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Palermo Travel guide

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Travel Guide

Quattro Canti

If the visitor of Palermo asks his or her way to the "Piazza Vigliena", very few are in a position to identify this piazza with the world-wide known Quattro Canti (Four Corners) Piazza Vigliena is the official name of the most frequented intersection in the heart of Palermo. It is named after the Spanish Viceroy, who, in 1611, ordered that the monument be built here.

The monument, consisting of four buildings with three levels each, all covered with sculptures, baroque style, designed by the architect Giullio Lasso, is located at the intersection of Via Marqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, in the very heart of Palermo's Old District. Most sights of historical and tourist interest lie a few minutes' promenade away. The sculptures themselves ornate the facades of the four buildings and were made by talented local sculptors, some of whom were La Mattina, Tedeschi and d' Aprile. Various themes are to be recognized: patron Saints of Palermo's four old quarters, various Spanish kings, the Four Seasons, together with baroque fountains. Since the invasion of carbon or oil consuming activities, these once colourful monuments , here as well, have acquired a grayish tint, very difficult to remove. The monuments, nevertheless, have maintained their initial grandeur .


The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace at Palermo was originally built by Saracen Arabs in the 9th century, on top of the ruins of earlier Phoenician and Roman structures. After it was abandoned, it was restored and modified by the Normans into an imposing Palace, well worth the fame of the Kingdom of Sicily, once the wealthiest Kingdom in Europe. The addition of the Pisan Tower by the Normans contributed to the palace’s charm. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen highly esteemed the Palace and had the 1st “School of Poetry” created in it. When he died, the Palace went into a three century long decline period.

More alterations to the structure were to take place during the “Spanish” period, when it was chosen as their residence. Subsequently, the original medieval structure has undergone many modifications, especially on the exterior, without, nevertheless, losing its initial grandiose impact. The Palatine Chapel and the Throne Room are a must see in this respect. The former is decorated with orthodox traditional icons and a painted Arabic ceiling and, unlike Roger’s Room, it is open to the public during traditional hours. The Royal Palace now houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

The Palatine Chapel seems to be a Monreale Cathedral in miniature, though it antedates that church by decades. Of note are the fine icons of Saint Peter and Saint James, and the throne. The lions on the wall above the throne resemble those used in the coat of arms of England's Norman kings some decades later, suggesting that the symbol originated in Sicily or one of the other Norman dominions. Relations between the English and Sicilian kingdoms were close; Otto of Bayeaux, brother of William the Conqueror, is buried in Palermo Cathedral. Roger's Room presents the visitor with mosaics of a "secular" nature, featuring representations of trees and beasts, including many found in Sicily. The palace was the seat of Sicilian administration throughout much of the twelfth century, and Roger is believed to have kept a harem here. Unfortunately, most of the Royal Palace's original corridors and rooms have been destroyed. From outside the visitors' entrance, a few of the pointed battlements have been preserved, and a number of knights certainly manned these defenses as part of the Royal Body Guard, but the Palace was not built so much as a fortified dwelling (i.e. a castle) as a palatial residence. The Royal Palace is open weekdays and Saturdays during the mornings and most afternoons.

The Civic Modern Art Gallery
Inaugurated in 1910 thanks to Empedocle Restivo, it came into being in the foyer of the Politeama Theatre, done by Damiani Almeyda in 1874. Between two sumptuous "Pompeian rooms", a series of rooms houses Sicilian paintings and sculptures from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, largely the fruit of donations and purchases. Works in the landscape, naturalistic, realistic, romantic and patriotic veins form a particular collection reflecting an epoch of great economic and cultural liveliness for the city, dominated by the Florios, and marked by the National Exposition of 1891-2 and by the presence of a big number of good artists.

During its session of 28 March 1906, Palermo Council debated and approved a detailed project regarding the setting up of a modern art gallery, presented by Chairman Empedocle Restivo, an illustrious jurist and a passionate art-lover. The most suitable seat, indeed the only one worth considering, was the foyer of the Politeama Theatre. There were various factors determining this choice: the prestige of the noble building erected by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda, its central position in the modern city, the fact that it belonged to Palermo Council, and its being immediately available.

The idea of an "Olympic circus", then of a Politeama suited to various forms of entertainment, had long circulated in the Council, under the inspiration of Damiani; until, in the sitting of 28 June 1865, construction was approved and financed and entrusted to the same architect. Work began the following year and went on with some interruptions until the inauguration in 1874, though the definitive roof and the decorations were still missing. The latter, also designed by Damiani, were to be hurriedly defined as the 1991 National Exposition was imminent, as were the performances which the Massimo Opera House, not yet having been built, could not put on. These decorations, "in the Pompeian manner", had been conceived in close connection with the "Roman" style of the edifice, modelled on the examples of what remained at Syracuse, Agrigento, Selinus, Herculaneum, Pompeii; the painters who worked on it were Giuseppe Enea (Palermo, 1863-1906), Giovanni Lentini (Trapani, 1830 - Palermo, 1890), Rocco Lentini (Palermo, 1858 - Venice, 1943), father and son, Enrico Cavallaro (Palermo, 1858-1895), and the young Salvatore Gregorietti (Palermo, 1870-1952) collaborated with the latter; while Mario Rutelli (Palermo, 1859-1941) and Benedetto Civiletti (Palermo, 1845-1899) were entrusted respectively with the Quadriga and Equestrian statues surmounting the triumphal arch of the entrance; from the latter, completing the facade, there start the two curvilinear wings of the double colonnade.

The building complex is exceptionally interesting not only for the originality of its structure, but also for the colour effect of a "polychrome architecture" with which the presence of an art gallery also fits in perfectly well. Up each of the two independent staircases in Via Filippo Turati and Via Emerico Amari, you get to one of the two "Pompeian rooms", between which there is a series of rooms, with a total surface area of 2,000 square metres and 220 metres of usable wall. There thus began to be solved the pressing problem of display spaces which for generations had worried Palermo painters and sculptors, the organisers of the art club and of "promoting" exhibitions: spaces which were all the more necessary in that the days of big frescoes and statues in noblemen’s palaces had gone and there now prevailed easel paintings and sketches to show a new public and new people commissioning works. The Civic Modern Art Gallery satisfied these needs and was soon to be filled with deposits lying elsewhere, donations from collectors and artists, and shrewdly purchased works. First of all, then, mention must be made of the seats that housed the most important collections before they were sent to the Civic, whose story begins, precisely, from these precedents.

The oldest nucleus of works, indispensable for knowledge of nineteenth-century art in Sicily, was the one at the old National Museum in Palermo, whose patrimony had been put together with untiring care by the worthy Antonino Salinas, an archaeologist and lecturer and later Rector of Palermo University. This museum contained a vast number of archaeological finds and countless paintings and sculptures of all sizes from all epochs, above all by Sicilian artists, coming from churches, monastic buildings and patrician dwellings, as well as gifts and purchases: it was all kept at the buildings of the University, the former monastery of the Theatines of St. Joseph, opposite the Town Hall. In 1866 this material was transferred to the former house of the Philippine Fathers at Olivella, which later became exclusively the seat of the Archaeological Museum, when the nineteenth-century collections went to the Civic Gallery and those from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to the gallery at the restored Palazzo Abatellis.

After these long vicissitudes, at the foyer of the Politeama we can now admire the works of the first Palermo landscape painters: Francesco Zerilli (1793-1837), with his clear-cut View of the Belmonte house at Acquasanta (dated 1832), Giovan Battista Carini, with his Cross of Santa Maria di Gesù, Tommaso Riolo (1815-1886), who in his Via Stabile towards the Sea takes into account Corot’s researches on the values of light, filtered through the Neapolitans. And through the collections which belonged to Salinas it is possible to follow up the whole painting career of Giuseppe Patania (1780-1852), from the happily hedonistic neo-classical taste of the Danae and the shower of gold, to the poignant psychological penetration of a romantic type that we find in Sick priest; and the story, too, of Salvatore Lo Forte (1809-1885), from the skilful accuracy of Portrait of Signora Pintacuda to the thoughtful Young gentleman. Our knowledge of the period is completed by the portraits by artists like Andrea D’Antoni (Palermo, 1811-1869) and Paolo Vetri (Enna, 1855 - Naples, 1937) and the fanciful battles of Luigi Lo Jacono (Palermo, 1810-1880), the father of the more famous Francesco, who was in the habit of signing with the syllables of his surname detached from one another.

As regards sculpture in the same period, it is well represented by the leader of Sicilian neo-classicism, Valerio Villareale (Palermo, 1773-1854), with a luxuriant Bacchant, which since 1934 has been outdoors, in the garden around the Politeama.

The verismo-realism movement, which ran rapidly through Europe towards the middle of the century, took hold in the South of Italy with Filippo Palizzi, whose school in Naples trained two painters who were to enjoy world fame, Francesco Lojacono (Palermo, 1838-1915) and Antonino Leto (Monreale, 1884 - Capri, 1913). By the first there is a View of Palermo, which went from the old Museum to the Civic Gallery; this is considered the masterpiece by this artist, who with remarkable sensitivity in it grasped the reality of Sicilian nature, and the vibrations of the atmosphere pregnant with the dilated vapours of the sun’s warmth. The Museum has provided a rich choice of no fewer than eighteen paintings by Leto, from his Olive picking - a painting closely deriving from Palizzi, and one in which the painter won the Pensionato nazionale (a four-yearly study grant competed for by talented young men) - to the works produced after his working sojourn in Paris: in Sicily, the Trapani salt pans; in Capri, the lively studies for The rope makers, the Marina with female figures and the splendid Capri marina, fervid with variegated reflections.

In 1918 a particularly valuable collection enriched the Gallery, the one donated by the erudite Edoardo Alfano in memory of a son of his who had died young. Among others, there stands out a painting by Lojacono, High pastures, which is singular for the misty atmosphere veiling the contours, lowering the tones and enhancing the value of the greys. But the collection is priceless above all for the knowledge it gives - through twelve paintings and numerous drawings - of the work of Michele Catti (Palermo, 1855-1914), the unfortunate artist - who achieved no success in his own lifetime - with whom international critics usually round off the nineteenth-century triad which begins with Lojacono and goes on with Leto. Some promptings of the first of the latter two artists are echoed in bright and luminous paintings, like The river; Leto’s influence can be see in the transparency and vibrancy of Dawn and Reflections; while an anxious spirit of research sometimes leads the artist to reuse and re-blend promptings from the impressionist and macchiaiolo manner, back-lit dark zones against the brightness of the sky, as in the Little promontory or in The sail. The pictures best expressing the painter’s mutable moods and melancholy are those in which the colours fade away gently under the clouds, as in Rainy Sunday, or in the days of Wind and fog, when there hurriedly pass female figures that huddle in their clothes against the gusts of wind. With the sad funeral cortege of Second November 1914 the painter’s life and career comes to an end. Together with these works in the Gallery we can see Catti’s masterpiece, the fruit of happier moments, Last leaves, a modern synthesis of his researches and his attention to life in the city in the streets coloured by inconstant autumn. The big painting, which won the gold medal at the Roman International in 1911, was purchased by the Council on a proposal by Ignazio Florio.

Other good-quality works from the later nineteenth century came from the 1891-2 Palermo National Exposition. It can be stated that this grandiose Exposition originated from the profound aspiration of Palermo artists to show, in an adequate space and in front of a public which was not only Italian, their own value, which in those years was attaining a European level. It was a Palermo sculptor, Ettore Ximenes (1855 - Rome, 1926) that first proposed a national exposition to be held in Palermo, after the ones held in Florence, Milan and Turin. And here, soon after, at the Artistic Club, during the meeting of 6 June 1888, the proposal was approved and hence a promoting committee was elected which was made up of artists, politicians, and representatives of the entrepreneurial middle classes and the enlightened aristocracy: among these there was Senator Ignazio Florio, a skilful manager, and the Prince of Camporeale, a deputy in Parliament. The Prime Minister, Francesco Crispi, adhered by telegram; the Chamber and the Senate, with an urgent procedure, approved the initiative and relevant financing. Ernesto Basile, who had great professional skill, was entrusted with the design and execution of the display structures: fifteen pavilions for every kind of production were set out in the former orange groves of the Prince of Radaly, in an area of 130,000 square metres comprised by Via Libertà, the Politeama square and Via Dante. Never had such organisational and operational efficiency been seen in Palermo: there was a unanimous effort to break down the barriers between the island and the mainland and to face up to the European crisis which threatened to spread, penalising the South. The "miracle" was to be attributed to the powerful coupling of Crispi and Florio, with the resulting political and economic advantages.

The Sicilian artists and those sent from all parts of Italy were thoroughly happy to exhibit their work in front of sovereigns and magnates of industry and finance, in the magnificent Palace of Arts that Ernesto Basile had created for them, distinguishing it from the other pavilions by giving it a Renaissance impress and endowing it with an elegant portico; in the central room, under a bold dome, there intersected two big galleries capable of containing hundred of "objets d’art", on which there opened up more than twenty other rooms. This was a building conceived with specific criteria of functionality, which certainly, if it had been built - or rebuilt in the same place - with durable materials, would have solved, with its 9,000 square metres, all the city’s past, present and future exhibition problems.

The regional commissions and the central one selected, with not a little difficulty, 720 paintings and 300 sculptures, in addition to the landscapes and reproductions exhibited in the "Monumental Sicily" section. Of these works, only those which can at present be seen at the Civic Gallery will be mentioned.

After the grand inauguration, an authentic pilgrimage began to the room in which there were the paintings by Francesco Lojacono, who was at the acme of his successful career. The complete royal family stopped for a long time to admire Summer, From the Marine Hospice, The Anapo with its Papyri and Autumn, which had just been completed: some of these works were purchased by King Umberto, and others, later, by the Council, and these, together with Wind in the mountains, The Monte Catalfano, Study on the Marsh, and View of Palermo, made it possible to know the artist’s whole development, starting from the rigorous outlook à la Palizzi, and going down to the touched participation in the life of nature.

The rapid expansion of the realist movement had not discouraged the painters of big historical works in the romantic taste. And in Palermo a theme which could not fail to be present was that of the Sicilian Vespers, already treated, with anti-Bourbon intentions, in the climate of the Risorgimento, and now revived in the lively and colourful composition by the Roman Erulo Eruli (1854-1916), which could not fail to get a prize as well as a place in the Gallery in the 1930s. But the true pièces de résistance were to be found in the space reserved for sculpture, the protagonists being the two Palermo rivals, Benedetto Civiletti and the younger Mario Rutelli - the latter exhibited no fewer than fifteen works. Among them all there stood out the group of The Irate, inspired by Dante’s Inferno: the two naked bodies intertwined in a struggle are striking for their vehement movement and the extraordinary faithfulness of the physical shapes. Gabriele d’Annunzio put his signature on the gesso, while the bronze was purchased twenty years later, for 12,000 lire, by the Gallery, which also has a sketch for the Fountain of the Naiads and numerous portraits by the same artist.

By contrast, Civiletti’s monumental group devoted to Dogali appealed to the public’s patriotic sentiments: these are ten lifelike figures evoking the tragic fate of five hundred Italian soldiers in Eritrea, victims of colonial policy; the dead and the wounded, the commandant still on horseback with his sabre in his hand, wreckage of all kinds scattered around on the ground, without any details spared, a second massacre which fails to redeem the rhetoric of nationalism and verismo in grief and pity. The gesso, displayed at the Gallery for some years, through lack of space ended up in a warehouse, wrapped up in sawdust, while awaiting a more hospitable home. A second gesso by Civiletti dried the tears of the touched Queen Margherita, while "the king paled": this one extolled the more fortunate heroism of Canaris Asciò; it is now half-hidden at the Via Turati entrance to the Politeama Theatre.

Another gesso which aroused the attention of the public was the lively Equestrian statue of Garibaldi, which was smelted in bronze in that period and placed in the little park opposite the Giardino Inglese. The sculptor was Vincenzo Ragusa (Palermo, 1841-1927), a supporter of Garibaldi, called to Japan to found a fine arts academy of a European type there; at the Palermo Exposition he was appointed curator of the "applied arts" section. Works of his kept at the Gallery are The rickshaw bearer, which is strongly characterised, and the Portrait of his beautiful wife O’Tamà Kiy Ohara, also a painter, revealing the woman’s quivering vitality. There was great appreciation for the works of an alumnus of Ragusa’s, Giovanni Nicolini (Palermo, 1872 - Rome, 1956), a winner of the Pensionato nazionale and the author of My children, in which the subjects emerge in a lively manner from the block of marble.

Let us now go back to the first years of activity of the city’s Gallery, and of its founder Empedocle Restivo, after whom it was named, and the Deputation and Purchasing Committee who collaborated with him. The present director, Antonella Purpura, gives some interesting information in this connection: "In 1907 the Deputation of the Gallery was already working full time: its president was Ignazio Florio, and in it there were outstanding personalities in the society of the epoch, like Count Romualdo Trigona and Empedocle Restivo, to which there were to be added, as experts, the lawyer Cesare Matranga and Cavaliere Ernesto Vergara. In the seat chosen there were soon deposited numerous works belonging to the Council, either donated or purchased, so much so that in 1908 the Deputation asked for the Museum to be insured against fire. In May 1910, Restivo thus answered an enquiry on the Museum’s activity: ‘The Modern Art Gallery of the city of Palermo is in the two big rooms, red and yellow, of the Politeama Garibaldi, and to them there are annexed six other suitably modified rooms. The Gallery, set up in 1906, in four years has already purchased works of art for a value of 40,000 lire, and it has had donations for a value of 60,000 ...’ This was quite a big patrimony, if we consider that the museum was at the start of its activity and that the purchasing season had just begun."

In 1907, at the 7th Venice Biennial, the Palermo Gallery was among the purchasers of works by some of the most famous artists of the day: Francesco Lojacono, with his famous Autumn; the Venetian men Guglielmo Ciardi (1842-1917) and Pietro Fragiacomo (1856-1922), respectively with Golden October and Night shadows; the Rome artist Camillo Innocenti (1871-1961), who did At the dressing table; the Sardinian Francesco Ciusa (1884-1949), with the gesso of The mother of the man killed. The landscape of Taormina with the superb view of Etna, by Ettore De Maria Bergler (Naples, 1850 - Palermo, 1938), was bought by Ignazio Florio and donated to the Gallery the following year. At the next Biennial, in 1909, the Deputation bought two true masterpieces, The sin by Franz Von Stuck (Tettenweiss, 1863 - Munich, 1928), and Love and Parcae by Ettore Tito (Castellammare di Stabia, 1859 - Venice, 1941).

Meanwhile, the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century patrimony was being enriched with works coming from Council, donations and purchases, in an order not always corresponding to the date of production, as we were able to see in the archives with the help of the curator of the Gallery, Lia Di Magro. Back in 1908 the family of the sculptor Benedetto De Lisi senior (Palermo, 1830-1875) had donated his marble work entitled Moore’s angel, modelled delicately but with some élan and revealing the promptings of the purist movement which spread towards the middle of the century. In 1912, at the 10th Venice Biennial, the Deputation purchased Portrait of a Lady by Lino Selvatico (Padua, 1872 - Treviso, 1924), which Renzo Collura, in his guide to the Gallery, rightly judges "one of the best testimonies to portrait painting in the belle époque", no less than Dame aux gants, painted by Boldini in Paris; while in the same year the Council donated the marble work Roses and thorns by Antonio Ugo (Palermo, 1870-1950), somewhat in the art nouveau manner, like, moreover, the group Ecce Mater by Ettore Ximenes, donated by the sculptor’s grandson.

A work purchased at the 1914 Biennial was the Veiled woman dancer by the Neapolitan Amleto Cataldi (1882 - Rome, 1930), which with a refined technique simulates in marble the transparency of the nude, and now exerts its fascination at the centre of the foyer of the Politeama Theatre. Another sculpture much appreciated by the public is the Little faun by the Palermo artist Domenico Trentacoste (1859 - Florence, 1933), bought in 1933 during an important international exhibition in the city.

In 1925 an interesting work went from the Council to the Gallery, the Garibaldi sepulture, painted in 1862 by Filippo Liardo, an adventurous and valorous painter from Leonforte (1840 - Paris, 1917), who at twenty enlisted with the Thousand: one of the very few who, though alluding to historical events, saw romanticism as the expression of the emotions and affections, rejecting the temptations of rhetoric and celebration. The same positive qualities were present in the Neapolitan Gioacchino Toma (1836-1891), also a supporter of Garibaldi, here represented by the picture Maternal memories, the latter being sadly evoked in the penumbra of an interior. More lively and exuberant is the painting of his teacher Domenico Morelli (Naples, 1826-1901), present with a Portrait of a Lady. Also linked to the same school was Antonio Mancini (Rome, 1852-1930), an artist who made a remarkable use of colour, and one whose masterpiece, purchased in 1922, is the Japanese fan, which is very rich in precious matter. Morelli also seems to have influenced, at least in part, the Zafferana Etnea painter Giuseppe Sciuti (1834 - Rome, 1911), who protracted until the end of the century the scenographic machine of the great historical painting, as in Funeral of Timoleon, celebrated in a populous town in which amid Greek buildings there move hundreds of figures.

The nineteenth century closes with Carusi, painted by another disciple of Morelli’s, the Bagheria man Onofrio Tomaselli (1866 - Palermo, 1954), who was deeply sensitive to the social problems of the day and to the drama of the sulphur mine, rendered with a language comparable to that of Verga’s realism; and with the Nostalgic landscape by Pietro De Francisco (Palermo, 1873 - Menton, 1969), who won the Pensionato in 1900, and painted another picture which is at the Civic, Beach at Deauville, typical of his modern, lively representation of the crowd.

The shift of works from the Archaeological Museum to the Civic Gallery in the early 1930s left little space, and this was filled by contemporary art, represented at a high level by some donations, and above all by the happy (last) purchases made in 1935-7 by the Deputation, activated by the presence of the painter Lia Pasqualino Noto. These are works and masterpieces that will now be only briefly reviewed, since they are extremely well known, and have often been reproduced and commented on: The Schoolboys by Felice Casorati, Landscape by Carlo Carrà, Tram by Mario Sironi, Wedding by Massimo Campigli, Naked girl by Francesco Trombadori, Self-portrait by Renato Guttuso, Portrait of Guttuso by Nino Franchina, Portrait by Emilio Greco, and some rare terracottas by Giovanni Barbera. To these there were added fine works by some first-rate Sicilian artists like Pippo Rizzo, Vittorio Corona, Giovanni Varvaro, Antonio Salvatore Guarino, Alberto Bevilacqua, Francesco Camarda, Mimì Lazzaro, Gianbecchina, Lia Pasqualino Noto, Elio Romano, Pietro Consagra, Silvestre Cuffaro, Michele Dixit, Giovanni Rosone and other teachers at Sicilian art schools. In this way there a collection was built up which was not exhaustive but was significant in relation to nineteenth-century Italian art, and could still be enlarged and broadened if the gallery had adequate display space for the works of eminent painters willing to donate their works to a city which can already boast of an enviable patrimony.

In recent times the Council has considered the possibility of transferring the Gallery to a bigger place: the choice is to be debated considering the opinions of the Superintendence, the University, the Academy, art scholars and experts on museum keeping. And many of these peoples have over and again indicated as an ideal place the vast edifice of the Albergo dei Poveri, which, even in a part of its rooms, porticoes and courtyards could house the collections at the Civic, leaving other spaces free for other suitably planned major exhibitions. This place would be a sure reference point for art scholars, young artists and tourists: a "hotel of art", almost a Palermo Louvre, indispensable for the cultural growth of a city which wants to be and still can be an art capital.



St. Joseph of the Theatines

San Giuseppe dei Teatini is the large church located on the southeast corner of the Quattro Canti,. designed by Giacomo Besio in 1612. The Dome was added in the 18th century.


Piazza Pretoria

Across Via Maqueda from the Church of Saint Joseph of the Theatines is Piazza Pretoria and its splendid fountain. There are sixteen statues, nudes of nymphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs, divided among the four sets of stairs leading to the largest fountain in the centre. It is surprising that this fountain was permitted to be erected in Palermo during the dark times of the Spanish Inquisition. The fountain was first designed and created by Florentine sculptor Francesco Camiliani in 1555 for the Villa of the Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo. Later, In 1574, the fountain was sold to the City Of Palermo by Viceroy's son, who seemed to dislike the artistic taste of his father's. It was shipped in pieces and was installed in front of the City Hall.


San Cataldo Church

It was built in 1160 by the admiral Majone of Bari, it was found in its original construction typically Norman.
It preserves the clean and square forms of the original architecture, with blind arches along the building's face in living rock. The interior, with its remarkable bare walls, is a rectangle divided into three aisles with six columns with varied capitals which support Moorish-style arches. The nave is surmounted by three little cupolas, the typical Norman-Arabic period structure as in other monuments in Palermo. The church is today the headquarters of the order of the knights of the holy sepulchre.


Martorana Church

The Martorana church church was built by Giorgio d'Antiochia -admiral of King Roger II- in 1143. In 1433 the church was given by King Alphonse of Aragon to the nearby Benedictine monastery, founded by Eloisa Martorana in 1194: from this donation the actual name. As for a lot of monuments of the city, this church suffered destructions, additions and restorations. Of the original structure is possible to see the campanile, the rough-hewn body of the church and the small cupola. The church proper is decorated on higher areas of the walls almost entirely in mosaics, which constitute one of the oldest series of mosaics in all of Sicily. The iconographic scheme correspond to the most orthodox of Byzantine canons; the style, as well, despite the numerous artists who worked here, hearkens back to purest tradition of the middle Byzantine period.

Palermo Sights, sightseeing, culture:

Travel Guide

Niscemi's Cave and Addaura Cavern, in the cliffs of Mount Pellegrino, were both inhabited in middle neolithic times and boast some remarkable wall drawings. This was the dawn of European prehistory. Palermo's recorded history begins four millennia later. Founded by the Phoenicians, who named it Ziz, Palermo was settled in the eighth century BC as a port. Its development paralleled that of Solunto and Motia. Archeologists generally agree that the Phoenicians were compelled to develop these cities because they were forced out of eastern Sicily by the Greeks, but this civilization's presence in western Sicily seemed inevitable. The Greeks called the city Panormos, meaning "all port." The Latin name, still used in Catholic Church documents well into the nineteenth century, was Panormus. The Phoenicians' descendants and successors, the Carthaginians, made Panormus a centre of commerce, and it was their base port, in 480 BC, for the navy that was defeated in the Battle of Himera.

In 276 BC, Panormus finally fell to the Greeks. The Punic Wars followed, and the city was part of the Roman Empire from 253 BC. Phoenician and Roman Palermo extended from the port area along what is now Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Corso Calatafimi in the area beyond the Royal Palace (viewed from a distance in this photo of the Monastery of Saint John of the Hermits). The Palaeo-Christian era left several early churches in the city. Its earliest faith was Orthodoxy. Panormus was part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire from 535 until 831, when it fell to the invading Saracen Arabs ("Moors"), who turned many of the churches into mosques. Thus began the reign of the Aghlabid dynasty of what is now Tunisia. From 948, as Bal'harm, it was the capital of the Emirate of Sicily of the Kalbite dynasty, and it is from that date that Palermo may be considered to have been the royal capital of Sicily. The Arabs brought the lemon and the orange, and the cultivation of mulberry trees, dates, cotton and hard wheat. They introduced innovative irrigation systems and a novel system of aqueducts. Palermo became one of the Muslim world's most splendid cities, surpassed only by Baghdad. In stark contrast to the Normans' conquest of England, the Sicilian conquest was long and difficult. Only in 1071, six years after they had landed at Messina, did the Normans, led by Robert "Guiscard" de Hauteville, capture Palermo, and then after a five-month siege. Numbering perhaps as many as a hundred thousand, the residents (Palermitans) of this medieval metropolis were Muslims, Christians and Jews from every part of Sicily and every part of the Mediterranean. The island was the place where east met west, and north met south. In the decades to come, Palermo flourished as the wealthiest city of Europe. From the eleventh century onward, the history of Palermo is largely the history of Sicily. Despite brief periods of competition from Messina and then Catania, it was the seat of the island's government. By the nineteenth century, Palermo had become the place of residence of most of western Sicily's nobility. Its splendid palazzi are their legacy. For Visitors: As Sicily's largest and most cosmopolitan city, Palermo offers great dining as well as excellent shopping. Though there are good restaurants throughout Palermo, they're not easy to find. In general, we suggest that you try the ones on side streets instead of those near the port (on Via Amari and Via Cavour), which might be described as "tourist restaurants." (A number of Palermitan restaurants are listed and reviewed on our special page dedicated to Palermo's Best Restaurants, which also translates Sicilian culinary terms.) There are some very good restaurants and pizzerias on both sides of Piazza Marina. A few steps away, in Cortile della Gancia, a tiny courtyard near the main entrance of the Gancia Church off Via Alloro, you'll find Il Portoncino, a charming little restaurant that serves a variety of Sicilian dishes and pizza.

On Via Chiavettieri, a small street off Corso Vittorio Emanuele near Piazza Marina, is Ristorante a' Vucciria. In Piazza San Francesco d'Assisi there's a nice café, with table service on Summer evenings. In the same piazza there's a restaurant, the Antica Focacceria, which serves simple Sicilian specialties at lunchtime. There are also some good restaurants near the Teatro Massimo in the triangle formed by Piazza Ungheria, Via Pignatelli Aragona and Via Ruggero Settimo. One of the city's best restaurants, Cucina Papoff, is near the Politeama Theatre on Via La Lumia near Via Libertà. Le Volte, on Via Agrigento 12, is one of Palermo's many moderately priced restaurants that offer fine local cuisine. There are also some fine restaurants on the edge of town. La Scuderia (on Via del Fante near the stadium beneath Mount Pellegrino) is good, though somewhat lacking in atmosphere. U'Strascinu, on Via Regione Siciliana near the Holiday Inn, is on the periphery of the city but offers a tempting buffet surrounded by traditional Sicilian folk art. Throughout Palermo, there are excellent pastry shops and "bars" that serve ice creams, pastries and, during Summer months, granita (flavored ices). If you want to sample these tempting delights in a leisurely setting, we suggest the charming outdoor cafés on Via Principe di Belmonte, which runs from Via Maqueda to Via Roma near the Politeama Theatre. Located in the city's best shopping district, Via Belmonte is closed to traffic, making it Palermo's answer to Rome's Piazza di Spagna or Via Condotti. The city doesn't only offer great cuisine and fascinating history. Palermo also has some very good shopping, and many of the better shops are conveniently located in the city's centre around Via Maqueda and Via Libertà, especially on the side streets, where you'll find shops that sell everything from antiques to Sicilian-made specialty goods like ceramic items and original jewelry.

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