Friday, June 2, 2017
We had a wonderful day discovering some of Palermo’s historical sites. One of the perks of visiting family is that they are eager to spend time with you and proud of their city. They want to showcase it and take you to places you would not find on your own. We certainly appreciate the kindness.
There is, in the centre of Palermo, a pedestrian area that encompasses a number of historic buildings/monuments, all worth the visit. A great deal of improvements and cleaning have been done since our last visit, but Palermo still remains true to itself, that is… full of life.
After finding a parking spot (our North American cars wouldn’t be a good thing here), we started a long leisurely tour with plenty of photo ops. I need to say that in June, large tourist crowds are not invading the streets yet, thus making our stroll very pleasant.
The Cathedral – The origins of this beautiful place of worship, like many others in Italy, go back to the 7th century. The cathedral plan reflects the eastern tradition (expression of the byzantine liturgy in Greek) and the western tradition (expression of the Roman liturgy in latin). Even though it is somewhat ornate, with some baroque alcoves in the naves, I have been struck by its overall simplicity.
Palazzo arcivescovile – Connecting to the Cathedral via a bridge, this is a diocesan museum. There are 13 rooms spread over 3 floors, all displaying incredible paintings and restored works of art. Of special interest is a display of Pietro Novelli paintings (first half of 17th century), using amazing chiaroscuro techniques (thinking about photography composition, here). Wow!
Corso Vittorio Emanuelle – A major access to important sites – including the Cathedral, the Royal Palace (Palazzo dei Mormanni) and the National Library – this long stretch is now pedestrian within the historic area and if full of Sicilian flair, from souvenir shops and relaxing plazas to narrow side allies.
Quattro Canti (Four corners) – Known as Piazza Vigliena, this beautiful square was built between 1608 and 1620, at the crossing of 2 main streets: Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. It is a very busy intersection, but you want to take the time to admire the architecture of all four baroque façades featuring fountains and statues of the four Spanish kings of Sicily.
Piazza Pretoria – A few steps from Quattro Canti, this beautiful square is mostly occupied by a huge fountain surrounded by sixteen nude statues of nymphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs. I guess that even for Italians, this was too much nudity (plus a representation of corrupt municipalities) and the square was nicknamed Piazza della vergogna (Square of shame).
Palazzo Pretorio – A beautiful palace facing the fountain on Piazza Pretoria and now hosting Palermo Town Hall. Until 1:00 pm, you can visit several rooms of the palace: the seat of the major, the seat of the municipal office and the seat of the city council. Again, a wonderful marble staircase gratifies the visitor with amazing artwork and a close view of another must-see site: Chiesa della Martorana, which we will visit another day.
Lunch stop: Antica Focacceria San Francesco (www.anticafocacceria.it) – What a treat! We tasted some Sicilian specialties, followed by a traditional cannoli. Mmmmm. A welcome break!
Still on the subject of food (it seems that everything is revolving around it down here…): When something is really good, you are prepared to drive quite a distance to get it. Such was the case of gelato (ice cream) and granita (a slushy kind of a drink made with sugar, water and fresh fruit or artificial colouring). So off we went to a restaurant called La Rotunda, right on the seaside, for scrumptious ice cream and delicious granita with fresh strawberries. Savoury and icy… you cannot ask for anything more!