Sicily Villas in and near Palermo »
The long list of foreign dominators following one another in Palermo cannot be summed up in a few lines. Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, German from Swabia, French from Anjou and Spanish from Aragon and Madrid, the House of Savoy, Austrians and Bourbons followed each other during 26 centuries of occupation and colonization, not mentioning the maritime republics of Genoa, Amalfi and Pisa, ruling the city for brief intervals. All of these gave their contribution leaving marks of their presence and culture in churches, roads or institutions.
Palermo is so rich in culture and history, treasures of art and taste, that it‘s impossible to explore it in a few days. Nevertheless, however brief or long is your stay, you will surely learn something about it and enjoy every minute, wherever you go and whatever you do or taste.
A large number of landmarks (monuments or natural beauties such as Mount Pellegrino or the coast) will tell you where you are any time. First and foremost Piazza Vigliena, better known as Quattro Canti, dating back to 1600. It marks the very core of Palermo, the historical centre where two major ancient streets - Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the ancient Cassaro, and Via Maqueda - intersect leading north to the sea, and south to the mountains, and indicating the two directions of the modern urban development: east, towards Foro Italico and the suburbs, and west, towards the airport, the new sea resorts and the western suburbs. Created by demolishing the ancient medieval suburbs, the square symbolizes Palermo’s evolution between past and present.
During the Fifties building speculation changed the city layout by promoting the creation of new urban districts north, west and east, up to the mountains surrounding the city. The result was an unsuccessful expansion impoverishing the old historical centre and leaving deep scars on the landscape. Furthermore, the new suburbs, though perfectly self-sufficient, are not well-linked to the downtown, public services are lacking, and the ancient core pf Palermo grew so degraded to become an exclusive territory for poor or immigrant people, losing its dignity and prestige Now a new awareness of the richness and beauty of Palermo’s historical quarters has inspired a flurry of renovation and cultural activities, focused mainly on the area near the waterfront, totally neglected for about twenty years. A paradox, certainly, when you think that Palermo was once renowned as a safe landing-place and therefore named “Panormus”, meaning “all port”. Palermitans have been recently given the chance to stroll along the ancient Sea Promenade, better known as Foro Italico an ancient habit dating back to late 1500. More attention has been paid to the suburbs as well, with the creation of schools, social aggregations centres and the planning of tramways and trains to provide a better linking with the downtown.
Palermo is both a modern city like many others in the world, swarming of people of different races and activities, of traffic and noise, and an old capital still proud of its old buildings, traditions, flavours, dialect, life-style, popular culture. The old symbols of Palermo’s life, its popular markets - Vucciria, Ballarò, Capo, Borgo Vecchio - are now the picture of a multiethnic population engaged in both traditional and new commercial activities, Chinese or Indians side by side with Sicilians, electronic gadgets sellers displaying their goods next to greengrocers, butchers or fishmongers, as in every other city in the world. Still, this mixing of cultures hasn’t changed the true Sicilian spirit. Palermo is Palermo and whatever you may find here is unique just because it’s the result of an age-old integration of cultures, tastes, languages and life-styles. Palermo is the Mediterranean, and Sicilian cuisine is the context where you can experiment this everlasting fusion. The sweet-and-sour flavour marking a large number of traditional recipes (caponata, pasta with sardines), can be interpreted as one of the most intense expression of the harmonious contrasts of this city.
It’s almost unbelievable that Mondello and its renowned promenade used to be a malarial marshland until the late 1800. The area was drained by Palermo’s municipality between the end of 1800 ant the beginning of 1900, and the Italian-Belgian company bought it in 1911 to create a sea resort - inspired to celebrated places like Nice or Portofino in the French or Ligurian Riviera - building both the innumerable art-nouveau “villini” you may still admire in Mondello and the elegant bathing resort now hosting Charleston restaurant.
Mondello has a lot to offer, both in the summer and in winter or spring. It is Palermitans’s favourite place for a nice stroll along the promenade, invariably ending with a stop to the several “pasticcerie” or restaurants crowding the small village. The offer is incredibly varied: fish, fried specialties, bakery’s products, pastries and ice creams. You may find comfortable corners with tables and chairs everywhere. Mondello literally teems with life in the summer. In the daytime the beach is crowded with people lying in the sun, at night the resort hosts cultural events. Among these, Windsurf World Festival in May is worth mentioning.
The historical centre of Monreale, dating back to the late Middle Ages, owes much to the Norman King William II, Roger II’s grandson. According to a legend, Virgin Mary appeared to him in dream asking the gift of a church in her honour, and William II ordered the erection of such an imposing cathedral as to compete with all other coeval cathedrals in the catholic world, and even to outshine the beauty of Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace in Palermo.
The Cathedral and the Cloister are among the most splendid and sumptuous buildings in Sicily, and owe most of their charm to their wonderful position: they dominate Conca d’Oro (the golden valley), the rural area in southern Palermo renowned for its citrus fruits gardens. In spite of the changes their structures underwent, their beauty is still intact both for Sicilians and tourists, even though 10 centuries have passed.
Monreale is surrounded by a magical and almost timeless halo. Besides the renowned Norman buildings, it boasts several splendid baroque churches and a maze of narrow lanes inviting to a nice stroll in a medieval context. As for the cuisine, the offer is very appetizing. In November, we advise you the Sacred Music Week, a repertory of sacred music for organ pipe played with the celebrated instrument in the Cathedral on the background of its magnificent mosaics.
Sicily Villas in and near Palermo »