Avoid Zoology Museum
The Museo dell'Instituto di Zoologia is as dead as the pale fish with blank stares and open mouths. Even the high school students that I shared the museum with were starting to look like the fish.
A better alternative is the Paleontological Museum on Corso Tukory 131. Those exhibits were brought to life.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Family Travel
Walking To The Port
More near the bottom of your "what to do" list would be a walk to the port area. It is not far from most of the hotels in the center and actually is quite nice to get out of the buildings and be able to see the sea and across to another tall mountain.
We enjoyed walking along the concorse that the city of Palermo has provided and then going into the area where the small boats are docked. It is peaceful there and there are places to sit and just enjoy the view.
If the sun is out and there is no rain, you are going to enjoy it.
I felt quite safe during the day being there, but I do not suggest going there at night. Just as in any place in Palermo you must be on your guard.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Sailing and Boating
It is easy to forget when in Palermo that it is a seaside town, the streets in the center are narrow and the city is spread out a lot, but if you take the time to walk to the seafront you will be surprised.
There are lots of boats of all kind and shape and it is clear the municipality has made an effort to upgrade the area.Related to:
- Sailing and Boating
For all their French beginnings and Christian beliefs, the Normans were enamoured of the lifestyle of the Saracens they'd displaced as rulers of the island kingdom. They spoke Arabic and Arabs held many important posts in their courts. They lived in Arab style, surrounded by a luxury and elegance that was unknown by their northern cousins in France and England. They used Arab architects and builders for their grandest buildings and planted wonderful Arab gardens and pleasure grounds around their palaces.
Little but written descriptions remain of all this splendour - fabulous tales told by visitors to these courts of gardens where fountains, man-made lakes and streams cooled the air, silk-lined pavilions were scattered among groves of sweet-smelling citrus and almond trees, exotic plants abounded and even more exotic animals and birds roamed free or were kept in eleborate menageries. It's all but impossible to imagine as you make your way through the shabby streets past souless modern blocks of flats and the crumbling decay of the outer reaches of Palermo to the palace of La Zisa - the last of these wonderful pleasure palaces to be built before the magic kingdom faded away, overtaken by the powerful combination of the zeal, greed and bigotry of Popes and Holy Roman Emperors.
William l commissioned La Zisa in 1166, his son, William ll was already on the throne when it was completed the following year. The gardens are long gone - the new park currently being laid out in front of the palace in traditional Arab style would have disapeared into a corner of the original garden.
The palace itself is solid enough - a large, restrained cube, very Moorish in appearance, with a ruined pool in front of the main door. Only the Fountain Room, the main reception room shows any trace of the beauty that earned the palace its name - La Zisa means "The Magnificent". Two storeys high, it retains its"muqarras", Arabic stalactite roof vaultings that are familiar to anyone who has travelled to Cairo or Damascus. Some of the Byzantine mosaic frieze remains as do the bands of Roman Cosmati mosaic around the doors and walls (the remnants of fresco are of a much later date). The upper floors are all bare stone walls, with narrow passages and small rooms, some of which display a collection of historical Arab artifacts. It's all very heavily restored but it opens a tiny window into the past, just big enough for the ghosts of 12th century Sicily to slip through.
Palermo's seaside playground
8 kilometres noth of Palermo, sheltered by the huge crag of Monte Pelligrino and with 2 kilometres of curving beach crammed with painted beach huts, Mondello is where all Palermo loves to come to escape the city's heat and traffic fumes. A fishing village ong before it became a fashionable beach resort in the late 19th century, Mondello's a mix of the elegant fin-de-siecle seaside villas and seaside restaurants centred around a lively piazza where partying Palermo teenagers and family groups alike gather in the evening's passeggiata.
Whilst much of the seafront is given over to private beaches, there is an area of public beach, and bright painted fishing boats stil cram the docks and pull up on the sand come evening.
The grand Art Nouveau pavilion that dominates the shoreline is now the Charleston Terrazza restaurant - a lovely setting but expensive and formal from all accounts. Reservations necessary and best bib and tucker required.
The nicest time of day to my mind, is sunset when the setting sun washes Monte Pellegrino with pinks and golds, the fishing boats have all returned to harbour, and the aforementioned partying teenagers are still at home getting ready for their night on the town.
The New Gate
New is a relative term in cities like Palermo. The Porto Nuovo was built to celebrate the triumphant arrival in the city of the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V's after his victory against the Ottomans in Tunisia in 1535. He was to later lose the much more decisive Battle of Preveza in 1538 but the Porto Nuovo was built by then and the four huge telamones representing the captured Moors from the Tunisian campaign remain on the western facade to this day.
Severely damaged by lightning strike and and a subsequent explosion, the gate was extensively remodelled in in the mid-17th century, when the upper loggia and tiled roof was added.
The gate is considered the demarcation line between the old city and the new. The old Cassaro - the road from the port to Monreale - runs through the gate still. Renamed Corso Vittorio Emmanuele on the eastern side of the gate and Corso Calatafimi on the west, it's still the road to Monreale, and locals still refer to it as Cassaro
Restoring la Kalsa
When the Saracen Emirs of Palermo built a citadel close to the sea and lived there with their court and ministers the area was known as al Halisah, meaning the elect or the pure. With the arrival of the Normans, the area remained the city's main Arab quarter. Time saw the quarter's name change to la Khalesa and then la Kalsa and even today the atmosphere is considered the most Arab-influenced area of the city.
Badly damaged by Allied bombing during World War ll, large areas were demolished and the rubble thrown into the sea. Decades of neglect saw the whole quarter becoming so run-down, squalid and poverty-stricken, Mother Theresa was driven to compare it to the third world when she visited the city. Whether her words were the sole catalyst for change is debatable but the last few years have seen a huge injection of money and effort into restoring the quarter and what was once an area of the city to be avoided is rapidly becoming a "must-see" for visitors.
The Porte dei Greci (the Greek Gate) is regarded as the main entrance to the quarter - it opens into the Piazza della Kalsa, a pretty green space with the inevitable grand baroque church - Santa Teresa alla Kalsa. I was more interested in the snails being boiled up in large copper cauldrons but I'll write about those under Local Customs.
A wedding party (one of at least a dozen we encountered in Sicily - this one saw a flock of white doves being released - a pretty sight that added something of a mediaeval touch to an already mediaeval churchyard) kept us out of the 12th century Chiesa della Trinità on the Piazza Magione. This was one of the last buildings completed in the Norman Kingdom and, although there have been alterations and restorations through the centuries, it's still very obviously Norman.
Palermo's main market, the Mercato di Ballarò, can be found in the Albergheria quarter, just a couple of streets in from Via Marqueda. The oldest, and the biggest, of Palermo's markets, locals have been shopping at the stalls set up in this warren of narrow streets ever since the Saracens first set up the souk here, 11 centuries ago, and there's still more than a whiff of the souk about the market today. Churches may have replaced mosques but there's no mistaking the origins of this lively scene - cross the Mediterranean to Tripoli, Cairo or Damascus and you'll find the scene is pretty much the same.
All the life and colour of a typical Sicilian market is here in spades - mountains of wonderful produce, amazing displays of freshly caught fish, great wheels of cheese, more varieties of olives and salamis than you thought it possible to find. The smells are great too - pungent herbs, fragrant peaches, newly baked bread. Clothes, household goods, shoes, toys and more all add to the colours and the mix.
Morning's the best time to visit any market, Ballarò's no exception. Everything's closed on Sunday.
Before you leave, take a good look at the Chiesa del Carmine (Our Lady of Carmel) on the Piazza del Carmine, the centre of the market. Look up to see how the colourful tiled dome is borne on the shoulders of four giant Atlases.
Palermo's "shameful" fountain
Immediately adjacent to the Quattro Canti, you'll find the Piazza Pretoria, home to a gorgeous baroque fountain. These days, the good folk of Palermo are justly proud of their beautiful fountain.
This was definitely not the case when the fountain was first unveiled. Then the nude figures of gods and goddesses, nymphs and fauns all around the fountain were considered so shocking the fountain was known as the Fontana della Vergogna the "Fountain of Shame". What was intended for the garden of a private Tuscan villa was definitely not acceptable for a public square! The fountain couldn't be returned and the Palermintines grew to like their fountain and then to be proud of it - as well they might - it is really lovely - but the name has stuck.
Palermo is full of Baroque churches, their lovely domes are everywhere, so be sure to look up as you walk around. Here is Piazza Pretoria's not a bad place to start, the churches of San Giuseppe ai Teatini and Santa Caterina both have fine domes.
Segesta was one of the major cities of the Elymian people, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily. The population of Segesta were mixed Elymian and Greek Ionic. The Elymian people in Segesta were soon hellenized, taking up the greek way of life.
Segesta was in eternal conflict with Selinunte. In 415 BCE Segesta asked Athens for help against Selinunte, leading to a disastrous athenian expedition in Sicily (415-413 BCE). Later they asked Carthago for help, leading to the total destruction of the city of Selinunte by the hands of Carthago. Segesta remained an ally of Carthago, it was besieged by Dionysos of Syracuse in 397 BCE, and it was destroyed by Agatocles in 307 BCE.
The ruins of the city is located on the top of Monte Bàrbaro at 305m above the sea. From the hill top there is a splendid view over the valley towards the Gulf of Castellamare.
The city is most famous for its greek theatre which is within the city limit, and for the marvellous doric temple just outsite the perimeter.
It is a notable example of Norman architecture.
Founded around 1160 by admiral Majone di Bari, in the 18th century the church was used as a post office. In the 19th century it was restored and brought back to a form more similar to the original Mediaeval edifice.
The ceiling has three characteristics red, bulge domes.
The interior has a nave with two aisles. The naked walls are faced by spolia columns with Byzantine style arcades. The pavement is the original one and has a splendid mosaic decoration. Also original is the main altar.
Because of its cosiness I liked it so much!
Cefalu is beautiful place for holiday. Just about 40 minutes from Palermo. There you have narrow streets, beautiful cathedral, delicious food and nice sand beach. You will have great view if you climb on the top of the hill, especially in the evening because the place have very good lighting. Almost everything is opened during night hours and the city stays awake for a long time. Only wantage is that the public beach is too crowdy.Related to:
3000 years of history
Not enough space here to describe everything worth doing.
Visit Mount Etna, See the ancient greek theatre in Syracuse and walk on the Ortegia(where the Athenian flleet was sunk 3000 years ago) followed by the Roman fleet(1000 years later).
Visit swanky Taormina (take your credit cards).
In Palermo, you can visit bautiful cathedrals, Teatro Massimo, baroque palaces and villas.
Drive into the Madonie Mountains or just lay on the beaches of Giardini Naxos.
Visit the cathedral at Monreale. Mix with the Palermitian elite in Mondello.
Go to Agrigento and spend a day at the Valley of the Temples.
These are just a few tips amongst hundredsRelated to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
This square is in the center of Palermo and it divide city in four parts. On the square theer are four buildings with fountains which simbolized four seasons.
Also there are are statues of the four Spanis monarchs and at the top there the four saints protecting the four quarters: St.Cristina, St.Oliva, St.Ninfa and St.Agata. It is very interesting square.Related to:
This monument was built on 16 C to celebrate the arrival in Palermo of Charles V, King of Sicily. It was after his victory in Tunis against the Ottoman Turks. It’s interesting that it has a double monumental façade in Manneristic style with a wide barrel vault. Palermo is famous for mixed Arabic and Norman architectures.Related to:
- Historical Travel
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