Palermo, the biggest historical center of the Mediterranean

Begin in the centre of the centre: place yourself in the Quattro Canti and recognise the four theatrical façades of the four Spanish monarchs who were also kings of Sicily: Carlos V and the Felipes II, III and IV. On the way, to energise yourself in the literal sense, have a coffee in the adjacent Bisso Bistrot (Via Maqueda 172). The outdoors café Umberto I from the nineteenth century, which was a historical bookstore until a year ago, has regained its lounges with precious modernist frescoes for the cafe and restaurant.

Piazza Quatro Cantoni, xylograph by Giuseppe Barberis

Next door, the Piazza Pretoria, the alias Delle Vergogna, with its spectacular
fountain (now you can walk, please be careful as recently a tourist thew a marble among the naked statues that gave it the name). In front of it, the City Council also allows you to freely visit their lounges on the first floor.

Behind it, the iconic Piazza Bellini, with the domes of San Cataldo and La Martorana along with churches that recently have been included in the Heritage List of the Humanity of Unesco. The interior of the Martorana is something like a tasting menu of how much the city and Sicily will offer us: Greek columns with Arabic inscriptions, blinding Byzantine mosaics, frescoes and Baroque marbles.

Beautiful mosaics in Martorana Church. Photo by Andrew & Suzanne

And now, to the mess. Going up Via Maqueda and passing through the palaces Comintini and Sant’Elia (with a free visit for both you and whom said that there was not much to see in Palermo), go into the Mercato Ballaró. Palermo in essence: spectacular stands of fruit, meat, fish, everything with sellers shouting in Sicilian.

Palermo is internationally recognised as one of capitals of street food

I do not know what the European regulations will say about that but the quality and freshness of the food give faith to the Palermitanos who make their purchases on a daily basis. Alongside the traveler who buys a snack from “cibo di strada” – the street food, with Palermo being internationally recognised as one of its capitals. without a doubt, the fumes will allow you to continue and book a night of rest in a restaurant.

A city of contrasts

To begin with hallmarks, lie back and enter the monumental complex of the Gesù, with a marble show that you have not seen anywhere else. Only a few hundred metres later we arrive at the monumental epicentre of the capital: The Cathedral, The Convent of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, and especially above all: The Palatine Chapel of the Royal Palace. Perhaps the most exquisite sample of Arab Norman culture. The three monuments, all of which are a World Heritage Site.

Two subsequent offers diametrically opposed: take the bus to Monreale, the “Golden Church”, one of the most beautiful temples of the world, with a cloister that is not far behind. Or see the peculiar spectacle of the hundreds of mummies that fascinates tourists (especially the children!) from the catacombs of the Cappuccini. Do not miss Rosalía Lombardo, “the most beautiful mummy in the world”.

The interior of the Martorana is something like a tasting menu of how much the city and Sicily will offer us: Greek columns with Arabic inscriptions, blinding Byzantine mosaics, frescoes and Baroque marbles.

At dusk, get lost in the Kalsa neighborhood by the sea (its dozens of palaces and churches were abandoned until recently, however now the streets slowly recover their splendor via Paternostro, a fashionable place to shop in stylish boutiques, drinks and designer restaurants). Its epicentre, is the Abatelis museum, with unforgettable works. Something lighter, the wonderful International Museum of Puppets.

If you are there at night, I propose a jazz concert in the ruins of Lo Spasimo, or a dinner … for example in the Osteria Ballaró (Via Calascibetta 25, an alley near Piazza Borsa), beautifully decorated today and located in the stables of the Palazzo Cattolica whose columned courtyards are seen from the lounge. For something lighter and inventive, if possible, on the nearby Via Vittorio Emanuele, 176 Buatta. A  historic luggage store of 1870 transformed with a striking current design (when the Palermitanos become modern, they feel like it), into a recent temple of popular and street cuisine. It has been revisited with absolute modernity and with surprisingly moderate prices.

Buatta is a temple of popular and street cuisine

If it’s too hot, it’s best to dine in the nearby and huge Piazza Marina where the only problem is to choose between its many traditional restaurants with a terrace, interspersed with other monuments. With menus so rich, our walk will take two more days.

The second day

Continuing with the essentials, visit the recent Archaeological Museum with wonderful Greek and Roman backgrounds in the sequence of courtyards of an old convent. In the surrounding area, are dozens of churches and other the jewels of the city: Oratories decorated by Serpota and the genius of stucco (San Lorenzo, Santa Zita, the Rosary). By now there will be accustomed to the sight of precious, more attractive street garbage (no, there is no collection strike – which is the normal situation).

The Teatro Massimo is one of the great temples of international opera. It’s stairway was the set for the last scene of The Godfather.

Through alleyways (alas, already invaded by tourist attractions), the jewel of the city stands out: the Teatro Massimo, the largest in Italy, the third in Europe and one of the great temples of the international opera. Even if you are not lucky enough to coincide with a function, you can take a guided tour while remembering the last scene of The Godfather III. Behind the theater (past the gigantic building of the Palace of Justice, home to the most celebrated lawsuits against Mafia bosses), the Lo Capo market begins. It is another historical market that, since the tenth century with the Arabic domination, retains the intricate appearance of a souk and is one of the main attractions of the city. Along its streets are so many unexpected churches, like the blue marbles that cover La Concezione.


Teatro Massimo

More street food, more hallmarks (go up to the designer terrace of La Rinascente, in Piazza San Domenico, to familiarise yourself and meanwhile take your umpteenth coffee). Even if you do not have the money and are young as though not to mind the miserable metal to have an sensational experience, close by you have a great plan for the night. In the first case, go to Via Argenteria in the centre of the town with street motion including music and food from the city. In the second case, continue a few meters more, and the Ristorante Gagini (Via Casari 35) and Bocum Mixology via (Via Cassari 6) await you.

With a few extra kilos in your suitcase and around your waist, the question will be whether to continue consuming Palermo, go to take a bath at the nearby beach of Mondello… or climb the panoramic Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia to ask the beloved patron to plan another upcoming trip. And if possible without a garbage strike and with half a dozen churches and palaces restored. If the visit was in 2018, remember: Palermo will be the Capital of Culture. It is full of merit.