Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is not only fascinating but also equally contradictory. The city is the center of Sicily in every way. The architecture alone could not be more interesting, as many peoples have left their lasting impression here. The Baroque, Norman, Byzantine and even Oriental influences cannot be overlooked and make this city so interesting.
The city is located in the north of Sicily, in an idyllic bay called the “Golden Shell”. It is dominated by Monte Pellegrino, which reaches a height of 606 meters.
In the course of time the city was conquered by several peoples and many buildings reflect a respective era. The most famous monuments are the Norman Palace, the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti or the Cathedral of Monreale, located a little outside.
The city is lively and sometimes noisy. Nowhere in Italy is the traffic chaos as great as in Palermo. But the residents of the city deal with it calmly. There is always something going on here and people party all night long.
Tip 1: Palermo Cathedral
In Palermo there is a cathedral from the late 12th century with important royal tombs, the Cathedral Maria Santissima Assunta. It was built in the Norman-Arabic style and is now a landmark of the city of Palermo.
Church services, wedding ceremonies and other church celebrations still take place in Palermo Cathedral, making it a lively meeting place for the people of Palermo. But tourists from all over the world also admire the sacred building during a sightseeing tour of Palermo. The ornate interior with the Madonna and Child by Francesco Laurana and the richly detailed exterior façade invite an extensive visit. In Palermo Cathedral you can admire the craftsmanship of sculptors and achitects of past centuries and find a place of contemplation.
On the site of today’s Palermo Cathedral stood a place of worship as early as the sixth century, which throughout history was used at times as a mosque and a college.
At the end of the 18th century, the cathedral was rebuilt by Ferdinando Fuga in the classicist style. This style has been maintained until today. Since the 18th century there are also two royal tombs in the side chapel. In Roman sacrophagi rest here the bones of Kings Frederick II and Henry VI and the remains of former bishops of Sicily. Also worth seeing is the treasury of Palermo Cathedral. Liturgical vestments are exhibited here. The highlight of the exhibition is a crown that was a burial gift from Frederick II to his wife.
Tip 2: Palazzo dei Normanni
Bulky and chunky, the Palazzo dei Normanni – also called Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) – rises in Piazza Indipendenza, at the highest point of the medieval city area. Once the seat of the Norman kings of Sicily, the building now houses the Sicilian Parliament. Some parts of the building from Norman times are still preserved, such as the Torre Pisana on the east side.
Large parts of the palace, on the other hand, are characterized by Renaissance architectural elements. Particularly worth seeing are the courtyard with its wonderful arcades and the Cappella Palatina, which was built in the 12th century by the Norman ruler Roger II and is decorated with wonderful gold mosaics.
Tip 3: Monreale Cathedral
Visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova in Monreale is a must. Catholics in the region dedicated the building, which was named a basilica minor by the Pope, to the Mother of Jesus Christ.
Because the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Monreale uses the Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral as his official residence, you can get a lot of interesting information about the religious customs of the Sicilians. In addition, the architecture of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova illustrates the unique Sicilian architecture. During a guided tour you will learn how the Sicilians built the structure in the 12th century as a memorial building and monastic church. The Byzantine architectural style prevalent in the region at that time characterizes the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova.
When you enter the sight in Monreale, you will see impressive gold-ground mosaics on the interior walls. In addition, the cloister, which is the only part of the Benedictine monastery of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova that has been preserved, exerts a special fascination.
Tip 4: Quattro Canti
Quattro Canti, translated “four corners”, is actually an octagonal square. It is located in the heart of Palermo and is laid out in the Baroque style. The fact that it is considered one of the most beautiful squares in the city is mainly due to the four three-story palaces that frame it.
The concave curved facades designed by architect Giulio Lasso look the same at first glance, as they are all divided by pilasters and integrate fountains, statues and coats of arms, as well as Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. Only upon closer inspection do the differences become apparent. The fountains symbolize the four seasons, the statues depict Charles V, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, four different Spanish kings, and Cristina, Ninfa, Oliva and Agatha, four different patron saints of the districts of the time. Behind the façade of the palazzo in the south-southwest corner of the Quattro Canti, there is also the Basilica of San Giuseppe dei Teatini.
Today Quattro Canti is located in the historical center of Palermo, but the square was created in the course of a city expansion towards the east, towards the sea. For this purpose, the main street, today’s Corso Vittorio Emanuele, was widened and lengthened, and later today’s Via Maqueda was added, crossing the Corso at right angles. Here, from 1608 to 1620, the Quattro Canti was built, commissioned by the Spanish Viceroy Vigliena. Quattro Canti is actually also called “Piazza Vigliena” after this client, but it is recorded even in official street maps under its unofficial name. Another name of the square is “Teatro del Sole”, Theater of the Sun, which shines here on one of the corner facades throughout the day in good weather.
Tip 5: Pretoria Fountain
The Fontana Pretoria is located in the square Piazza Pretoria in the Sicilian port city of Palermo. The fountain consists of three basins and a fountain column, the individual basins are connected by steps. Both at the individual basins and along the steps of the Fontana Pretoria are statues depicting river gods from Roman and Greek mythology, as well as nymphs.
The majority of the statues are depicted nude, in accordance with the usual representation in art. During the night hours, the Fontana Pretoria is illuminated. The Fontana Pretoria fountain is not only an interesting sight, it is also one of the most famous meeting places within the city. However, part of Palermo’s strictly Catholic population continues to reject the fountain and refers to the square where it is located as Piazza della Vergogna, which translates as Square of Shame. The possibility of seeing for oneself the artistic aesthetics of the Fontana Pretoria and its statues is a frequent motive for visiting the fountain.