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Itinerary 1: From the Quattro Canti to the Norman Palace

A GUIDE TO PALERMO

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Palermo 2018 - Italian Capital of Culture and host city of Manifesta 12 >>

The "Quattro Canti"

The “Quattro Canti” is the junction in Palermo. Effectively, it is the centre point of the four areas of the old town centre. You will almost inevitably pass through it and it is worth stopping for five minutes to have a look at its sculptures which were commissioned by the Spanish Viceroy in 1611. The sculptures on each of the four corners depict a variety of themes, including the four seasons, four Spanish kings and the four patron saints of the old town areas.

Piazza Pretoria

Going south-east down Via Maqueda you will come across Piazza Pretoria which is home not only to a splendid fountain but several other impressive buildings including, on the right, the City Hall. The fountain, known for generations as the “Fountain of Shame”, has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1555 by the Florentine sculpture Francesco Camiliani for a Tuscan villa owned by the Viceroy Pedro de Toledo. His son, on inheriting the villa in 1574, thought it a little too risqu? for his tastes and sold it to the City of Palermo who erected it where it now stands. The large central fountain is the focal point for sixteen nude statues of nymphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs. If you imagine this being erected during the Inquisition, it is quite easy to imagine why it received its epithet, the “Fountain of Shame”.

The Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (La Martorana)

Behind the City Hall, there is another square, Piazza Bellini where you can see two of Palermo’s most interesting churches: the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (more commonly known as La Martorana) and the Church of San Cataldo, instantly recognizeable thanks to its trio of red domes. La Martorana was commissioned in 1143 by George of Antioch, a famous Admiral (a word of Arabic origin) of the fleet of King Roger II. Initially the church was dedicated to the celebration of Greek Orthodox rites but this changed in the 13th century when it became part of the Catholic Church. Several parts of the structure were unfortunately changed during the 17th century and many of the original mosaics were discarded to make way for Baroque frescoes. However, the surviving mosaics are amongst the most impressive ever to have been created in Sicily. Indeed, the craftsmen who were brought from Byzantium by King Roger II to work on the Normal Palace and the Duomo at Cefalu’, also contributed their art to this church. The wonderful bell tower outside is the apogee of Norman-Arab architecture.

When to go:
Winter: Monday – Saturday: 8.00am – 1.00pm and 3.30pm – 5.30pm
Summer: Monday – Saturday: 8.00am – 1.00pm and 3.30pm – 7.00pm
Sunday and holidays: 8.30am – 1.00pm

The Church of San Cataldo

Standing next to La Martorana is the miniscule Church of San Cataldo, characterised by its three red domes.  It was built in 1154 and has retained its original ascetic atmosphere perfectly. The only decoration to speak of is the original mosaic floor.  It is presently the religious seat of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in Palermo.

Opening times: Monday – Saturday, 9.30am – 12.30pm

The Casa Professa

The Casa Professa or Chiesa del Ges? is a Baroque masterpiece built by the Jesuits over 12 years between 1564 and 1578. Additions were made until 1634 when the church was considered complete. Much of the artwork inside was carried out by the Jesuit priests themselves and its florid decorations were, and still are, amongst the most splendid in Palermo.

Getting there: go south-east along Via Maqueda from Piazza Bellini (the Church of San Cataldo) and take the 1st turn on your right: Via Ponticello. Go straight on for about 50m until you come to Piazza Casa Professa. The church is on your left.

Opening times: Monday – Saturday: 7.00am – 12.00pm and 5.00pm – 6.30pm
Sunday: 7.00am – 12.30pm

The Ballarò

The Ballarò is probably the oldest of Palermo’s Arabic markets. The derivation of its name is unsure but may come from the name of the North African village where most of the Arabic traders working in the market originated: Balhara. Nowadays, the market’s Arabic roots are still evident and it is well worth a detour if not a specific visit.

Good ThinkingTry a typical Palermitan sandwich with pannelle, chick-pea fritters – with a bit of lemon they are delicious! 

Getting there: Follow the directions for the Casa Professa from Via Maqueda but go straight across the piazza into Via Casa Professa. You will then arrive at Piazza Ballarò where the market starts. It continues eastwards down to Piazza del Carmine.

When to go: weekday and Saturday mornings

The Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini

This church, built in 1612, is a must-see for anyone who loves Baroque architecture. If you do not, it might be a good idea to stay away, though it is still quite impressive. Amongst the great many works of art inside is a painting entitled “The Triumph of Sant’Andrea Avellino” by the Dutch artist Borremans dating back to 1724. There is also a great deal of skilled marble-work to be seen.

Getting there: on the south-east corner of “Quattro Canti”, opposite Piazza Pretoria.

Opening times:
Monday – Saturday: 7.30am – 12.00pm and 5.30pm – 8.00pm,
Sunday and holidays: 8.30am – 1.00pm and 6.00pm – 8.00pm

Around the Norman Palace

The area around the Norman Palace has long been the seat of Kings and rulers and today it plays host to the Sicilian Regional Parliament. Piazza Indipendenza and Porta Nuova used to mark Palermo’s southern boundary though nowadays the city spreads right up to the Conca d’Oro valley under Monreale. The Norman Palace is flanked on either side by large shady piazzas, Piazza Indipendenza to the south and Piazza della Vittoria to the north.

La Capella Palatina (The Palatine Chapel)

Probably the most visited monument in Palermo and should not be missed. Built in 1130, the same year in which King Roger II acceded to the throne of the Norman kingdom, the Cappella Palatina is a small, compact masterpiece hidden away inside the Royal Palace. Once again it is characterised by a fusion of different architectural styles, most evidently the Byzantine mosaics and the wooden Arabic honeycombed ceiling. Other parts of the Norman Palace are also open to the public.

Good ThinkingQueues are not uncommon in the summer months.

Getting there: Walk up Corso Vittorio Emanuele, pass the Cathedral on your right, go under Porta Nuova and at Piazza Indipendenza, turn left. The entrance to the Royal Palace and the Palatine Chapel is on your left.

Opening times:
Monday to Saturday: 8.30am - 12.00pm and 2.00pm – 5.00pm.
Sunday and public holidays: 8.30am - 2.00pm.
Closed from 10.00am – 11.00am for Mass    
Entrance ticket prices: €6 (reductions €3)

Also in the area:
The Cathedral, just down Corso Vittorio Emanuele on your left. The remarkable exterior is a must-see, while the interior is rather plain in comparison. Emperor Frederick II, "Stupor Mundi" is buried here.

Opening times: every day, 9.30am – 5.30pm

Practical information

Itinerary 2

Itinerary 3

Eating and drinking in Palermo

Back to the introduction

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