Palermo is a town where it is possible to see everywhere the union between the Orient and the Occident, at the point to make me think that it would be a paradise for an Orientalist. Its monuments have a so peculiar style that it is difficult to give properly the idea. For this reason I entrust Guy de Maupassand, who in his La vie errante describes them in this way:
After seeing these monuments, which, though belonging to different periods and being different origin still have the same character, the same nature, one can truly say that they are neither Gothic nor Arabic nor Byzantine, but Sicilian; one can assert that there is a Sicilian art and style, forever recognizable, which is assuredly more delightful, varied, more highly colored and full of conceptions.
It seems a marvel, doesn't it? And in effect, it is. With this post, I would like to propose to you a little itinerary to discover some of the most beautiful and important monuments of Palermo, which you must not miss in particular of you are fascinated by the Orient.
|Saint Rosalia in front of th Cathedral|
So, let's start and walk along Maqueda street in the direction of Quattro Canti.
# Saint Cataldo Church
The first attraction you will find at your right. You will notice this little church for its aspect: a parallelepipedon with three red cupolas. It dates back the 12th century and inside it is quite simple and bare, but the floor is what will catch your attention.
# Martorana (the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio)
No, do not go ahead in Maqueda street, it is not the moment yet. Instead, go on the left of Saint Cataldo Church, where a bell tower near a very tall palm tree makes you doubt to be still in Italy. This is the most famous and beautiful Medieval church of the town. Inside you will find Byzantine mosaics, the Norman apse and Baroque-style frescos, all gathered in the same place in perfect harmony. So, while other populations fought one against the other, here Arabs, Sicilians and Normans cooperated to create this marvel!
Culinary curiosity: one of the typical sweets of Palermo is the fruit of Martorana, various fruit-shaped almond patisserie. Its name comes from the fact that the nuns of this church made these pastries.
# Fontana Pretoria (or the Fountain of the Shame)
From Bellini square, where the Martorana is, we go to Fontana Pretoria through a little alley. The town bought this fountain in 1573 to surpass in beauty the Fountain of Orion of Messina. You are asking why "of the Shame", aren't you? The explanation is simple and funny: the fountain is animated by a lot of naked nymphes and tritons. When the nuns of Saint Joseph of Teatini Church, which is in front of the fountain, saw them, they uttered: "What a shame!" Some friends from Palermo told me that for a certain time people covered the shameless deities with clothes.
# Quattro Canti
Let's go in Maqueda street again and after few steps we arrive at Quattro Canti, crossing of the two main axes of the town and contact point of the four old districts, Albergheria, Capo, Kalsa and Vucciria. On the façades of the four buildings you can admire statues and fountains representing Spanish kings, saints and emblems.
Now, turn on the left and take Vittorio Emanuele street. Walking along this street you can see many little shops and workshops of any kind.
# Maria SS. Assunta Cathedral
At a certain point, on your right, you will see, in all its splendour, the Cathedral, a marvel of cupolas, towers, plumes and vaults. Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of the town, dominates the large park in front of the main portal. One could stay hours admiring this building so particular, almost magic. An atmosphere given by the fusion of different styles, here too, but perfectly melt together. Inside, it hosts the grave of Fredrick II and of Norman kings and the treasure with Constance of Aragon's crown. Besides, it is possible to visit the roof of the Cathedral, during the evening too. Look carefully the floor: there is a "camera obscura" sundial realized in 1801. On it, there are the signs of the zodiac. At 12, from the lantern of a cupola, a beam of light enters and hits one of the signs: it indicates the constellation in which we are in that precise moment of the year.
Let's go ahead with our itinerary and walk in Vittorio Emanuele street, passing through Porta Nuova. We are going to the Royal Palace, where we will find the famous Palatine Chapel, World Hertage Site.
# Palatine Chapel
A gold breath-taking marvel and another example of the union between Latin and Byzantine elements. The walls are completely covered with mosaics representing the stories of the New Testament and a huge Christ that has the power to make you feel so small in front of so much immensity.
And with that we come to the end of this itinerary. What do you think about?