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Published: August 12th 2018
Palermo – what do you say about this city? It is a vibrant, energetic place with magnificent places to see, plenty to learn about and an abundance of choices of foods to try. What is not to like?? We have heard that this is a place that people seem to love or hate. Obviously we are on the love side as we wound up staying here for 12 days. In actual fact though we could have probably left a couple of days earlier but the weather thought otherwise and we still found things to fill the days with.
We were off to a great start with the marina that we picked to stay at while here. There are a few options, but fortunately for us friends of ours were in Palermo earlier and gave us great advice (thanks Carole and Paul!) It was in a great location within easy walking distance to the historic parts of town and the person in charge, Ben, spoke excellent English and was more than willing to pass on his thoughts and even provide maps of places to visit.
We knew when we arrived that we would stay at least a week as the travel guides
seemed to indicate that there was plenty to see. We found out very quickly that this is an easy city to get around. The historic area is divided into four quarters divided where the two main roads cross. It is easy to recognize by the curved buildings at the “corner” with three levels of statutes at this intersection. Even though during the day these are still roads used by cars, it doesn’t seem to faze people and many stand in the intersection while they get their photos! Fortunately in the evening they close off two branches and it becomes a wonderful place to wander in the evening.
When you first walk down the main street toward this intersection you pass by the fountain (Fontana Pretoria) which fills the plaza in which it sits. It has numerous sculptures and was brought here in 1573, but due to the nudity of the figures and its closeness to numerous churches and their church-goers, it was more commonly called “the fountain of shame”. It appears to be a wonderful gathering place for people now and is a great landmark for getting your bearings.
Early in our stay in Palermo we went to some of
the more typical sites which included of course the Duomo (Cathedral) and the Royal Palace. We very wisely did both of these early in the morning when they opened before the tour groups started to arrive. We found out very quickly that Palermo is on the itinerary for numerous cruise lines which brought in large groups almost daily.
The Duomo was first started in 600 as a place of Christian worship, but when the Saracens arrived in 800 AD they used it as a mosque. When the Normans ruled this area in 1100 AD this Cathedral was built in the Arab-Norman style and was now a Christian church. As with all buildings with this long a history, adaptations have been made, some more obvious than others. The Gothic porch was added in 1426 and the impressive dome was completed in 1801. While the outside is said to be the most impressive we took the time to wander inside as well. For a Cathedral it is definitely much less orate than others we have seen, but it is no less interesting to wander through. Here you can see more of the marble inlays that enhance the beauty of the interior. You
can also visit the royal crypt and the treasury, but by the time we would have done this numerous tour groups from the cruise ships had arrived so decided we could always come back to it another day. By the end of our stay in Palermo we realized we hadn’t done this, but by that time we had been to so many churches we were somewhat overwhelmed and figured we would do without seeing those two areas of the Cathedral.
Another stop on the tourist circuit here in Palermo is the Norman Palace which had been known as the Royal Palace. The first section of the Palace was built during the Arab period of rule of this region as a fortress, but after the Normans arrived in 1072 reconstruction and additions were made and it was converted into the Royal Palace. It has been a center of power under numerous rulers – the Normans through the Spanish viceroys in the 16th C. and continued to the Bourbons of Sicily. The Sicilian Regional Assembly still uses this location as its home base.
When we went we found that the rooms of the Palace were closed to the public, but we could
still get in to see what is the overwhelmingly stunning Palatine Chapel. From photos we have seen of the Royal Palace area we would have enjoyed seeing it, but the Chapel was well worth the admission fee. When you climb the marble stairs in the Palace you come to an open courtyard which is in front of the entrance to the Chapel. In 1120 Roger II ordered the addition of the Chapel of the Palace. He wanted it to be a melding of architectural and decorative styles of different cultures and religions. As a result it incorporates those of the Byzantine, Islamic and Christian artisans. As you enter you are almost overwhelmed by the mosaics that cover every square inch of the walls and ceiling.
A mosaic of Christ dominates the dome while scenes from the Old Testament are depicted in mosaic in the center. The Church is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and events of their life are shown as well. One very unique area is part of the ceiling is wood created by the Moors - it was difficult to capture in photos, but the carvings are done in a way that some of the areas
are over a meter deep – the intricacy of the geometry used to create this is a wonder to see. If you look closely at the photo you may be able to see the columns that are incorporated giving you a sense of the depth of the ceiling area. As many of the mosaics were designed for the walls and not to be walked on, they were able to incorporate gold leaf into those designs making the walls sparkle even in the low light of the room. Even with a number of people in the chapel the beauty of the space took over and there was a definite quietness of the space.
I won’t go through all the places that we visited, but we found that sometimes a “quick pop in” to a Church such as that of St. Agostino lead to us searching out another place. This was the first Church where we saw some amazing stucco sculptures. When we got back to the boat I did a google search on the Church of St. Agostino and found that the famous Italian stucco sculptor, Serpotta, did these and that there were numerous other fine examples around the city. We
decided to pick one more to visit which led us to the Oratorio Rosalio S. Cita. It was wonderful to see and as it is not one of the places that you would easily find on the normal tourist trail we had a chance to see it by ourselves. We found it actually was a building we had walked by a few times before but from the outside there was nothing of note to indicate what was inside.
We found that Palermo was full of surprises like these – you just had to take the time to wander and be willing to “poke your head in” to see what you may be rewarded with. With the city being divided into 4 distinct historic districts you could easily lose yourself in each of them. As many of you know we love to visit the markets not only to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but to absorb the atmosphere of the place. Palermo did not disappoint as each district had its own market which we were able to visit. Many had the same offerings of other cities we have been in, but there are always some items that seem to be unique
You Know You Have Lots of Tourists
when you see these modes of transportation
which makes the effort to visit worthwhile. Not only did each section have its own market, there were sections of the city that were specific to a trade or type of merchandise. We walked down the street that was lined with antique shops, the one where all the tin makers were working and selling their wares, the numerous streets filled with bolts of fabric of all kinds, and then the area where you go if you want to buy a mattress or another area with florist shops. It was wonderful to stumble upon these specialized areas and talk to some of the vendors/craftspeople.
Palermo is also known for its street food. We had already been introduced to the arancini (fried rice ball) when we were in Vibo Marina, but here we found a shop that offered amazing fillings. Of course one of the locals from Palermo stated that those were made for the tourists, but it seemed that plenty of Italians were sitting enjoying them alongside us! I found one that was stuffed with a chicken curry and Bob enjoyed his spinach and cheese filled one. After the first night, we of course had to try it again before we
left as we knew we wouldn’t find these again. The other street food we had been told about by quite a few locals were the pannella which are chickpea fritters and the crocche which resembles a potato croquette. We tried these at a restaurant the harbor master suggested we go to and then again we had someone treat us to these at the place he said was the “best place for street food”. It is obvious that everyone has their favorite place to get them.
When we are in a city we love to wander the streets in the evening and Palermo was no exception. Fortunately many take a night time stroll and it is made easier by having some of the roads closed to traffic. We had to chuckle that we also found that on some roads part of the road is marked off for pedestrians even though there are sidewalks there. The sidewalks here many times are filled with tables and chairs from the shops or are made up of uneven stones, so walking in the road where walking was designated actually made sense! Some evenings the streets were packed with people and the cafes and restaurants move
Fishing Boats Went Out of the Harbor Each Evening
some were small & pulling others to help with nets
tables and chairs into the streets making it even more crowded for walking. One night we turned down a small alleyway which opened into a square that was full of people. It looked interesting so walked down to see – it was packed with vendors selling a large variety of foods ranging from the ones we had seen during the day to places where you could pick out what seafood you wanted to eat and they would grill it on the spot for you. There were a couple that were also serving some dishes that neither of us could easily recognize and weren’t sure we were willing to even try! In talking to some locals later they said we were smart not to try when we described the dish to them. Let’s just say they were serving up some body parts of animals that just didn’t sound very inviting at all.
With having stayed in Palermo for a total of 12 days there is no way I can describe all that we saw but hopefully the pictures will fill in some of the story. We did take a one day trip to a nearby town of Monreale as everyone told
us it was “a must”. We are glad we did, but as there are more than enough photos in this blog now I will write up the details on that excursion and post pictures in another blog entry.
If you didn’t get the idea yet, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Palermo but it was definitely time to move on as our 90 day visa for staying here was coming to an end and we still had some distance to travel and things to see before we got Tsamaya to its winter location.
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