Palermo is the sunny capital of Sicily. This is an amazing ancient city in which the epochs peacefully passed one into another: throughout its long history, the city did not know the persecution of religious, cultural, and ethnic beliefs. There are preserved architectural monuments that keep traces of different periods of rule — Byzantine mosaics, Baroque churches, palazzos, and ancient catacombs. Palermo is a temperamental, noisy, and vibrant city. Historical sights here are generously diluted with aromas of Sicilian cuisine, bright sun, pebble beaches, and the gentle Tyrrhenian Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea. There is still a mafia here. The authorities do not deny this, but claim that the mafia does not touch tourists.
Districts of Palermo
Albergheria is home to cultural attractions like the Massimo Theater, the Politeama Garibaldi Theater, and the Palazzo delle Siciliano, and a park. The Market Ballaro is also a local landmark as it was formed before the XI century when the Saracens (Arab knights) were already trading there.
Seralcadio is one of the oldest quarters in Palermo. It was formed during the reign of the Arabs. It was once a slave-trading area and settled by pirates. The main attractions of the quarter are the cathedral and the gates of Porta Nuova. There is also the second-largest market in the city, the Mercado del Capo.
The quarter of La Loggia has access to the port and beaches. It features the famous historical attraction, the Vucciria market, which dates back to the XII century. However, tourists should not visit it in the evening, as it is considered unsafe.
Palermo has plenty of attractions — ancient temples with thousands of years of history, palaces, markets, theaters. It is amazing that a city where there were so many different rulers (Phoenicians, Byzantines, Romans, Sakarya people, Spaniards, Italians) preserved monuments of each period, and often, their architecture and culture intertwined so that a new historical pattern was created.
The Greeks controlled the city for only a couple of decades, after which power passed to the Romans, while the city continued to be a commercial center.
Byzantium conquered Sicily in the IV century and the Saracens in the IX century, making Palermo their capital. Under them, the city prospered, trade was booming, mosques and temples were built, and the inhabitants were free to practice any faith. Thanks to their own irrigation system, orange groves were planted here.
The Normans took over the city in the early XII century. While they brought their own traditions to the culture, they also preserved those that came before them. The cathedral, which even today remains an architectural masterpiece, testifies to the loyalty of the rulers. It contains Byzantine, Arabic, and Norman motifs.
Charles I of Anjou conquered Sicily in the middle of the XIII century. His rule was not accepted by the local population, which provoked a nine-year war, after which French rule was replaced by Spanish.
The Spaniards ruled the island for six centuries. The period was not happy, with rebellions and internecine wars among the ruling dynasties, resulting in the overthrow of the current government.
Italian rule over Sicily was established after the landing of the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860. Not wanting to be part of the Italian Kingdom, Sicilians repeatedly rose to uprisings; this was the period when the Sicilian Mafia was formed.
World War I did not affect Palermo, but the city suffered greatly from the bombing during the Second World War. In particular, the old part of the city was destroyed and never fully rebuilt. About 15,000 citizens were left homeless.
A construction boom began in the 1950s as the city was filled with newcomers looking for work and housing. At the same time, architectural monuments were destroyed in order to build modern housing in their place.
The postwar period was marked by the emergence and consolidation of mafia groups in Palermo. The Sicilian Mafia calls itself "immortal." Today, it continues to operate on the island. Only a pure-blooded Italian can join the Cosa Nostra clan. The head of the family is the godfather. This name originated because poor people asked the Mafiosi to baptize their children, after which they could secure themselves with this kinship.
Even today in Palermo, almost all businessmen pay tribute to the mafia, which is called "pizzo," but few of them resist such rules. You can find "pizzo free" signs in some stores. This means that the store does not pay tribute to the mafia. The latter, in turn, declares war on them, threatening the owners and intimidating the customers.
The best time to visit Palermo
When choosing the best time to visit Palermo, you need to know some of the features of the climate and the calendar of major events annually held in the city.
The climate here is the mild Mediterranean. Winter is warm and humid; the average temperature in January and February is +12°C — +13°C, and in December — +14°C.
Summers in Palermo are hot and dry, with temperatures in June at +24°C, and in July and August at +29°C. - +33°C.
The beach season begins in May and lasts until October when the water temperature is +19°C — +24°C. The peak of tourist visits to Palermo is in July and August.
The low season lasts from November to April. It is a great time to see the sights without the crowds of tourists, and the prices for entrance tickets and hotel accommodation are much lower.
Festivals and events in Palermo
Easter in Palermo is a special holiday. Like the rest of the island, it is celebrated with the excitement and emotion of the Sicilians. A costume procession takes place in the city's streets, during which passages from the Bible are shown, concerts and fairs are held. In their best dress, locals treat each other to Easter sweets — marzipan fruit, Easter muffins, and chocolate eggs.
In early April, the streets of Palermo are filled with mouthwatering aromas. It's the Palermo Street Food Fest. It would be wrong to say that there is a cult of food in the city, but like the rest of Italy, this city is associated worldwide with delicious food. Even Elizabeth Gilbert, the heroine of Eat, Pray, Love, went to "cure" her soul with the food of Italy.
It makes perfect sense to wash down good food with good wine. Maybe that's why the beginning of May is traditionally associated with Avinando Wine Fest. Learn how to choose the right wines, learn all about their making and, of course, taste the best ones you can in the Cantieri Culturali della Zisa, which is the festival's location.
At the end of May, there is the Beach Festival, one of the city's main events. Its main location is Mondello beach. The festival is accompanied by sporting events in which both professional athletes and ordinary people participate. There are kitesurfing, windsurfing, parachuting, and beach volleyball demonstrations. The popularity of the festival grows every year. Its program expands to include music contests and theatrical performances, photo exhibitions, competitions of cyclists and fencers.
In July, Palermo turns into a concert venue for the Verdura music festival, distinguished by the variety of musical styles presented at the event: rock, classical, chanson, pop, musical, opera, and more. In addition, workshops, seminars, ballet, and opera evenings are held there.
In mid-July, the colorful festival devoted to the city's patron saint, Santa Rosalia, is accompanied by a costume procession. The event is considered the most colorful event in Sicily.
At the end of September, Palermo attracts sweet tooths from all over the world as the Festival del Gelato Artigianale Sherbeth (Ice Cream Festival) takes place here. Gelatiere are competing for the main prize, the Francesco Procopio de Coltelli cup. It is famous because back in 1686, he opened an ice-cream shop in Paris, where he sold gelato — the Italian frozen dessert made according to a recipe brought from the sunny Palermo.
In the middle of the day, from 1 PM to 5 PM, siesta begins. Everything closes, and the employees go home to rest. It is difficult to find a place to eat during this period, but the tourist establishments are not closed.
If you plan to move around the city by car, it can be rented at any point, right at the airport.
It is difficult to park in the central part, leave your car outside the historic part of town.
Mondello is the best beach in Sicily, famous for its white sand. It takes 25 minutes to get there by city bus.
Almost all churches in Palermo close by 1 PM.
Tipping ("pane e coperto") is usually included in the bill and is 10% and sometimes up to 15%. If there is no service charge, leave about 10% of the bill.
If you order a drink, coffee, or light snack at the counter at the cafe, it will be cheaper than at the table.
It is quite comfortable to explore the city's historic center on foot. You won't need public transportation to do so.
The open markets are much cheaper than the supermarkets.
Tourists bring local leather goods from Palermo, as they are of high quality.
Things to do in Palermo
- Walk to the Porta Nuova gate. They were built in 1583 in honor of the victory of Charles V over the Turks in the Tunisian War. In 1667, the structure was badly damaged by a gunpowder explosion, which was struck by lightning, but two years later, it was completely reconstructed. It is a pompous structure decorated with stone carvings, columns, statues, busts, and balustrades.
- See the Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni). It was the residence of the Sicilian kings and, before that, an Arab fortress was founded in 875. Its most famous part is the Palatine Chapel.
- Admire one of the oldest chapels in the city, the Palatine Chapel (Capella Palatina). Its construction began in 1130 by order of the first Sicilian King Roger II, and it was finished in 1460 by John II of Aragon. The chapel was built as a house church, in which the kings of Sicily prayed and confessed.
- Visit the Massimo Opera House (Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele). The largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, it is famous for its unique acoustics. Its construction took twenty-two years and ended in 1867. Interestingly, the final shots of The Godfather movie were filmed here.
- Walk through the main square of Palermo, Piazza Pretoria. Beautiful and even ornate, it is surrounded on three sides by monuments of Baroque architecture; one of them is Palazzo Pretorio. This building was built in 1463 and was intended for the Senate, and since the XIX century, it has been the seat of the Town Hall. A grandiose Fontana Pretoria adorns the central part of the square, popularly nicknamed the "Fountain of Shame" because of the nude statues decorating it. It was purchased by the city in Florence in 1574 for 30 thousand escudos.
- Visit the main cathedral of Palermo (Cattedrale di Palermo). There was a Christian church here in the IV century, a Byzantine temple in the VI century, and in the VII-IX centuries, when the city was under Arab rule, they made it a mosque and built it as they saw it, so it looks like an oriental palace. Today, it is the main Catholic church in Palermo. They use electric candles here instead of wax candles. You have to pay for a candle to "place" it, and it lights up for a while. The surprising thing is that the temple has images of the zodiac signs. The reason is that the first heliometer in Sicily was installed here in 1690. On a sunny day, a ray of light through a hole in the dome indicated which constellation the sun is at the moment. Since 1795, the cathedral, with the archbishop's permission, was used as an observatory.
- Visit an extraordinary place — the Capuchin Catacombs. In the XVI century, the monks of the order began to bury their brothers here and noticed that the dead on their own, without embalming, turned into mummies. It turned out that in the underground, there is a specific climate. There are almost no bacteria in the air, which is why the bodies do not decompose, but mummify. The cemetery quickly became prestigious, and people paid a lot of money to be buried here. It seems strange that some of the skeletons are dressed in modern clothing. The fact is that these deceased willed to be dressed according to modern fashions. There are separate rooms in the catacombs for men, women, married couples, children, and even virgins.
- Climb Mount Etna. It is only three hours from Palermo. It is the largest active volcano in Europe and a popular tourist destination. A cable car takes you up to a height of 2,550 meters, and it offers movie-like views from its terminus as if it were the surface of another planet. Because of the constant eruptions, the volcano's height is constantly changing. There are 400 more craters in addition to the main one. Locals observe the volcano: if Etna lets out white steam — it is a safe water one, and when black smoke appears, it is a sign of an imminent eruption.
- Visit the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum. It was founded in 1975 by the Association for the Preservation of Folk Traditions. There are more than 5000 items, including puppets, dolls, posters from around the world. They include the largest and most complete collection of puppets from Palermo, Catania, and Naples. It is often used in the Opera dei pupi. The traditional Sicilian puppet theater declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.
- Try the local cuisine and especially the spaghetti with cuttlefish ink. They were used only for writing in the past, but now they are used as a sauce for dishes with a salty taste. You can also try the arancini, panelle, croquette, and spleen sandwich — popular dishes of Palermitan street food. And for dessert, try cannoli, cassata, and granita.