Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Palermo Cathedral by Budget Slow Travel

I have had this desire to go to Palermo for a long time. The fact that it has been conquered and settled by so many cultures was a great influence.  The Normans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, Spanish and the French all contributed to the feel of this chaotic city with their architecture, religion, food, theatre and music. 

Like any great city, it takes more than just a couple of days to experience it. A minimum of a week is needed to get a feel for the vibration and flow of the city and its people. After spending a week there I was comfortable and had a good feel of the old city but  I really only touched the surface. One must spend at least a few months to really know Palermo. 

We drove to Palermo. We picked up a car in Salerno on the Amalfi Coast and drove around Puglia, Calabria and Sicily before driving into Palermo.  We dropped off the car at the Avis Car Rental down by the harbour and a 10-minute walk to our 2-bedroom apartment. 

Piazza Vigliena (Quatro Canti)

The heart of historic Palermo is the Baroque Piazza Vigliena, finished in 1620, at the crossing of the two principal streets in Palermo, the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Each of the four corners have ornate concave buildings that are four stories with three full size statues in their centres that at first glance look identical. Known as the Quatro Canti, this intersection is the corner of all four ancient quarters (Cantons or Canti) of Palermo.

Each building has several statues inset into the building that represent a different King of Spain and a fountain for each season of the year. So while the buildings look the same, they are different if you take the time and look closely at each building. This area is also popular for musicians to play for tips. 

King Phillip IV

Fontana Pretoria

Just around the corner from Quatro Canti is the Fonatana Pretoria. Locals call it Piazza della Vergogna, “Plaza of Shame”  because of all the nude statues. 

The fountain is elliptical with a circumference of about 133 metres and a height of 12.90 metres. On the first level, it is surrounded by elegant balustrades, interrupted by four large accesses, each delimited by a pair of colossal male and female half-figures. 

On the second level, divided up by four flights of steps, there are four fish ponds, each with six niches decorated with small heads of animals and monsters, with water spouting from their nostrils… a scenographic bestiary that ranges from bucolic sheep to a more exotic rhinoceros. At the border of each fish pond, personifications of the city’s four ancient rivers, the Papireto, the Gabriele, the Maredolce and the Oreto, recline in front of the gushing basins flanked by Tritons, Nereids and Sirens. 

At the corners of the balustrades enclosing each of the four flights of steps, there are sixteen statues representing various mythological figures. Inside the fountain there are statues of the gods of Olympus and the deities of pleasure and abundance. 

The complex culminates in a large pool, from which two marine monsters emerge bearing a first basin with four marble geese and a group of sea horses, dolphins and sirens beneath a second basin. In the middle of this there are four winged cupids supporting the final basin, surmounted by a cherub holding a cornucopia from which it pours a stream of water. 

Fontana Pretoria​ in Palermo front view
Fontana Pretoria​ in Palermo stairs

Heading southwest along the walking mall Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the Palermo Cathedral, the Palazzo dei Normanni and the Palatine Chapel known for its elaborate Byzantine mosaics and paintings. These are must see buildings.

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral by Budget Slow Travel
side view of Palermo Cathedral
Side view of Palermo Cathedral
Palermo Cathedral​ arch
Palermo Cathedral​ domes

Norman Palace

Norman Palace outside
Norman Palace exterior
Norman Palace in Palermo entrance door
Massive wooden entry door into the palace
Royal Palace interior courtyard
Norman Palace Royal garden
The Royal Garden
Eating an arancini in the Royal Garden outdoor restaurant

Palatine Chapel

Palatine Chapel interior
Palatine Chapel inside Norman Palace
Beautiful and exquisite mosiac tiles

Botanical Gardens of Palermo

The Botanical Gardens of Palermo is also a research garden of the Departmet of Botany in the University of Palermo. The 10 hectare grounds began in the 1779 and is an important collection of plants from around Europe. It also has a gene bank that preserves the flora of the region. 

In the past there was a sign at the entrance that said entry without children was forbidden. This was to prevent young people from using the garden as a hang out and harassing families. Children of the area would approach couples and asked if they would like to be escorted into the garden for a few lira that the children would use to buy ice cream. 

It is a beautiful and quiet garden to spend several hours  wandering along the paths looking at the 12,000 different specimens from algae to bamboo to grapefruit trees.

Botanical Garden open space
Botanical Garden Map
Botanical Garden of Palermo grapefruit on tree
Cactus closeup
Botanical Gardens of Palermo buidling
Botanical Garden of Palermo seed room
Gene Pool collection

Capuchin Catacombs

The preserved condition of the many corpses exposed makes the cemetery of the  Convent of the Capuchin Friars one of the most impressive places to visit in the world. Beginnning in the 16th century the Friars discovered how to preserve the remains of their dead. 

Spending time and venerating with the dead is an important part of Sicilian heritage as can be seen by the well visited cemetaries. Wealthy people learned of the Friars ability and convinced them with large donations to preserve their loved ones so that they could go and be with them from time to time. Eventually there was too much demand and the preservation stopped in the nineteenth century. 

The catacombs and attached cemetary are well worth visiting. We spend a lot of time in cementaries around the world when we travel. They are quiet retreats with a lot of history. This cementary has many museulems that contain the remains of all the remains of the deceased family members. This well visited cemetary has a permanent flower shop at the entrance to buy flowers to put on the graves of your loved ones. 

 

Catacomb in Palermo
Graveside in Palermo
museulem in Palermo
Florist outside catacomb in Palermo

Palermo Food Markets

Capo market sign

For any self-confessed food enthusiast, Palermo’s quartet of bustling food markets stands as a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights. Each market, nestled within one of the city’s ancient four quarters, offers a unique and vibrant array of gastronomic treasures.

Just a stone’s throw away from our apartment lied the Mercato del Capo, nestled in the ancient Capo quarter. A ten-minute stroll lead us to this bustling marketplace, where locals embark on their very social daily shopping routines. The narrow alleys teemed with stalls brimming with an assortment of fresh produce, regional cheeses, succulent seafood, and artisanal goods. Most of these vendors, have manned their stalls for generations, and are very generous with their samples.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, one can find many vendors selling prepared foods like delectable meatballs in tomato sauce, offering the perfect complement to freshly purchased pasta, basil, cheese, bread, and a bottle of wine all at the market or a delightful evening meal. For me, preparing our dinner using locally sourced ingredients steeped in regional flavours is one of the highlights of traveling.

 

meatballs in red sauce at market
fried squid at market

Venturing fifteen minutes eastward you arrive at the Mercato di Ballarò, nestled in the heart of the Albergheria quarter. This market, a vibrant epicenter of activity for centuries, captivates visitors with vendors energetically hawking their wares to both locals and tourists alike. Additionally in the other quarters, the Mercatos di Vucciria, dating back to the 12th century, and Borgo Vecchio offer smaller markets where one can find not only food but also clothing, accessories, and souvenirs at affordable prices.

fish on table in market
man and woman manning stall in market in Palermo
She is giving him what for and he is reacting

Our Apartment for a Week

apartment building in Palermo, Sicily

A two bedroom apartment about 800 sq. ft. On the first floor (2nd floor for US and CDN) with wide stairs and an elevator. Access by code sent by owner.

Nice bedrooms with comfortable beds. Small bathroom with smaller shower but it works. Small kitchen with fridge and gas stove. Very basic utensils and cookingware. (We bought a frying pan and just left it)

Large entry room and good sized living room with dining table, couch, chairs and TV. There are magazines and books to read.

The windows and shutters open in the living room and the two bedrooms. The view is of the building across the street and the tree lined main street. 

The side street is a short cut from the tree lined main street to another main street. At times it is noisy with motorcycles crossing to the other street. 

The location is perfect. Grocery and clothes shopping close by. Main transit junction is right there.  All the services are close by. It is in the heart of the historic city so everything is within walking distance. 

The apartment was pretty clean, we did some cleaning in the kitchen. The price was right. The cheapest place we stayed at on our two month trip to Southern Italy. 

Bedroom in Palermo apartment
Front room in Palermo apartment

Teatro Massimo

The largest opera house in Italy and third after Paris and Vienna. We went to a wonderful symphony performance in our week in Palermo. Click on the link to see the upcoming calendar so you can book a seat before you arrive. https://www.teatromassimo.it/en/

Teatro Massimo interior
Symphony in Teatro Massimo

Street Scenes

Out for her daily shop
Telling stories while out for the daily shop

Palermo Recipes

Timbal

A delicious baked pasta dish. Check out this great recipe along with a video on how to make it. https://www.ciaoitalia.com/recipes/baked-pasta-casserole-palermo-style

Pasta sardines alla Palermo