Seen on the streets
One of the real pleasures of exploring a city like Palermo lies in simply wandering the streets and taking in the sights, the expected and the unexpected. At eye level there are shop windows and grand doors; higher up fine architectural details over those doorws and windows, balconies - some with lines of washing hanging limply or dancing in a sudden gust of wind, flags and flowerpots too; and higher again the cupolas and domes of fine houses and the city's countless churches standing high above the rooftops. Narrow streets and lanes lead off to unknown endings around a corner; deeply shaded alleys open into bright sunlit squares. Doors half-open reveal glimpses into private lives. Pink oleanders and lemon-laden branches spill over high walls and friends sit gossiping under cafe umbrellas.
Streets that are busy, busy at eleven thirty are deathly quiet at one as the important matter of lunch draws almost everyone off the street. An hour later it all starts to pick up again and business of the afternoon gets underway. Come the evening and it seems as if every one in town is out and about on the end-of-day ritual of the passegata. Find yourself a seat at a streetside cafe, order a drink, sit back and just enjoy the scene.
If you have nowhere to stay, travel light in the summer - you really don't want to be lugging yourstuff around on a summers day, plus clothes etc are cheap and there are loads of markets.. If you are going in the summer remember that in the city alot of people still dress more formally than at the beach - if you go wandering round the cathedral in a bikini not only is it disrespectful but you are bound to get hassled...where possible wear trousers in the city... Sun tan lotion and lots of it, remember you are near Africa - be sure to keep drinking liquids - when the scirocco (wind from North Africa) arrives in mid August it feels rather like how I would imagine to feel if I were a chicken in a fan assisted oven.
Take mossie lotion too - they can be vicious.
Via Manin, off Via Liberta (in the area between the Politeama Theatre and the English Garden (Giardino Inglese).
This restaurant is one of Palermo's culinary treasures. Cin-Cin (pronounced chin chin) takes its name from an Italian expression akin to the British 'Cheers!' used in toasts. Cin-Cin's cuisine is a kind of highly-evolved Sicilian, though to describe it as 'nouvelle cuisine' would be inaccurate. 'Sophisticated' is more appropriate.
$40.00 per person, with a special fixed menu for around $25.00. Cin-Cin is open most evenings, though lunch is served only on Sunday.
Day trip to Erice
Erice is reputedly the oldest town in Sicily. It is perched on a hill above Trapani, about an hour’s drive from Palermo. You approach the town up a steep winding road and if driving will need to park outside and explore on foot. But before you enter the town, check out that view! Looking to the West, you can see Trapani and the saltpans, and to the East, the rugged coastline of Northern Sicily.
Once through the stone gate to the town you’ll find cobbled streets, arched passageways and narrow lanes, with several interesting little shops and tavernas. The cathedral is just a few steps from the car park. It was constructed in the 14th Century and has a magnificent front portal and a separate Gothic style bell tower which stands a few metres from the entrance. Look carefully at the steps leading up to the square in front of the cathedral and you’ll spot an old carved stone, re-used from a presumably demolished building. Apparently there were once about 60 churches in and around the town, and while some still stand others have been left to fall into ruin and have been partly re-used or adapted for other functions.
You can also travel to Erice by cable car from Trapani but we dodn't have long enough there to check this out - it looked fun though.
Palermo, Destiny of a King's Capital
Niscemi's Cave and Addaura Cavern, in the cliffs of Mount Pellegrino, were both inhabited in middle neolithic times and boast some remarkable wall drawings. This was the dawn of European prehistory. Palermo's recorded history begins four millennia later.
Founded by the Phoenicians, who named it Ziz, Palermo was settled in the eighth century BC as a port. Its development paralleled that of Solunto and Motia. Archeologists generally agree that the Phoenicians were compelled to develop these cities because they were forced out of eastern Sicily by the Greeks, but this civilization's presence in western Sicily seemed inevitable. The Greeks called the city Panormos, meaning "all port." The Latin name, still used in Catholic Church documents well into the nineteenth century, was Panormus.
The Phoenicians' descendants and successors, the Carthaginians, made Panormos a center of commerce, and it was their base port, in 480 BC, for the navy that was defeated in the Battle of Himera. In 276 BC, Panormos finally fell to the Greeks. The Punic Wars followed, and the city was part of the Roman Empire from 253 BC. Phoenician and Roman Palermo extended from the port area along what is now Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Corso Calatafimi in the area beyond the Royal Palace.
The Paleo-Christian era left several early churches in the city. Its earliest faith was Orthodoxy. Following a brief Gothic occupation and occasional Vandal raids, Panormus was part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire from 535 until 831, when it fell to the invading Saracen Arabs ("Moors"), who turned many of the churches into mosques. Thus began the reign of the Aghlabid dynasty of what is now Tunisia. From 948, as Bal'harm, it was the capital of the Emirate of Sicily of the Kalbite dynasty, and it is from that date that Palermo may be considered to have been the royal capital of Sicily.
The Arabs brought the lemon and the orange, cane sugar, and the cultivation of mulberry trees, dates, cotton and hard wheat. They introduced innovative irrigation systems and a novel system of aqueducts. Palermo became one of the Muslim world's most splendid cities, surpassed only by Baghdad.
In stark contrast to the Normans' conquest of England, the Sicilian conquest was long and difficult. Only in 1071, almost a decade after they had landed at Messina, did the Normans, led by Robert "Guiscard" de Hauteville, capture Palermo, and then after a five-month siege. Numbering perhaps as many as a hundred thousand, the residents (Palermitans) of this medieval metropolis were Muslims, Christians and Jews from every part of Sicily and every part of the Mediterranean. The island was the place where east met west, and north met south. In the decades to come, Palermo flourished as the wealthiest city of Europe, the victor in a subtle sibling rivalry with another newly-Norman city, London.
From the eleventh century onward, the history of Palermo is largely the history of Sicily. Despite brief periods of competition from Messina and then Catania, it was the seat of the island's government. By the nineteenth century, Palermo had become the place of residence of most of western Sicily's nobility. Its splendid palazzi are their legacy. If Milan seems to ignore the rest of Italy, if Rome presumes to be the national capital, Palermo exists in a realm neither could ever hope to occupy.
Its ancient and medieval historical district is larger than that of any other Italian city except Rome and maybe Naples. Southern Italy's entire historical legacy exists along a kilometer of Corso Calatafimi --a Phoenician-Carthaginian cemetery, Roman homes (in Piazza Vittoria), Norman palaces (the Cuba and Royal Palace) and Baroque churches. Perhaps no other street in Europe boasts a heritage so ancient and so varied.
There's no other Italian city quite like it. Palermo is an urban paradox. Life in this unique city can be challenging, though most Palermitans seem to have adapted well. Water, in certain quarters, is rationed; it is provided for a few hours every two or three days, just long enough to fill up the tanks in residents' homes. Air quality leaves something to be desired; in 2000 Via Roma registered the highest level of pollutants of any main street in a large Italian city. Traffic often comes to a complete halt for hours; Via Regione Siciliana, the city's main highway, is infamous for this. Protests often block central streets; these "mini-revolutions" are invariably over by lunchtime. Despite such inconveniences, Palermo remains a jewel of the Mediterranean. No visit to Sicily is ever complete without a visit to Palermo, a city that permits one not just to know this island but to begin to understand it.