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Itinerary 3: from Teatro Massimo to Piazza Politeama

A GUIDE TO PALERMO

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Teatro Massimo, in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, is right on the border between the old Palermo town centre and the more modern, more commercial part of Palermo. Directly opposite the theatre is a series of mazy streets full of bars, restaurants and craft shops, while to the north-west lies the wealthiest shopping and residential areas of down-town Palermo.

Teatro Massimo

Teatro Massimo has anything but a simple history and for this is typical of Palermo. Originally commissioned in 1868 (after several years of deliberation), it was not until 1875 when the Palermitan architect, Giovan Battista Basile was finally allowed to begin transforming his plans into reality. Progress was slow, however, and work was suspended from 1882 to 1890. The following year, in 1891, Basile died without ever seeing his great masterpiece completed and his son, Ernesto, was called upon to finish the works. Finally, in 1897, Teatro Massimo, then the second largest opera house in Europe after L’Opera in Paris, opened its doors to the public with a performance of Verdi’s Falstaff. The same year, a very young Caruso, in only his second professional role, sang in a production of La Gioconda.

For 77 years things ran relatively smoothly and many of the opera world’s most famous stars sang there, including, Gigli, Di Stefano, Maria Callas and Pavarotti. However, in 1974 the theatre was “temporarily” closed so that it could be brought into line with modern safety regulations. Unfortunately, in the Palermo of those years, "temporary" was devoid of its usual meaning and not until 1997, some 25 years later, did Teatro Massimo finally reopen.

Opening times: 
Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 3.30pm (visits are suspended during rehearsals)
Guided tours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 2.10pm and 3.00pm – 4.00pm. Entrance tickets cost €3.

Good ThinkingThe Opera season generally runs from the middle of November to the end of June. For information on performances, see www.teatromassimo.it.

Piazza Olivella and the Regional Archaeological Museum

Directly opposite Teatro Massimo is Via Bara dell’Olivella, a narrow street famous for its craft shops and its puppet theatre (well worth a visit on Sunday afternoon for both adults and children). At the end is Piazza Olivella, one of Palermo’s nightlife centres with lots of bars and restaurants, and home to the imposing Baroque Church of Sant’Ignazio and the Regional Archaeological Museum. The Museum, which houses, amongst other things, two large statues of Zeus dating back to the 2nd century BC and, in the lovely cloisters, several Greek and Roman statues taken from Solunto and Tindari. The other streets of the area are also fun to wander around.

Opening times:
Tuesday – Friday, 8.30am – 1.30pm and 2.30pm – 6.45pm
Monday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, 8.30am – 1.45pm
Entrance ticket prices: €6 (€3 reductions). Under 18s and over 65s free.

Il Capo Market

Il Capo is one of Palermo’s four main street markets and possibly the busiest. Its Arabic origins are evident and it is well worth a visit in the morning when the level of hustle and bustle is at its highest. It concentrates mainly on the sale of food and the fish stalls are of particular renown. It is strange to think that this market borders on the enormous Fascist era law courts, two aspects of Palermo that could hardly be more different. Wending your way through the streets you will catch glimpses of the Cathedral. The secret in these labyrinthine alleys is to  follow your nose.

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

Getting there:
take Via Volturno, which runs up alongside and behind Teatro Massimo (on the right if you are facing the theatre) for about 300 metres. On your left you will see an old gateway “Porta Carini”.  Turn left here and you will enter the market.
When to go: every day in the morning, though on Sunday it is a little quieter.

Shopping

Via Ruggero Settimo- Piazza Politeama -Via della Liberta’

If shopping is your thing, Palermo's main shopping streets are between Teatro Massimo and Piazza Politeama and along Via delle Libert?. From outside Teatro Massimo, go west along Via Ruggero Settimo where you will find some of the most exclusive shops in Palermo. Halfway down this road is a pedestrian area street called Via Principe Belmonte, where there are some nice bars and caf?s where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.

Ruggero Settimo leads directly to Piazza Politeama with its impressive theatre (the second in terms of size after Teatro Massimo). On the opposite side of the square, continuing in the same direction, is Via della Libert? one of the most desirable residential areas in Palermo as well as being home to more upmarket shops, restaurants and bars.

If you continue walking down Via della Libert? for about 1km you will come to a large junction, on the other side of which, on your right, are the Giardini Inglesi, which may be worth a visit if you have young children with you. There are some small fairground rides, dodgem cars, etc. but also plenty of space to run and play.

Eating and drinking in Palermo

Practical information

Itinerary 1

Itinerary 2

back to the introduction

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