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Itinerary 2: The Piazza Marina area

A GUIDE TO PALERMO

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

Piazza Marina and its surrounding area is one of the most interesting parts of Palermo. It is to be found at the bottom (the sea end) of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and is delimited by the seafront to the east, Via Lincoln and the Botanical Garden to the south-east and Via Roma to the south-west. The area in general is known as La Kalsa and was originally an Arabic quarter. It is home to numerous aristocratic palaces, churches, restaurants, mazy streets and fascinating piazzas.

You can quite easily spend a whole morning wandering around this area. Here follows a list of places well worth a visit:

Palazzo Steri (also known as Palazzo Chiaramonte)

Looking over Piazza Marina on the north side, Palazzo Steri is a typical example of the kind of fortressed palaces that were fairly common amongst powerful mediaeval noble families. It was built in 1307 and has had a fascinating history. Apart from being the scene of many power struggles between local noble families and sovereign rulers (in particular the Spanish), Palazzo Steri became the official residence of the Spanish Viceroy and then, in 1601, the Sicilian branch of the “Spanish” Inquisition took it over as their base. Indeed, Piazza Marina witnessed many an execution as the Inquisition took root in Palermo.
Today it is home to the offices of the Rector of Palermo University and, of equal importance, to Renato Guttuso’s world-famous painting of the Vucciria market.

Opening times: On request (ask the security guards)
Monday – Friday: 9.00am - 1.00pm and 3.00pm - 6.00pm
(From 1st July to 15th September for the KALSART Festival, Palazzo
Steri is open in the evening from Thursday to Saturday from 9.00pm
to midnight.)

Palazzo Abbatellis (the Regional Art Gallery)

Completed in 1488, Palazzo Abbatellis was built in a Catalan Gothic style that is quite evident to the visitor thanks to its castle-like battlements. Inside, it is now home to the Regional Art Gallery, whose collection includes several masterpieces including a sculpture by Francesco Laurana, the “Bust of Eleanor of Aragon”, Antonello da Messina’s “Our Lady of the Annunciation” and the famous fresco by an unknown artist entitled “The Triumph of Death”.

Getting there: Palazzo Abbatellis is situated in Via Alloro, 4 just east of Piazza Marina, about 200m from Palazzo Steri.
Opening times: 
Tuesday – Friday: 9.00am - 1.00pm and 2.30pm - 7.00pm
Monday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 9.00am - 1.00pm.
Entrance ticket prices: €6 (€3 reductions), free for under 18s and over 65s.

Piazza Magione 

The vast expanse of Piazza Magione is a simply fascinating story of urban planning, or non-planning. The area was heavily bombed during the 2nd World War and despite funding from both America and the Italian central government in Rome, nothing was done to restore the area. For many years, in fact, the bombed out shells of buildings remained until, in the 1960s, the whole area was razed to the ground to be become an unofficial car park. Finally, in the 1990s, the local government bought the land and turned it into a large grassy quad, planted trees (only a few) and now it is a play area for the quarter’s children and a venue for occasional concerts during the summer.

La Basilica della Magione…...

…has an equally interesting, though more conventional history. Originally built in 1191, it was initially entrusted to the Cistercian order that lived in the adjoining cloisters. Only six years later, however, King Henry VI von Hohenstaufen handed it over to the Teutonic Knights who retained control over it until the 15th Century. Many Baroque additions were subsequently made to the church but, fortunately, these were removed during its restoration after the 2nd World War bombings and the church you see today is virtually the same as the original one, a delightful, simple example of very late Arab-Norman architecture.

Opening times:
Every day: 9.30am – 7.00pm 

The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

If you compare this wonderful mediaeval church to La Magione, it becomes clear how quickly architectural styles developed and evolved in Palermo. Indeed, while La Magione incorporated and drew on Arab-Norman architectonic philosophy, the Basilica of San Francesco, started in 1255, is built in a typically Italian Romanesque Gothic Style. The façade, completed in the early 1300s, has a classic rose window and false arches but inside the mood is much more ascetic, as maybe befits a church dedicated to San Francesco. Indeed, today there is still an order of Franciscan monks that live in the adjoining monastery. The church also plays host to frequent concerts.

Opening times: 
Monday – Friday: 7.00am – 12.00pm and 4.30pm – 6.00pm
Saturday: 9.00am – 12.00pm, Sunday: closed

Eating and drinking in Palermo

Practical information

Itinerary 1

Itinerary 3

back to the introduction

Villas in Sicily near Palermo >>

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

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