which makes it possible to use the sea breeze to cool the rooms especially at night. The air enters the palazzo through three arches on the facade and large windows on the upper floors. The palazzo contains the Fountain Hall, where water flows to give freshness. The interior rooms were cooled by an elaborate system of air circulation. This natural freshness gave rise to the legend of devils who brought cool air into the palace. And, when a strong wind rose in Palermo, people would say that it was the devils of the palace of Cisa who went out for a walk. The legend was supported by frescoes in the Fontana Hall depicting figures of deities – Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Juno, Mercury, Vulcan, Venus, Mars and others, who were called devils guarding the royal treasures. By the way, it is not possible to count how many gods are depicted in the frescoes, because the optical illusion is generated by the rotation of the figures, confusing the count. The Fontana Hall is the most characteristic room of the palace. Address: piazza Guglielmo il Buono. Open: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ticket: 6 euros.

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Palazzo Cisa

Palazzo Cisa

Palazzo Cisa

Palazzo Cisa

6. Capuchin Catacombs

The catacombs occupy the basement rooms of the Capuchin monastery. Their history began at the end of the 16th century, when monks removed several bodies from the tombs and discovered that the corpses had naturally turned into mummies. Now the eerie dungeons contain about 8,000 skeletons and mummies that were buried between 1599 and 1880. Address: via Cappuccini, 1 Open: Monday to Saturday, from 9 to 13 and from 15 to 17. Sunday from 9 to 13.30. Ticket: 3€.

Capuchin Catacombs

Catacombs of the Capuchins

7. Fountain of Pretoria

The Fountain of Pretoria is one of the symbols of Palermo. The nude statues, which look quite indecent against the background of the church, add piquancy. The townspeople so nicknamed it “the fountain of shame”.

Pretoria Fountain

Fountain of Pretoria

8. The Four Corners

The Four Corners or Quattro Canti can be called the starting point of Palermo, the octagonal square is formed by the intersection of the four main streets of the city, it is surrounded by four palazzos, creating a magnificent perspective and separating the four quarters: Calça, La Loggia, Albergeria and Seralcadio. Each building corresponds to a particular season, their façade adorned with statues of kings and patron saints of the quarters.

Four Corners

The four corners of the

9. Botanical Gardens

The botanical garden in Palermo was founded in 1779. In 1786 it moved to its present location. There are now 12,000 different trees and plants in the garden, of which the most luxurious longevity is the ficus from 1845. A walk in the botanical garden will be especially enjoyable on a hot day. Entrance is free. Address: Via Lincoln 2

Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden

10. Theater Massimo Vittorio Emanuele

The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is considered the largest theater in Italy. Its construction began in 1875 on the project of the architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, after his death the work on the theater was continued by his son Ernesto Basile. The official opening took place in 1897. Many operas were performed on the theater stage, but in 1974 the theater was closed for a long period. Now the theater is open also for guided visits. The ticket price is 8 euros. Address: Piazza Giuseppe Verdi

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Massimo Vittorio Emanuele Theater

Theater Massimo Vittorio Emanuele

Palazzo Cisa in Sicily

Palazzo Cisa in Sicily

Tuesday through Saturday: 9:00 to 19:00. Sundays and holidays: 9:00 to 13:30. Monday is the day off.

The Palazzo Cisa in Palermo is commonly referred to as a monument to the Norman-Arabic style. Monumentality and impregnability, typical of medieval European architecture, combined with openwork Muslim art and engineering solutions for villas, built on the hot Mediterranean coast. In particular the special arrangement of the galleries and park fountains connected to the fountain in the palace keeps its corridors cool even on the hottest day.

But Cisa, conceived as the summer residence of the Norman King William I and built in the twelfth century, is also a monument to the uniqueness of Sicilian society at that time. Until the ninth century, the island was ruled by the Greeks and the main population was that nation. Then the territory was conquered by the Arabs, which caused an influx of Muslims. And in the early Middle Ages, the Normans seized power over Sicily, which contributed to the movement of Europeans southward.

Thus in the twelfth century the society of the kingdom of Sicily consisted of those who professed Byzantine Christianity, adherents of the Catholic Church and Muslims, representing a unique example of the tolerant coexistence of different national and religious communities. Their interaction was embodied in the eclectic Norman-Arabic or Sicilian style exemplified by the Villa Ciza.

Palazzo Cisa in Sicily

The architecture of the Villa Cisa in Palermo

As the fourth son of King Roger II of Normandy, William I did not expect to ascend the throne, but fate had other plans. Three of his successors died leaving a man who neither knew nor liked to rule. Decisions were postponed to the last moment. But the new king was a devotee of entertainment and luxury, worthy of the Eastern sultans. It was his tastes that dictated the purpose and appearance of the Sicilian Cisa.

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The villa, built by Arab masters on his orders, was part of a large complex of structures and hunting grounds. It was surrounded by an abundant orchard with birds, flowers and fountains. One of the fountains was on the first floor in the Great Hall. It survives to this day.

The look of the building is accentuated symmetrical. One can easily distinguish three horizontal levels in it. The first one has no windows and embrasures, and looks monolithic. The only space is the three entrance arches. On the second and third levels there are windows divided in two by a vertical line which is characteristic of the Arabian architecture. The decoration of the facade with a chain of blind arches belongs to the same style.

At the entrance, one can see the word “al-Aziz” written in Naskh script, one of the six traditional Arabic scripts, which means “illustrious”, “great”, “noble”. This is where the name of the palace comes from.

A large vestibule along the entire width of the facade takes up a considerable part of the first floor. From there you can enter the Great Hall with a fountain, where the owner of the castle Cisa used to hold official receptions. The room is a square with a vaulted arch and three large niches, one in each wall. In the niche opposite the entrance is a fountain decorated with golden mosaics. Fragments of medieval frescoes can be seen here.

On the sides of the main hall service rooms are erected, as well as stairs to the upper floors. Near the upper part of the Great Hall there are rooms whose windows face not only outside the building, but also into the Great Hall. Thus, the people who were in them could observe the course of ceremonies and receptions. The researchers assume that these rooms were occupied by women. On the second floor there was also a big open-air resting-ground. Part of it was used as an observation deck facing the sea.

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Palazzo Cisa in Sicily


Today the Palazzo Cisa in Palermo houses the Museum of Islamic Art. You can see the outside of the villa for free, but to get inside you will need to buy a ticket to the institution. The collection focuses on the medieval period: it consists of exhibits created by the Arabs between the IX and XII centuries in Sicily and the neighboring regions of the Mediterranean.

Among the artefacts collected are several interior objects and utensils made of brass, gold and silver, as well as a tablet, whose creation dates back to 1149, with inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin, Greek Byzantine and Arabic, which attests to the multiculturalism of medieval Palermo.

Tickets are purchased at the entrance to the museum; online sales are not available. A full ticket costs 6 euros, a reduced ticket costs 3 euros.

How to get to Villa Cisa in Sicily

The Palazzo Cisa is a few blocks from the coast in a neighborhood also called Cisa, next door to the Capuchin Catacombs and Palazzo Normanni. You can reach the villa by bus. The following routes will do:

  • No. N5 to the stop Castello Alla Zisa;
  • N#124 to the Michele Piazza stop;
  • № 110 to stop Finocchiaro Aprile – Amato.

You can also go to the sight by cab. The following companies operate in Palermo: NCC Private Taxi – Pizzuto Rosario, Radio Taxi Trinacria, Cooperative Autoradiotaxi Palermo and so on. Call for a car by the number of the selected company.

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