We arrived in Palermo by car along the A19 connecting Palermo to Catania at around 11 am. We decided to visit the sites outside Palermo, before going to the hotel and after leaving it on the day of departure, so we headed immediately to Monreale which is just 5 miles from Viale Regione Siciliana, the road which connects the inputs of Palermo. We took the exit Corso Calatafimi direction south, then in order to avoid wasting time looking for parking we headed immediately to the parking close to the Duomo of Monreale.
The Cathedral of Monreale
Once free from the car, we went straight to the Cathedral of Monreale, a large building whose construction dates back to 1174 in the Norman period.
We began our visit coming from the porch to the left. Once inside you cannot help but being amazed by the beauty of the paintings, mosaics and furniture which over the centuries have adorned the Church. The Cloister is to be visited even if you have to pay a small ticket for 6 Euros.
Via Maqueda and I Quattro canti
After a short break for refreshment, and having left our luggage at the hotel near the center of Palermo, we went out to discover the city along Via Ruggero VII, the road that cuts Palermo from east to west, along which lays the Teatro Massimo, the largest theater for Opera in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. The city is an open air museum as the whole Sicily. Along the continuation of the road, named Via Maqueda, the historic Alley of Palermo opened in 1599 we saw the church of Santa Ninfa ai Crociferi ,built in 1600. Going on we arrived to what may be considered the center of Palermo, Piazza Vigliena, called “I Quattro canti“, the virtual center of Palermo commissioned in 1600. It has an octagonal shape on each of the four tables. In the first order there are four fountains reminiscent of the 4 rivers of the city, in the second order 4 statues representing the seasons. Over the 4 statues of the kings of the Spanish period, the last order with the four holy virgins of Palermo, perfectly perpendicular to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, or “Cassaro” as the people of Palermo call it today, the eldest street in Palermo. Continuing through Via Maqueda, a few steps from the four corners, you will see the monumental fountain in Piazza Pretoria also known as the fountain of Shame. Behind the fountain, in Piazza Bellini, there is the Church of the Martorana and San Nicolò dei Greci belonging to the community of Piana degli Albanesi with its Byzantine liturgy. At this point we decided to take the tourist train in Piazza Bellini for a quick tour and learn more about the historic center of Palermo. The friendly driver Enrico lead us to see the major attractions of Palermo down to the port to go back to the Royal Palace and the immense Cathedral of Palermo, which we will visit the next day.
Street food in Palermo
Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel
Our second day in Palermo started early with a good breakfast at the hotel to go immediately to the Royal Palace or the Palace of the Normans, who among other things is the house the Sicilian Regional Assembly , the eldest parliament in the World. We move again to reach Via Maqueda up to the four Corners and then to Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Along the Corso we stopped to visit the Church of the Holy Saviour. We were intrigued by the splendour of the decor and the Baroque furniture and the particular arrangement of the audience like a Theater. Once passed the Cathedral, which we decided to visit on our way back, we reached Piazza Vittoria entirely occupied by a green area, Villa Bonanno named after the mayor who wanted to redevelop the area in front of the Palace of the Normans. Passed the garden in front of us we saw the Palace which now houses the Command of the Italian Army.
Crossing Porta Nuova we arrived to Piazza Indipendenza where you will find the tourist entrance.
Turning around the building we could not help but notice the extraordinary juxtaposition of styles, denouncing its long history. The first building of the Royal Palace dates back to the Arab Reign in Sicily. It became the Center of power in Sicily with the advent of the Normans and the Swabians undergoing further expansion and remodeled during the Renaissance and under the Bourbon reign. Once inside, you see the large Maqueda courtyard surrounded by a gallery on three levels of height from which you access the first floor to the magnificent Cappella Palatina. Keep in mind that not all the rooms are always open to the public as the Sala d’Ercole, headquarters of the Regional Assembly and the environments used for parliamentary activities.
At the exit take a break in one of the rooms near the Cathedral where you can enjoy typical products such as arancini and cannoli.
The Cathedral of Palermo
The Cathedral of Palermo is the monument that best tells about the long history of Palermo, as a great book of stone. Built in 1185, with the advent of the Normans, on the site on which stood a mosque, which in turn was derived from a Christian Basilique, it has undergone multiple interventions through the centuries, to tell us the history of the last 1000 years of Sicily. Inside the Cathedral many kings were crowned, and here lay the mortal remains of Frederico II, the “Stupor Mundi”
A short distance from the cathedral takes place the typical market of Ballarò. We did not miss the chance of turning south through Via Vittorio Emanuele for a quick visit, penetrating into the heart of the Albergheria. The market is mainly dedicated to the sale of fruit and vegetables from the countryside as well as meat and fish but you can also find baked goods and the famous street food such as panelle and cazzilli.
Heading North we passed through Via Maqueda to reach the district Tribulali or better Kalsa (the old Arabic name still used today by Palermo) built on what was the ancient Arabian Citadel. It is one of the four historic districts of Palermo, bordered on the northeast side of the square with the Quattro Canti, like the other historic districts of Palermo. Walking through the streets, you can trace the history of this ancient city. In the district there are other important buildings, like the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri and Palazzo Abatellis, dating back to medieval times. Other witnesses are important palaces and Baroque churches such as the Palazzo Bonanno Lungarini and the Church of Santa Teresa Kalsa .There would be many other things to see, but now it’s late and we decided to stop to eat at one of the bars of the district.
Our vacation is about to end but, before leaving Palermo, we decided to visit the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, housed in a recess of the rock on Mount Pellegrino.
It lays at the feet of Monte Pellegrino, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mondello. Here we stopped for a breath of sea air and a quick visit to its famous bathhouses, set of dozens of films before leaving Palermo but ready to return as soon as possible to fill the many gaps in the belief that our short visit is preparatory to the next visit.