A tour of the city of Palermo is ideal for art lovers who wish to experience a constant and timeless splendour. A city that holds masterpieces inherited from Arab, Norman and Spanish domination. The historical centre is the jewel in the crown. Strolling among ancient churches, royal courts, palaces and squares, one can perceive a sparkling atmosphere, a cultural mix that has made this city unique and inimitable. From the imposing Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece and UNESCO heritage site that blends elements of Arab-Norman art and that will leave any onlooker astounded, and is testimony to the numerous populations that have settled in Sicily over the centuries.
In particular, to discover the huge artistic and cultural heritage of Palermo and its surroudings, we recommend staying in historical apartments in Sicily or in apartments with terrace in Sicily to admire their beauty from above.
The real experience that will make this a folkloric holiday is to stroll through the city and get lost in the streets, and then arrive at the markets where the buzz of the merchants and the smells of food and spices will persist for much of the day. The main markets are those of the Capo, Ballarò and Vucciria; enchanting places with their bright colours, heady scents, street art and street food for all, also ideal for finding some culinary souvenirs. For cheese lovers, an old-fashioned delicatessen ‘Da Andrea’ in the Capo market will satisfy any palate. For the more adventurous, a more arduous street food tasting is also recommended. Wandering around the street stalls in Piazza Beati Paoli, you can try foods such as ‘frittola’ and ‘milza’; a true city institution. The city always offers moments to be immortalised, not only photographically speaking, it manages to capture the attention of everyone, young and old alike. The picturesque streets of the old town, the typical alleys and small squares, still offer the opportunity to find the historical ‘trades in the streets’, real craft workshops where one can find symbolic and traditional objects. Characteristic are the silversmiths near Piazza San Domenico, the wickerwork and finocchino workshops in Via Volturno, the furniture makers occupying Via dei Candelai and finally the Via dei Calderai among exclusively handmade pots, cups and lanterns. Faithful traditions have helped to keep the city alive and inimitable.
A mysterious and very fascinating spectacle is the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo; they undoubtedly preserve the largest collection of mummies in the world. For enthusiasts eager to take a journey through Palermo’s history and witness the changes in customs and traditions over the centuries, the Catacombe will certainly be the right place.
An unmissable stop on the Arab-Norman itinerary is the Church of the Martorana. Inside you can admire a Byzantine treasure that will leave you speechless. We are talking about the oldest cycle of mosaics embellishing the church, a triumph of gold and wealth. Named after Eloisa Martorana, the founder of a convent of Benedictine nuns, it is to these nuns that we owe the invention of the ‘Frutta martorana’, a typical sweet made of royal pastry.
A great original Renaissance testimony in Palermo is the Oratory of Santa Cita, modest in appearance on the outside but rich in stucco and abundant decoration on the inside with intense sculptural decoration, large marble portals and a vast collection of archival paintings of the city’s most illustrious historical figures at the entrance. A true hymn to abundant and inordinate beauty.
A curious-looking structure is the Palazzina Cinese. A little further from the city centre, inside the flourishing Parco della Favorita, it is absolutely worthy of attention for the magic it preserves in its interior and exterior spaces. It represents the encounter between neoclassicism and the romantic call of the Orient in the history of Palermo’s architecture. It was built at the request of King Ferdinand III of Bourbon in 1799 as his residence, in the oriental style to suit the tastes of his beloved. Its frescoed halls, pastel colours and lavish decorations make this building a true relic of Palermo’s culture.
Unmissable places around Palermo
A particular destination full of history is Bagheria. Close to Palermo, it can be reached by driving along the coast and admiring the wonderful blue sea. Known to have been the favourite location of noble families in ancient times, where splendid Baroque villas, perfectly preserved over time, were built and can still be visited today. But in addition to the splendid and historic palaces, Bagheria enjoys small seaside hamlets that offer unique settings where one can enter to enjoy the clear sea and dive into it as if it were a painting.
A few kilometres from Palermo, on the slopes of Monte Caputo, lies the Norman town of Monreale. What makes it famous is absolutely the Cathedral of Monreale dedicated to Santa Maria la Nova, in Arab-Norman style that manages to attract visitors from all over the world. It is a true architectural jewel that fascinates with its majesty to such an extent that it is the second most important Byzantine work in the world and part of UNESCO. Adjacent to the cathedral is the monastery of St Benedict and a short walk away is the diocesan museum with its frescoes and its belvedere that makes for a magical view of the Conca d’oro and surrounding areas.
A delightful medieval village, a stone’s throw from Palermo, bathed by blue waters and dominated by a fortress, easy to reach and to love from the first moment, Cefalù. UNESCO has included it in the Arab-Norman itinerary. It was once a fishing town also characterised by distant populations that have left a significant imprint. An extraordinary flight of steps, known as the Salita Saraceni, will take you to the top to admire the breathtaking landscape and the remains of an ancient Temple of Diana. Mighty and majestic is the Cathedral, a must-see for anyone visiting Cefalù, right in the heart of the historical centre and you can walk straight up and enjoy the surrounding wonders.