You have heard about Palermo many and many times, but you probably don’t know that the city is so peculiar in much more aspects that you can even think of.
Palermo is known for its long history, peculiar variegated culture, diversified architecture, and Mediterranean unique cuisine. Over the centuries it has been playing an important cultural and artistic role.
If you only think that Palermo is more than 2700 years old, only this data is enough to give you an idea of the cultural and artistic richness of this city.
The city has been proclaimed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, while in 2017 it has been chosen, among other Italian cities, as the Capital of the Italian Culture 2018.
If you’re planning to visit the city, you will never be completely prepared as you would be overwhelmed with the past and the present of this unique place. The historical richness and architectural variety will transport you in another world made of ancient Greek, Roman and Norman civilizations.
If we want to “start from the beginning” we need to go far back in time. It was during the 8th century BC when Palermo was founded by Phoenicians. Afterwards, the city was Carthaginian, Roman an also Byzantine settlement until the Arabs conquered Palermo during the 9th century AC. The golden age of Palermo was during the Normans’ presence while a certain decline was contemporary to the arrival of the Spanish Kingdom that lasted for several centuries.
Also, the name of the city has changed throughout the years. The Phoenician name Ziz (flower) later has been transformed into Greek name Panormus (complete port). The Arabs changed the name into Balarme (Bal’harm – بَلَرْم) that actually contains the roots of the present-day name.
Many cultures that have been settled here and have influenced the culture and also the culinary tradition of Palermo and Sicily in general. That’s why both the city and the whole region are world-wide known for their specialties among which you will probably recall cannoli, cassata, arancina, pasta alla Norma and of course, granita.
The architecture has been transformed throughout the centuries and many already existing buildings have been adapted to the conquerors’ art and taste of that moment. For example, the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Assumption is composed of various styles combined together throughout the centuries. During the Arab domination, this church has also served as a mosque. In Palermo you can find many other buildings that are reflecting the architectonic richness of the city and reveal its variegated tradition, history and culture.
If you’re planning a visit to Palermo and you still don’t have an idea from where to start, here you can find some suggestions of what you shouldn’t miss. Be sure that all of them are unique places and don’t forget to put them on your check-list.
Santa Rosalia in Monte Pellegrino The façade of this sanctuary is carved into the rock overlooking the city of Palermo. The Santuario serves as the burial place to Santa Rosalia, which is also the patron saint of the city.
Palazzo dei Normanni + Cappella Palatina. Royal Palace constructed during the Norman domination and finalized during several foreign dominations, has been used as the palace of the rulers. According to some studies, Palazzo dei Normani is the oldest royal existing residence in Europe.
Duomo di Monreale is the typical example of Norman, Arab and Byzantine architectural elements combined together and hence it is one of the most important cultural heritages of the Italian Middle Ages.
La Cuba was completed during the 12th century and it is mostly inspired by Arabic style. In 2015 it has been inserted (among many other Sicilian sites) in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
La Zisa was also inspired by the Moorish art. It is a castle in Palermo that has been built as the summer residence for the Norman kings. The building has been modified and restored throughout the centuries. In the past, like many Arabic-style buildings, the central room had a beautiful water fountain but now is decorated “only” by a magnificent mosaic.
Before visiting Palermo get as many information about the city as you can. Chose if to explore it on your own, or opt to join a tour of the city or book a guide and a tour of the main sites. Also, don’t forget that the food tour, anywhere in Sicily, could be a good idea (also have a look on the article about chocolate from Modica). And still, you will realize that whatever time you have at your disposal, it will be never enough.