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Palermo
Palermo reflects the diverse history of the region in that the city contains many masterpieces from different periods, including romanesque, gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture as well as examples of modern art.

History

Palermo was founded in the 8th century BC by Phoenician tradesmen around a natural harbour on the north-western coast of Sicily. The Phoenician name for the city may have been Zîz, but Greeks called it Panormus (see also List of traditional Greek place names), meaning all-port, because of its fine natural harbour. It should be noted however that the city was never a Greek city-state, but was later part of the Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire . Palermo is widely considered to be the most conquered city in the world, as shown in the following article.
Palermo remained a Phoenician city until the First Punic War (264-241 BC), when Sicily fell under Roman rule. The Roman period was one of comparative calm, Palermo coming under the provincial administration in Syracuse. When the Roman Empire was split, Sicily and Palermo came under the rule of the Eastern Byzantine Empire.
In the 9th century, Sicily was divided into two prefectures by the Byzantines. The two prefects went to war with each other, and Euphimius, the winner, dreamt of reuniting the Roman empire. However, he lacked an army, so he asked the Arab Aghlabids rulers of North Africa, at the time the up-and-coming power in the Mediterranean, to lend him theirs. Within a week of the Arabs' arrival in Palermo in 827, Euphimius died mysteriously, and they declined to leave. By 878 all of Sicily, except for a few Byzantine enclaves near Taormina, was controlled by the Saracens. In 905 they captured those too. The Arab rulers moved Sicily's capital to Palermo where it has been ever since. Under Muslim's dominion Palermo became an important commercial and cultural center, a flourishing city broadly known in all Arab world - it is said that it had more than 300 mosques. But they were also years of tolerance: Christians and Jews were permitted to follow their own credo.
In 1060 the Normans launched a crusade against the Muslim emirate of Sicily, taking Palermo on January 10, 1072 and the whole island by 1091. The resulting blend of Norman and Arab culture fostered a unique hybrid style of architecture as can be seen[1] in the Palatine Chapel, the church San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the Zisa.
Sicily in 1194 fell under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. Palermo was the preferred city of the Emperor Frederick II. After an interval of Angevin rule (1266-1282), Sicily came under the house of Aragon and later, in (1479), the kingdom of Spain.
Sicily's unification (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies inflicted a devastating blow on the elite of Palermo, as the city was reduced to just another provincial city, the royal court residing in Naples. Palermo rebelled in 1848 and held out against the Neapolitan crown until May 1849.
The Italian Risorgimento and Sicily's annexation (1860) to the kingdom of Italy gave Palermo a second chance. It was once again the administrative centre of Sicily, and there was a certain economic and industrial development.
Palermo survived almost the entire fascist period unscathed, but during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 it suffered heavy damage.
The importance of Palermo got another boost when Sicily became (1947) an autonomous region with extended self-rule. But any improvement was thwarted by the rising power of the Mafia, which still today is a dramatic feature of the city, as well as the whole Southern Italy.

Main monuments

Cathedral
Cathedral Palermo Sicily tourism

When walking in Corso Vittorio Emanuele (the Cassaro) towards the Norman Palace, you will unexpectedly run into the Cathdral, with its spire towers, its double lancet windows, its intertwined and pointed arches. Rising among the narrow streets and the 3 or 4 storey buildings of the Cassaro, it is fantastically majestic. Built in 1184, it still preserves its original structure in spite of the changes brought along the centuries, the most relevant of which was the addition of the aisles and of the baroque dome at the end of the XVIII century. The Cathedral features some sculptures by Gagini, together with Henry VI, Frederick II and Constance of Aragon’s tombs, but also some verses from the Koran engraved on a column and the silver urn housing the remains of S. Rosalia, patroness of Palermo.

S. Giovanni degli eremiti
S. Giovanni degli eremiti Palermo Sicily tourism

Built on the will of Roger II, the Norman king who considered art as a mean to rule, between 1130 and 1148, the church is famous for the typical Arabian-Fatimite red domes. Its round domes, representing the sky, placed upon quadrangular towers, representing the Earth, make it one of the symbols of Palermo. The building is surrounded by a garden, rich is exotic colours and smells such as the one of jasmine, oranges and pomegranates; it also features a small cloister.
Visit: From Monday to Saturday 09.00am. to 19.00pm.
Ticket office till 18.30pm.
Sunday and Holiday from 09.00am. to 13.30pm.
Ticket office till 13.00pm.

La Zisa
La Zisa Palermo Sicily tourism

Several significant Islamic artefacts, coming from the Mediterranean basin, are displayed in this museum. These feature the elegant masrabiyya , wooden grated screens, composed of hundreds of reels forming refined and light ornamental designs and motifs, together with common tools or some furnishings (candlesticks, bowls, basins, mortars), mainly made in copper and engraved, often enriched with gold and silver thin layers and threads.

S. Giuseppe dei Teatini
S. Giuseppe dei Teatini Palermo Sicily tourism

This church, whose construction kicked off in 1612, is one of the most relevant masterpieces of Palermitan baroque architecture. The late Renaissance exterior features an elegant dome by Giuseppe Mariani and an unfinished tower bell with spiral columns ascribed to Paolo Amato. On the main façade there is a statue of S. Giuseppe, overlooking the Cassaro (Corso Vittorio Emanuele). The interior features one nave and two aisles and houses a XV century delicate Gagini-style Madonna, besides some refined wooden small choirs. All the church’s chapels were fully decorated with marble between the XVII and XVIII century. The altar is decorated with semiprecious stones and bronze. The sacristy houses wooden furniture, paintings and sophisticated XVIII century frontals, some of which are decorated with coral by Trapani artisans. The underground crypt houses the church of the Madonna della Provvidenza.

S. Francesco d'Assisi
S. Francesco d'Assisi Palermo Sicily tourism

The church, built in the XIV century, overlooks a suggestive little square.
It was brought back to its discrete elegance by recent restoration. The church features an impressive gothic door, together with paintings and sculptures by Gagini, Pietro Novelli and Serpotta.

Palazzo Chiaramonte
Palazzo Chiaramonte Palermo Sicily tourism

This fortified palace was built in 1307 by Manfredi I Chiaramonte. During the XVII century it was the see of the Holy Inquisition. It presently houses the University Chancellorship.

s. Cita
s. Cita Palermo Sicily tourism

This church was set up in 1369, while its façade was edified in 1781 by Nicolò Peralta, Marvuglia’s pupil, following a neat Renaissance-inspired design. The main door features a representation of a dog with a torch, the symbol of the Dominican order. The interior has a Latin cross plan and houses sculptures from the earlier church. On the left side of the church, at No.3 via Valverde, you will find the entrance to Santa Cita’s Oratory, famous for the stuccoes Serpotta created at different times from 1688 to 1718; these include allegoric statues, a blaze of puttos, small representations of the Mysteries of the Rosary.
The Oratory is famous for Giacomo Serpotta’s stuccos. After entering a small door and climbing some steps, you will go through a late XVI century double rank open gallery and then access the rectangular interior, entirely covered in magnificent Serpotta stuccos created at different times between 1688 and 1718, featuring allegoric statues, a blaze of puttos and small representations of the Misteries or of the Rosary. On the entrance wall, there is a representation of the Battle of Lepanto, with two boys at the bottom and a trophy on each side. Along the walls there are some benches for the members of the confraternity, featuring mother-of-pearl inlays. A Madonna of the Rosary by Carlo Maratta surmounts the altar.

S. Maria della Catena
S. Maria della Catena Palermo Sicily tourism

The Church of S. Maria della Catena (Santa Maria of the chain) rises in piazzetta della Doganella and takes its name from the chain that closed the city port. Built in the early XVI century, it is a magnificent example of the gothic-Catalan style, but it also presents some Renaissance features; a long staircase leads to the entrance. The façade features a portico, under which there are three Vincenzo Gagini bas-reliefs.

 
Palazzo dei Normanni
Palazzo dei Normanni Palermo Sicily tourism

Built in the IX century on Punic and Roman remains, it has always been the see of Sicilian and Palermitan governors: emirs, kings and viceroys lived in this building, which today houses the Sicilian Regional Parliament. The Palace features the dazzling Palatine Chapel and many outstanding rooms, such as king Roger’s room, the Pompeian room, the Room of the Duke of Montalto and the room of Hercules.
Visiting Time: Monday, Tuesday and Saturday 8.30 a.m.-12.00 a.m (Last entrance 11.30am) and 2.00 p.m.-5.00 p.m. (Last entrance 4.30pm)
Sundays and Holidays 8.30 a.m.-2.00 p.m. (Last entrance 1.30pm.
Visits to Palazzo dei Normanni are suspended during the meetings of the Assembly.
Ticket € 5,00 - € 4,00

Cappella Palatina
Cappella Palatina Palermo Sicily tourism

Built in 1130, year of King Roger II’s crowning, inside the Norman Palace, it is definitely one of the most famous sights in Palermo. Covered in dazzling Byzantine mosaics (akin to those in the church of the Martorana and in the Monreale Cathedral), it is a symbol of the political and cultural union operated by the Normans.
Visits: Daily from 9.00am to 12.00am. (Last entrance 11.30am) 2.00 p.m.-5.00 p.m (Last entrance 4.30pm)
Sundays and Holidays 8.30 a.m. - 2.00 p.m (Last entrance 1.30pm)

Martorana
Martorana Palermo Sicily tourism

“The most beautiful monument in the world” according to Arabian traveller Ibn Giubair. Set up in 1143 by George of Antiochia, Roger II’s admiral, it was named la Martorana because in the Aragonese period it was given to the monastery founded by Eloisa Martorana. The nuns were famous for the fruit-shaped marzipan they prepared, and such confectionery, which is so enjoyable both for the eyes and the taste buds, is still called martorana. Inside, the walls are entirely covered in Byzantine mosaics on a golden background; among the several characters, there is Roger II crowned by Christ and George of Antiochia kneeling before the Virgin Mary. The four-storey bell tower, decorated with double lancet windows and coloured inlays, is also remarkable.

La Cuba
La Cuba Palermo Sicily tourism

It was built in 1180 by William II of Sicily in his great Royal Park, as his personal recreation pavillion, together with an artificial lake: it shows strong Fatimid art influences, as it was (at least partially) designed and decorated by Arab artist still living in Palermo after the Norman conquest in 1072. During the rule of Bourbon kings of Naples it was annexed to some barracks. In the 16th century it was turned into a lepers recovery.
The edifice has a rectangular plan, with massive forms. The four façades are marked by blind arcades, small windows and niches. The name Cuba derives in fact from its grossly cubical form. The famous Italian Middle Ages author Boccaccio was impressed by the Cuba and set here one of the novellas included in the Decameron.

Gesu' (Chiesa della casa Professa)
Gesu' (Chiesa della casa Professa) Palermo Sicily tourism

The church of the Gesù, overlooking piazza Professa, was built by the Jesuits in 1564 and later enlarged by adding the side chapels and a new dome. The 1943 bombs caused great damage; the massive restoration works of all stuccoes and frescoes brought the building back to its old splendour. The late XVI century façade is characterised by two ranks of pilasters and, in the lower part, is divided in three sections by reddish stone frameworks. A beautiful XVIII century sculpture, the Madonna della Grotta, is in a niche above the middle door.
The interior is an exquisite example of Sicilian baroque art; it is fully covered in polychrome inlays, marble decorations and stucco reliefs. The decoration works continued for more than a century, until the expulsion of the Company of Jesus from the Reign (1767), and turned the church into the most extraordinary building of that time in Sicily.

Palazzo Abatellis
Palazzo Abatellis Palermo Sicily tourism

Palazzo Abatellis was built in 1495 by Matteo Carneliveri, in the gothic-Catalan style, but it also present some Renaissance features. On the ground floor sculpture from the XII to the XVI century is displayed. Major ancient works of art feature the wooden architectural elements with geometric patterns carved, dating back to the XII century. Among the XV century works of art, there is the famous marble bust of Eleonora of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana. The first floor features the picture gallery, housing works of art from the XII to the XVI century, showing the evolution of Sicilian painting schools. The museum also houses Our Lady of the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina. print. The Sicilian Regional Gallery is housed by Palazzo Abatellis, built in 1495 by Matteo Carneliveri, in the gothic-Catalan style, but also presenting some Renaissance features. On the ground floor sculpture from the XII to the XVI century is displayed. Major ancient works of art feature the wooden architectural elements with geometric patterns carved on, dating back to the XII century. Among the XV century works of art, there is the famous marble bust of Eleonora of Aragon, by Francesco Laurana. The first floor features the picture gallery, housing works of art from the XII to the XVI century, showing the evolution of Sicilian painting schools. The museum also houses Our Lady of the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina.

Palazzo Sclafani

This stout and impressive quadrangular building was erected in 1330 by Matteo Sclafani. The portal by Bonaiuto da Pisa and the dynamically intertwining arches, featuring pumice inlays, are particularly significant.

 

Museums

Archaeological museum

The Palermo Archaeological Museum is based in the XVIII century Convent of the Oratorians, annexed to the church of S. Ignazio all’Olivella. It features several collections, which only partially manage to give a global and coherent vision of Western Sicily ancient history, but which document all the main steps of archaeological research on the island. Such research was promoted in he XIX and XX century by important representatives of Sicilian culture such as Michele Amari, Antonio Salinas and Ettore Gabrici. Two large statues representing Zeus and dating back to II century B.C. are worth seeing, together with Selinunte’s metops, representing Demetra an Persephone, Apllo’s quadriga, Perseus killng the Gorgons, Hercules and the Cercopians, etc.
Roman-hellenistic statues coming from the Tindari and Solunto sites are displayed n the main cloister.
Palermo, Piazza Olivella
Visit Sunday and Monday from 08.30 a.m to 18.45 p.m.
From Tuesday to Saturday from 08.30 a.m. to 13.45 p.m.

 
Orto Botanico

Set up in 1875 on a design by architects Leon Du Fourny and Venanzio Marvuglia, it is one of the most significant botanical gardens in Europe for the richness and abundance of vegetable specimen coming from all over the world.