Local: Palermo by Giuseppe Arici
1. What’s the best way to spend a Friday-Saturday night in Palermo?
Palermo is a place where people spend their free time outdoors, so I would suggest hanging out in one of the market squares of the old town. For example, in Vucciria or Ballaro. In and around these squares, life boils every night until dawn. There are many bars, cafes, food and alcoholic beverages for sale right in the street, and music plays from every corner.
And where to spend a romantic evening?
There is nothing more romantic than a walk through the old coastal district of Kalsa. Walk along the ancient walls of the Mura delle Cattive, breathe in the fresh scent of the sea on the Foro Italico, and then visit the Spasimo church. It’s a ruined 16th-century Gothic church. Without a roof but with a big tree inside. Regular concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances are held there.
3. Where to stay in Palermo?
There are not many hostels in Palermo but B&Bs are more than enough, most of them are inexpensive and very comfortable. I recommend to stay in the old town so you are in the center and you can easily get to almost any place in Palermo on foot.
4. Where is the best place to swim?
If you are not in Palermo in high season, go to Mondello beach, located in the suburbs of the same name and a half kilometer long. It’s easily accessible by a regular city bus. If Mondello is overcrowded, as it often is in the summer, it’s better to look for less popular places, such as Capo Gallo Nature Reserve, located just a stone’s throw from Mondello. A great place!
5. Where to go for a cultural experience?
Palermo is full of museums, galleries, and theaters. We have something new and interesting going on here every day! So I suggest you visit this site to find out what and where exactly will be in the city soon.
6. Why is Palermo the best city in the world?
I love Palermo very much, but I’m not completely convinced that it’s the best city on earth. But it’s definitely worth a visit! It has thousands of years of history and a mix of peoples and architectural styles. We have great weather all year round, we have the sea and incredible food.
7. Tell us about Sicilian food: what is a must try?
Palermo is the perfect place for people who like to eat well and inexpensively. It’s full of spots with great street food, taverns and inexpensive restaurants on every corner. Here’s a list of things you must try at least once: arancini, panelle, Sicilian Sfincione pizza, pane con la milza liver buns, and of course, waffle tubes cannoli!
8. How do you tell the mafia from the civilians?
Ha-ha, questions like that are only asked by people who have seen “The Godfather. I’ll tell you this: come to Palermo and you’ll see for yourself that the mafia is not an elitist gangster club. Today it is rather a neglected form of bureaucracy and a disgusting model of social behavior, which greatly hinders the development of the city. In general, we dislike this commercialization of the mafia image and the development of tourism on this basis. It is disrespectful to the people who suffered or died at its hands.
The easiest way to get to Sicily is to fly on Ryanair from Kaunas or Warsaw to Trapani town. From Trapani to Palermo it’s only 100 km.
10 reasons to visit Palermo
Enter and you will stand in awe as you see a continuous canvas of noble carved marble. The ornamental elements consist of flowers, fruits, leaves, animals and cherubs in an almost endless variety of colors.
The Church of Gesù (also known as Casa Professa), stands on a rock, in whose gloomy gorges legend has it that holy hermits once burrowed. The catacombs of the early Christians are also preserved here. The first building that rose above the rock was the monastery of the Basilians, built in the 9th century. Since that time, many buildings were built here, of which five churches. The last of these was part of the first Jesuit church, completed in 1564. The construction of the new church, which incorporated the old church, began in 1591 and was completed in 1633. Much of the church was destroyed in 1943 because of a bombing. Restorers have restored almost all of the frescoes and decorative plasterwork, recreating the original appearance of the church. Its interiors combine the late Renaissance style and the new Baroque space.
2. House Museum “Stanze Al Genio”
The museum takes its name from the nearby fountain “del Genio” in Piazza Rivolucione. After walking through the massive portal, you immediately notice the richly decorated floor and the original frescoes from the end of the XVIII century. And ahead of us waits the only one in the world collection of Italian majolica, consisting of more than 2300 tiles, composing a huge puzzle characteristic for the south of Italy (primarily, Campania and Sicily). The collection contains samples from the end of the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Here you find yourself in a special world where art has a size – a small square of floor tiles.
The collection is inside a private home where majolica covers the walls of four large rooms, the corridor and the kitchen. Some depict exotic subjects, others depict characters from ancient Greek myths, while others depict abstract geometric shapes with very modern optical effects. Some of the tiles were sourced from rather unexpected places, houses under demolition and in a state of disrepair.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. You will be told about the first majolica that started this wonderful collection, which samples are unique, where they came from. You will learn many interesting stories about Palermo and Italy.
In the interiors of the apartment you can find both antique furniture and products of modern craftsmen. There is a collection of antique toys, lacquered boxes, stationery, ink bottles and labels. Some of the mid-twentieth-century designer pieces would deserve a separate show, but in this museum they are also very well represented.
3. Take a walk on Mondello.
The snow-white sand is like a palette for the sea, sun and clouds, with an ever-changing shade from turquoise to emerald. A view that stays in the memory forever. A long beach sloping gently into the sea. An ideal place for swimming from spring to fall, even for those who do not know how to swim and for small children.
Walking along the promenade under the sea pines, palm trees, past the liberty villas here and there will put your thoughts and feelings in order. Here you run, chat with friends, and breathe the iodine-saturated sea air.
The fishermen’s quarter (also called “piazza”) beckons with its cafes and restaurants, seafood takeaways, couture sandwiches in the world of gastronomy.
The bathing season lasts from May to September. Sun loungers and umbrellas appear on the beach, as well as the characteristic colorful wooden changing booths. Mondello wakes up from its winter hibernation and is filled with cheerful voices, cream-soaked backs and boys on motor scooters. The season opens with the World Festival on the beach, an international water sports festival.
4. Attend premieres at the Massiomo Theater.
Listen to opera in the largest theater in Italy and the third largest in Europe, after the Paris Opera and the Vienna Opera House. The Massimo is the ultimate expression of grandeur in the libertine style, when Palermo became so elegant and mesmerizing that Europe’s most powerful royalty came here. And nowadays everyone who visits Palermo can come here and watch the premieres of opera, ballet and symphonic music, feeling the atmosphere of Sicily of the XIX century, preserved since the times of Florio.
5. Sicilian Puppet Theater, a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site
The Puppet Theater of Sicily was the first theater in Italy to be inscribed on the list of Intangible Heritage Sites of Unesco in 2008. Its shows performed by master puppeteers can be seen all over the island. But it is in Palermo that the Filii d’Arte Cuticchio collective gives its iconic performances. Along with the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino Antonio Pasqualino, this is something that should not be missed in Palermo.
6. Cathedral and patio in Montreal
The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was built during the reign of William II the Good, in a short period of time, from 1774 to 1776. Legend has it that he dreamed of the Virgin Mary, who showed him where a rich treasure was hidden and which he had to use for a good cause. But it is more likely that he simply wanted to surpass his grandfather Roger, the founder of the cathedral in Cefalù, the monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the Palatine Chapel in Palermo. He wanted his name to go down in history as well.
Architects from the Fatimid Caliphate were invited to design the church. They adapted the techniques of Muslim architecture for the Christian temple, applying also solutions typical of the palaces of their homeland. In spite of the later changes and the not always successful restoration, the palace has survived almost entirely in its original splendour.
The façade is decorated with blank arches, nowadays partly concealed by a portico added in the 18th century, under which is a massive gate with bronze doors made in 1186 by Bonanno Pisano. Along the left façade also stretches a long portico, built in the 16th century by Gian Domenico and Fazio Gagini, and finally there are three large apses with perfectly preserved original limestone and lava stone finishes. Inside the cathedral, the interior of the twelfth century has been preserved (except for the wooden ceiling, reconstructed after the fire of 1811). The layout is typical for a basilica, but the size is surprising: 102 in length and 40 in width. The walls are almost completely covered with gilded mosaics of 6340 square meters. The content, the aesthetics and the execution of these artistic elements are of the highest level.
The mosaics were made by Byzantine masters, so the iconography is actually Greek. But the relaxed poses of the people, the drawing of their vestments, the rhythmic movements clearly show an evolution of style and a departure from strict canons. This is clearly visible if we compare them with the figures in the Palatine Chapel and the Martorana. The subject of the mosaic expresses the triumph of the Christian faith in three different hypostases: firstly, the scenes of the Old Testament, then the Gospel (the life of Christ) and, finally, the episodes of the apostles’ life after the death of Jesus. They are all dominated by the gigantic Christ the Almighty (only one right arm 2 meters long), depicted on the large apse. His figure cements the overall composition of the mosaics.
The Benedictine monastery, also built during the time of William II, was once part of the abbey adjacent to the cathedral. It is a square 47 by 47 meters, the layout of which leaves no doubt as to its Christian origin, but whose general mood certainly recalls the atmosphere of Muslim courtyards with porticoes. The arches separating the building from the inner garden are supported by combined columns whose pillars and capitals are covered in a continuous ornamentation of plant, animal and fantastic imagery.
7. Palermo is not for the faint of heart.
A place you wouldn’t go even on pain of death? Everyone says so before you go there. There are 8000 mummified bodies of Capuchin monks from noble, bourgeois and ecclesiastical families buried there between the 16th and 19th centuries. The degree of preservation of the bodies of the Capuchin monastery cemetery, also called the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, makes a lasting impression on visitors from all over the world. The Macabre, through which we can learn more about the traditions, dress and customs of Palermo society at that time.
8. Tour by motorcoach
In Palermo the famous Piaggio motorized sidecar is known as the “lapa”. Many Palermans based their business on the “lapa”, from transporting furniture to peddling ice cream and Sicilian pizza “sfincione”. For excursions, the “paw paw” is equipped with seats and an awning, providing comfort to passengers in every possible way, including “atmospheric” music. During the tours, you will hear many entertaining stories and tales, while the “paw” will make its way through the narrow streets, inaccessible to the bus or car. A real adventure not to be missed.
Per i più romantici (or nostalgici) altrettanto emozionante il tour in carrozzella, dall’alto della quale si possono vedere e sentire le nostre bellezze del centro storico.
9. The Palatine Chapel or what is luxury
Palermo would be worth visiting just for the Palatine Chapel. It was begun in 1130, when Roger II, the first king of Sicily, was crowned, and was completed 13 years later, as the inscription on the dome bears witness to. In this church, “the most beautiful religious ornament invented by man” (Maupassant), there is, visually speaking, a fusion of the many different characters that have shaped Sicily – European, Sicilian, Byzantine, Arab.
In structure the chapel is a three-nave basilica of Eastern style, the spaces of which are divided by granite columns with richly gilded Corinthian capitals. The ornate floor and carvings on the steps, balustrades and lower part of the walls, and the giant pulpit are oriental in style, though reinterpreted in a Mediterranean vein. The Easter candelabrum, a real marble bestiary given by Archbishop Hugo for the coronation of Roger II’s son William, is unparalleled. The mosaics of the temple are among the best in all Byzantium, nothing like them can be found even in the churches of Constantinople.
Of the others, the most ancient mosaic, depicting Jesus the Almighty on the dome, surrounded by angels and evangelists immersed in their labors, is worth mentioning. The wooden ceiling with “stalactites,” which is the last thing you’d expect to see in a Christian church, also has Muslim overtones. It is more usual in large and elegant mosques. “Stalactites” are decorated with intricate patterns and, unthinkable to Muslims, including human figures. Muslim artists, in the tolerant atmosphere of Norman Palermo, dared to transgress a religious prohibition. Thus, armed with binoculars, one can still see quite realistic scenes from everyday life at that time, such as dignitaries and busy maids.
10. Street food in Palermo
The American publication Virtual Tourist recently ranked Palermo as the fifth best street food in the world. A tour of the “streets of food” is worth combining with a visit to the ancient markets. In one morning (or evening, street food vendors even work at night) you can go back a couple of thousand years and taste the variety of local history, art, tastes and smells of the crossroads of civilizations.