We docked in Palermo at 8:00am and after light breakfast decided to disembark and start exploring to see what this Italian port city had to offer. Palermo is located on the north western coast of Sicily on a wide bay in the shadow of Mount Pellegrino.
After talking to the local tourist rep we decided to follow her directions and go on a kind of self guided walking tour. The port area is busy with lots of ferries leaving and arriving from the mainland and other parts of Europe, but once through all that things slow down to a more normal Mediterranean way of life.
It wasn’t long before we came across our first sight the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, a lovely Neoclassical style theatre that was built between 1867 and 1874. Its striking facade is topped by a huge bronze quadriga depicting the Triumph of Apollo and Euterpe.
From here we walked along one of the city’s main shopping streets until we reached the Teatro Massimo, one of the finest opera houses in the world. Opened in 1897 it was here that Enrico Caruso sang in a performance of La Gioconda in the theatres opening season. Having been closed for restoration since 1974 the theatre finally reopened in 1997 and has had an active schedule ever since. The high neoclassical style of the building is beautiful.
Back on the main street our next stop was to be the Quattro Canti – The Four Corners. This busy and relatively small square has been the traditional heart of Palermo since the 1600’s and was laid out on the orders of the Viceroys between 1608 and 1620. There are four Baroque buildings with almost identical facades which contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily and the four patronesses of Palermo. The buildings, although a little dirty are very impressive with very detailed architecture.
After admiring the buildings for a while we followed our map and headed up the road hoping to find Palermo’s Cathedral. The cathedral is massive and was built in 1184, during Sicily’s Norman period. Before the cathedral the site was occupied by a Muslim mosque. The building is distinctive for its mix of architectural styles after having several additions, alterations and renovations over the centuries. In 1771 and 1809 the Neapolitan architect Ferdinando Fuga restored the cathedral’s exterior and interior in a Neoclassical style. In my opinion the cathedral is most impressive from the outside.
A short walk further on from the cathedral and we came to the Palazzo dei Normanni also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo. The palace served as the seat of the King’s of Sicily during the Norman domination and for subsequent rulers afterwards, it was also used as the Parliament for Sicily but is now used for the Sicilian Regional Assembly. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe with its origins tracing back to the 9th century, although it probably dates back even further. It is a rather plain building to look at from the outside but inside it houses the famous Cappella Palatina.
After spending some time at the palace we decided to walk gradually back to the port and our ship. We’d been told that the Arab Market was worth visiting but we just couldn’t find it and got lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleyways. It was a particularly hot day and in the end we gave up and went back to the ship where a nice ice cold beer was waiting for us…the perfect way to finish off our day in Palermo.
Next port Sorrento, Italy.