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Four quarters of a city
Palermo's handsome Piazza Vigliena (much more commonly known as Quattro Canti) marks the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and Via Maqueda. Geographically the centre of the city when it was built, even in today's sprawling metropolis, it is still regarded as the heart of the city. The piazza was laid out in 1608 in an ambitious and very successful piece of early city planning.
Every Italian city has a major street named after Victor Emanuel ll, the first king of unified Italy who reigned from 1861-1878. When Sicily's 17th century Spanish Viceroy took up town planning, the street was known as the Cassaro and was an ancient thoroughfare that ran from the harbour to the Norman Palace. The Viceroy's planners had a new street constructed, crossing the Cassaro right in the middle, dividing the city very neatly into four distinct quarters. Of course the street was named for the most important man in town - the Viceroy himself, the Duke of Marqueda.
Fountains, statues, columns and coats of arms adorn the curved facades of the palazzos that stand at each corner in a splendid symmetry. Each corner has three tiers of decoration - at ground level there are fountains representing the four seasons. Above the fountains stand statues of the four Spanish kings (Charles V, Philip II, Philip III, and Philip IV), and above them stand four saints - Santa Ninfa, Santa Cristina, Sant’Oliva, and Sant’Agata - all of whom were reputedly born in Palermo.
The crossroads divided the city into four distinct quarters - Capo, in the north-west quadrant, Vucciria in the north-east, Kalsa in the south-east and Albergheria in the south-west.
Splendour among the traffic
The Quattro Canti are one of Palermo's foremost tourist attractions and would be far more impressive if they weren't caught in the centre of the city's horrible gridlock. They were begun in 1606 in order to help regulate traffic in the city (an eternal battle) and were inspired by the Quattro Fontane in Rome. The architect Giulio Lasso completed Santa Ninfa and Sant'Agata (1609) as well as Santa Cristina (1612), but he died in 1615 and the work was resumed in 1617 by Mariano Smiriglio. He made some drastic changes to the design of the Quattro Canti, although he did keep with the four saints of Palermo (Sant'Oliva was the fourth). In 1630 it was decided that statues of the four seasons should also be added. Spring and Summer were sculpted by Tedeschi; Autumn and Winter by La Mattina. The original statues have since been replaced when it was decided that the façades should be lowered. It was only between 1661 and 1663, however, that this architectural masterpiece was completed when Carlo Aprile added the marble statues. Visitors to the Quattro Canti shoudl really go early in the morning or on a cool day - the two ways to avoid the most noxious effects of Palermo's traffic problems.
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A corner to hide... better four.
Located at the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, the "Quattro Canti" (Four Corners) is the traditional center of Palermo, the crossroad marking the heart of Palermo's old historic district.
Many of Palermo's monuments, artistic churches and other sights of historical and touristic interest are located within walking distance of the Quattro Canti. Although almost everyone in Palermo calls the Four Corners "Quattro Canti", the intersection's official name is actually "Piazza Vigilena," named for the Spanish Viceroy who had the sculptures built on the Four Corners back in 1611.
Each of the four buildings that comprise the Quattro Canti, has three levels covered with Baroque sculptures that were designed by the architect Giulio Lasso. The sculptures on the facades of the four buildings illustrate various themes: the Four Seasons, Spanish kings and various patron saints of Palermo's four old quarters. The fountains at ground level are typically Baroque. These sculptures were actually executed by a collective of talented local sculptors of that era, among whom d'Aprile, La Mattina and Tedeschi.
Thanks to years of exposure to smog and soot, the once pearl colored sculptures have been transformed into a grimy gray that has obscured some of their definition but none of their magnificence.
Quattro Canti (the Four Corners) The City Center
This is nearly the center of tourist Palermo., and your walking tours can be centered here (as 2 of our Palermo Travelogs do). This is the intersection of the 2 main traffic streets. The edges of the 4 corners were flattened into facades in the 1610 period and named Piazza Vigliena for the Spanish Viceroy. The baroque fountains have statues of the seasons and various personages of symbolic and political significance (then). The traffic makes it dangerous to get vistas from here (as once were possible) This shot was taken from the N. doorway of the church S. Giuseppe dei Teatini which is next to one of the corner facades
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The project for the layout of this square was drawn up in 1608. It is also referred to as the "theatre of the sun", since it is illuminated by the sun's rays from dawn to dusk.
The four rounded fronts of the buildings are decorated in the following way: at the bottom there are four fountains surmounted by statues, each of one of the four seasons; above them, the statues of the Spanish monarchs Charles I, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV; at the top, the four saints protecting the four quarters: St.Cristina, St.Oliva, St.Ninfa and St.Agata.
With this square the city is divided in four.
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Palermo Travel Guide
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