Welcome back to my little corner of the internet!
We are back exploring the beautiful island of Sicily. Last time we arrived to the island from the mainland and found ourselves strolling through the streets of the enchanted town of Cefalù. (Check out part 1 of this series).
Today we are moving on and driving the hour to Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
In Palermo, we stayed at the Hotel Mediterraneo in the city centre. Since the hotel was very close to the , this was our first stop. Unfortunately, we did not get to see and shows. This opera house is the biggest in Italy and the fourth largest in Europe. It is renowned for the amazing acoustics.
Next stop is the Cathedral of Palermo. It contains the royal treasures with goblets, jewels and vestments. The famous King Frederick II was crowned here and by looking at it, you can see some Arab influence in the architecture.
A unique cultural heritage
A bit further away from the city centre lies an absolute must for curious minds. The Catacombe dei Cappuccini is not a place for the faint hearted. It is a macabre attraction, but a mirror into history. The catacombs display dead bodies of monks, men, women and children that were buried there. At first, monks and poor people would be buried there. The ones that could not afford a burial would be put to rest there. The conditions are perfect to preserve the bodies, mummifying them. However, soon after, it became a status symbol to be buried in the chapel of the Capuchin monks. The practice ended in the 1920s.
We were told that people would visit their deceased loved ones, have brunches, change the clothes and spend time with the late relative. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed, because the flashlights might damage the bodies. If you would like to see some pictures, here’s a link.
On your way back, remember to stop at a seemingly unimportant restaurant Trattoria da Michele & Jolanda for the best granita and the biggest cannoli siciliani. It is a small family business without a real menu. You get served whatever they cooked today. It is real traditional cuisine from Palermo.
Just walk on to the parliament of Sicily, in the Palazzo dei Normanni, the old seat of the kings of Sicily. Frederick II lived in that castle. The palace was built in the highest point of the ancient centre of Palermo. I believe you must have had a nice view from your bedroom window.
On to the square of Quattro Canti lies in the intersection of the two main roads of Palermo, Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. It is a baroque square with a statue in every corner.
In the evening, if you could get a ticket, you can enjoy a show of the legendary Teatro dei Pupi. These ancient puppets are still handmade and there are only a few shows per month. The plot tells old legends and stories from Sicily with fights against the Moors, dragons, monsters, etc. It is narrated in Sicilian and it is loud, but an incredible experience. If you are interested, you can book your tickets here.
The following day, we walked to the Zisa, an Arab castle in Palermo. It is a UNESCO cultural heritage and it was a summer residence for the Norman kings. Zisa was a hunting resort. The name itself is of Arab origin al-Aziz which means “dear”, “splendid”. As a matter of fact, the name is written at the entrance of the castle.
Another castle is Cuba, a recreation home for king William II. It featured an artificial lake, once again Arab influences. It later served as the lepers’ colony. The name connects to its cubic form. Other Arab elements are architectural details, small windows, niches and blind arcades. Fun anecdote: the Cuba appears in one of the novels of Bocaccio’s Decameron.
The last, but not least, castle is Castello a Mare. As the name suggests, it is by the sea, close to the harbour. It is an ancient fortress form the Norman time.
By now, it is time to get away from the buzzing of this city and relax in a nice park. We went over to the Orto Botanico which is both a botanical garden and a research centre.
If you are into street markets, Palermo is famous for its historical markets. There are three: Ballarò, the most famous one, Vucciría and il Capo.
Historical markets – the heart of Sicilian cuisine
- Ballarò: The most iconic market of Palermo. It reminds of an Arab bazaar, with people shouting their lungs out on praises of their merchandise. You can find anything from countless types of fresh fish and seafood, meat, vegetables and fruits from the island. It is also a great place to enjoy some original street foods. A journey into historical colours, sounds and flavours of a multicultural city with a long history.
- Vucciría: The former market for meats. The name derives from the Frenchbouchérie, butcher’s. Here you could find a huge variety of meats hanging from hooks. However, nowadays most establishments are closed down. At night, the market comes to life with a vibrant selection of restaurants. Here you can enjoy some of the most traditional and authentic foods.
- Il Capo: This market appears crowded and narrow, for being in narrow streets and the stands making the streets even narrower. The merchandise is displayed outside of the shops and you can find colourful covers and parasols.
There are also smaller ones, like flea markets and farmers’ markets.
The Cathedral of Monreale is outside of the city and is a symbol for the Norman domain. It connects in style to the cathedral of Cefalù. What struck me, where the Arab architectural elements and the gold used in the tile works.
Golden details on a wall.
Golden tiles on a column.
The interior of the cathedral
And with this, the tour of Palermo is over and we are going to head West.
To be continued…
Have you ever been to Palermo? What did you like most? Let me know in the comments below.