A trip to Palermo allows travelers to discover true Italy, where ancient history meets modern entertainment. This ancient city, whose founding dates back to the eighth century B.C., has everything you need for a good seaside resort. The capital of the island of Sicily is consistently included in the ranking of the best places to vacation in the country. And rave reviews complete the image of a city with stunning architecture, a variety of historical monuments and unique national flavor. When planning a visit to the city, which in its history has been under the control of various nations, it is worth to decide in advance what sights to visit Palermo. The fact is that the monuments here are literally at every step, but there are those that deserve the most attention.
In order that you can get the most out of your trip, we propose to study the list, which presents the most famous and popular places. Note that there is a lot to see not only in the Sicilian capital, but also in its surroundings, for example, in the town of Cefalù, which locals call a little Venice. When you travel, you’ll see many attractions of Italy, not only the world famous ones, but also those that only the locals know about.
In the number of places that can be appreciated by tourists, the city is able to compete with many popular resorts, including Naples and Verona. Here is an overview of those of them, where you must go:
To begin with the New Gate, erected at the end of the sixteenth century after the important victory of Charles V over the Turkish armies. It is located near the Norman palace and opens to travelers the historical part of the capital of Sicily. Visually the gate is reminiscent of a triumphal arch with a luxurious superstructure and unique decoration. The general background is dominated by the pyramidal roof with mosaic depicting an eagle and sculptural images of atlantes on the facade. Less than a hundred years after its construction, the structure was demolished and reconstructed two years later. The new gate is included in all city tours, but you can admire it without a guide, and it is best done in the morning, when there are no crowds of people around and you can feel all the grandeur of the medieval structure.
The Palatine Chapel is among the oldest chapels in the city. Originally built as a church under the Palazzo dei Normanni, where members of the Sicilian royal family could pray. It is in the Arab-Norman style with Byzantine mosaic elements and carved ceiling decoration. A large part of the interior has survived since the 12th century, particularly the granite and marble columns that separate the side aisles of the basilica from the central area. The mosaic floor, designed in the Cosmatesco technique, makes an indescribable impression.
Official site: https://www.cappellapalatinapalermo
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - While visiting this tourist site, pay special attention to the burial sites of Sicilian kings and German emperors, whose reign on the island is considered a period of cultural and economic prosperity. If you want to learn more about the history of this amazing building and other ancient buildings, it makes sense to book tours to Palermo - there are different itineraries, so there is plenty to choose from.
Churches of Martorana and San Cataldo - Located in one of the picturesque squares of the city of Bellini, these two structures are striking in contrast to the architecture of the surrounding houses. San Cataldo is visually reminiscent of a mosque, a harmony of Byzantine and Arabic style. Both churches were erected in the twelfth century, but belong to different dioceses and are a must on any tour of the city.
The Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini is a Catholic church in the immediate vicinity of Quattro Canti, which experts call one of the best structures in the Sicilian Baroque style. In the crypt, parts of the church from ancient times have been preserved.
The Church of Saint John the Hermit - no less original than the structures on Piazza Bellini, this church is designed in an oriental style and is believed to have been erected at the end of the 11th or mid-12th century. It is worth walking here to admire the huge domes, the arched gallery and the crucifix of wood, preserved from the 15th century.
A sea square with stunning views and solemn decorations, from where you can take a walk through the Garibaldi garden with trees more than three hundred years old;
A truly legendary historical monument is the Massimo Theatre, which for centuries has borne the title of the largest theater in Europe in terms of capacity (it can accommodate 3,000 spectators). It is notable for its unparalleled acoustics and architectural execution in the neoclassical style with the addition of ancient Greek temple elements. The theater, designed by Giovanni Battista, had been under construction for 23 years, the creator himself did not see the end of the work and died, so the finishing touches had to be done by his son.
Official website: http://www.teatromassimo.it/eng/
Another item in our review of Palermo sights, but by no means the least interesting for travelers, is the Politeama Theater in the heart of the island’s capital. It was built surprisingly quickly (work began in 1867 and ended 7 years later). The building is characterized by neoclassical style, with similarities to the ancient Roman architecture. You can admire the beauty of the bronze sculptures and facade decoration, but also visit a modern art gallery or a music concert.
Official website: http://www.orchestrasinfonicasiciliana
The Puppet Museum of Palermo, where you can be a genius puppeteer or, conversely, be dominated by thousands of puppets on strings that are traditional in Sicily (the collection has 3,500 pieces). The founder of the museum is the talented surgeon A. Pasqualini, who in the seventies of the last century managed to realize the idea of creating a museum of various marionettes collected from all regions of the country.
Official website: https://www.museodellemarionette
A former monastery and now the Antonio Salinas Museum of Archaeology, which houses the church of St. Ignatius and the chapel of St. Philip Neri. The complex, designed by Antonio Muttone, was built in the 17th century and became a repository of ancient Greek and Phoenician art objects in 1866. It was named after one of its directors, who made a bequest and donated 6,000 pieces to the museum’s collection. Visitors are offered a variety of exhibits, but most of all tourists are interested in the monuments of prehistoric times and the results of excavations of the ancient settlement of Salinunte in the south of the island.
The Catacombs of the Capuchins are mystical underground galleries containing over 8,000 unburied bodies that have turned into mummies since burial. The remains belong to members of the local elite: nobles, eminent scientists, top clergy, etc., some of them embalmed, another - in the form of skeletons, the third group consists of mummies. This is a unique museum where you can look at the sitting, standing, hanging bodies of the dead: there are those that are arranged singly, others that are combined in thematic compositions.
Official website: http://www.palermocatacombs.com/
Another interesting and unusual place is the Fountain of Shame, built in the sixteenth century in Piazza Pretoria. It got its unusual name because the sculptor decorated his baroque creation with sculptures of nude figures. It is noteworthy that the church nearby gave the order for the construction - its servants made the order in the hope that the fountain would be a salvation for residents from the summer heat. Despite general indignation, the structure was not demolished, but the townspeople, going to the service, were ashamed to look at it, which was the reason for the second name.
The fountain that symbolizes the city, called “The Genius of Revolution Square” or “The Genius of Palermo”, is the embodiment of the rich life of the Sicilian capital, where different cultures and ethnicities live. There are many legends associated with its creation, one of which is that the sculptor depicted a mysterious divine entity with a snake, which was the embodiment of Scipio the African. It is believed that it was thanks to her that the inhabitants were able to withstand an attack by the troops of Carthage. Subsequently, in the 19th century, the fountain became a gathering place for citizens who fought against the Bourbon power. A trip to the fountain will give you a deeper insight into the atmosphere of freedom prevailing in the resort and a better understanding of its inhabitants.
The Botanical Garden of Palermo is a wonderful place where you can see ripe oranges in early summer, admire ficuses brought back from Australia in the mid 19th century and simply walk around the 10 hectares. More than twelve thousand plants are waiting for visitors, including huge palm trees, creating a feeling of being in a resort. Cacti, bamboo, a variety of tropical trees and incredibly beautiful blue lilies that bloom in the Alps and Spain deserve special attention. At the entrance you will not be greeted by Palermo guides, as at other attractions, but by a bust of Vincenzo Tineo, the famous Italian botanist who worked at the local university in the 18th century.
Mondello beach - earned a reputation as one of the best beaches in Palermo, Mondello until a hundred years ago resembled an ordinary swamp, but thanks to the investment of local aristocrats and the talent of Italian engineers the area has been transformed. Entrance to the coastal zone is free, and dozens of fashionable villas have been erected around, along which you can stroll and admire the unusual architectural compositions. The beach area with unspoiled sand stretches for more than 2 kilometers, and there is a natural park around, where you can organize a fun picnic with family or friends.
Caf 113 on the outskirts of the city is a totally relaxed atmosphere, and the open roof allows you to enjoy not only the stunning food, but also the view of the night sky. Fans of traditional Italian pizza flock here from all around, which, according to visitors’ reviews, is prepared there just divinely.
The Renzo Barbera Stadium, built in the early thirties, is where the 1996 World Cup matches were held. The arena holds up to 37 thousand spectators and used to be called Michele Marrone, Littorio (first name), La Favorita, and after the death of the president of the Palermo soccer club in the early 21st century the stadium was renamed in his honor.
Now you know the best, according to the recommendations of most travelers, Palermo attractions. All that remains is to decide which of them to visit first, taking into account your preferences and the amount of free time. Wherever you stay and however many days you spend in the capital of the Italian island, your trip will be unforgettable!
Official site: https://palermocalcio.it/en/
On the outskirts of the historic part of Palermo you can see the Norman Palace, once the residence of the kings of Sicily. The history of the castle began in the 9th century, and over the centuries the ancient Romans, Phoenicians, Spaniards and Normans worked on it at different times. This is why the eclectic façade of the palace reflects different eras; you can literally read the history of the city and everything you need to know about Palermo by its characteristic elements. The most famous and valuable part of the palace is the Palatine Chapel, once the private chapel of the Sicilian kings, with its magnificent mosaics. Particularly noteworthy is the mosaic depicting Christ surrounded by a host of angels, the granite floor covered with mosaics, and the carved wood ceiling of the 12th century. Today, the Norman Palace is the seat of the Assembly, so visiting time is limited - on weekdays you can visit the palace and the chapel, on weekends access to the chapel and some exhibitions is open.
Some of Palermo’s museums are set up inside ancient palaces, an example of which is the Palazzo Cisa, which once served William II as his summer residence. This medieval palazzo from the 12th century is an example of the Arab-Norman style and began to be built under William I. The monarch died before its completion, leaving the beautiful palace to his heir, who valued oriental culture. Over the centuries, the building has undergone a number of alterations, as a result of which it has partially lost its original appearance. In the 70s-80s of the 20th century the Cisa underwent a thorough restoration, after which it was reincarnated as a museum. Today, the structure still retains some elements that give it an oriental flavor, but traces of European architecture can also be seen. In the interior there is a Museum of Islamic Art with a collection of artefacts collected in the Mediterranean.
This amazing palace was built in the 14th century by the Sicilian aristocrat Manfredi III Chiaramonte, who spent his life opposing Aragonese rule. Later the castle was the seat of the Sicilian viceroys, and from the 16th century it was a prison where heretics were held. In the 20th century, the executive authorities moved to another building and the palace was restored. The first place to go to be impressed by the setting of the prison cells is the lower floors and basement. This place is a grim legacy of the Inquisition, where the prisoners painted the walls with pictures. Most of them are depictions on religious subjects, mainly reflecting biblical subjects. The most interesting parts of the wall paintings were depictions of saints, along with inscriptions and poems dedicated to death and destiny. Pierced hearts, mouths of hell, righteous and sinners, instruments of torture, images of justice and many other allegories were skillfully depicted by the prisoners of the castle.
In the surrounding area, the Palermo route leads to the small town of Monreal, just 5 km from the city. Here you can find an impressive temple, a valuable monument of Arab-Norman architecture, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded by King William II. This imposing structure absorbed Norman, Sicilian, Arabic and Byzantine motifs: it has a complex structure of galleries, powerful patterned walls, an asymmetrical façade topped with two towers of different sizes. The interior is even more impressive - from the marble floor the Corinthian columns rush upwards, supporting vaults with Byzantine mosaics. It’s hard even to imagine that the total area of mosaics here is about 10 thousand square meters. Therefore, the Cathedral of Monreale is the best thing to see in Palermo and the surrounding area without going far out of town.
The Pietro Doderlein Museum is the University Museum of Zoology in Palermo. Among the museum’s exhibits are more than 5,000 specimens of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, many of which are extinct species in Italy and Sicily. There is also a unique collection of butterflies and insects. A visit to the Zoological Museum is sure to please both adults and children.
Official website: https://www.coopculture
As a rest after a busy sightseeing tour of historical monuments, it is recommended to visit the non-tourist places of Palermo, where you can just take a breath, distract yourself from the endless flickering of palatial interiors, centuries-old facades and just enjoy nature. A good solution is to go to Villa Bonanno Park, located in the heart of Victoria Square. It is quite a large garden area with rich tropical vegetation, ruins of ancient Roman buildings and a large number of sculptural compositions. In the central part of the park on a pedestal stands a monument to Philip IV, not far you can see a marble bust of Mayor Pietro Bonanno, whose name is given to the park. Not far from these sculptures are the ruins of Romanesque buildings of the 1st century AD. The park, along with many of the buildings of the historic center, is currently undergoing extensive restoration, so it will soon be transformed and become even more beautiful.
In Palermo, sightseeing rides also welcome visitors to the Calma quarter, home to the 15th-century Palazzo Abatellis, which houses the Regional Art Gallery of Sicily within its walls. The palace, in Gothic-Catalan style, was once the residence of the head of the Sicilian port, Francesco Abatellis. After his death, Abatellis’ wife bequeathed the palazzo to a convent, and a chapel was added during a small reconstruction. During the Second World War, the palace suffered terrible damage, but it was subsequently carefully restored and in 1954 an art gallery was founded there. Today a walk around Palermo should not fail to include a visit to this attraction - within the walls of the palace you can see a rich collection of works of art, many of which were purchased from monasteries after the secularization - frescoes, paintings and other fragments of decoration.
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