Spending a day in Palermo – Sicily

After experiencing the Catania traffic we decided to give Palermo driving a miss, and catch the train from Cefalu.  The train took 50 minutes and was a very reasonable €6.80 pp each way.  Seemed like a no brainer to avoid the chaotic traffic and parking issues and to spend a day in Palermo.  Off we set on the 10.04 train from Cefalu arriving at 10.54am

The train was comfortable and we had freely allocated 2nd class tickets so we could sit where we liked.  The train was on time and we had a chilled out ride there with phone charging facilities.  This would be much needed if we were going to be able to access our phones for our ticket home.

Cattedrale di Palermo

Probably the most famous of all landmarks of Palermo this had to be our first.  We headed off on the 15 minute walk from Palermo Centrale Station to the Cattedrale. The church is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo.  It is also dedicated the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  We are both atheists but still can acknowledge the various architecture which is incorporated in this building.  We recognised norman, gothic and baroque styles.

The Cathedral was thought to have started its construction around 1185 with some additions in the 18th century.  It was an impressive structure and a centrepiece of Palermo history. Inside was equally as impressive.

General entrance was free however it was possible to pay for a guide or an audio guide if you so wished. We just walked round on our own. It was an impressive building with high domed roofs, carvings and paintings.

Porta Nuova and the Royal Palace

Porta Nuova is the monumental city gate of Palermo which leads onto the main street. It is situated next to the Royal Palace otherwise known as the Palazzo Dei Normanni. Whilst we didn’t enter the Royal Palace due to the hefty entrance fee we did take some pictures outside and have a walk through the park.

Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore

Another Roman Catholic church just down the road from the Cathedral but offering some impressive cherub carvings was Chiesa Del Santissimo Salvatore. It was easy to walk past this from the street but we decided to have a look. It was €2 to enter and another €2 to go to up to the dome so we did both. The church has an interesting history which can be read about here.

The climb up to the dome was not for the faint hearted given the spiral staircase right at the top but the views across Palermo were more than worth it. The pictures speak for themselves.

Palazzo Castrone

Very near to the Chiesa is a unique palace and courtyard with a palm tree growing in the middle of it. The Palazzo is home to the MEC museum of IT revolution and also a marble fountain attributable to Gagini depicting the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. The palace was remodeled over the centuries by the Castrone family – one of the most important in Palermo in the years between 1400 and 1700. When we passed there were street musicians playing so we stepped in to take a look and have a listen.

No Mafia Museum

We were invited into a free museum which has the aim of depicting the Mafia phenomenon and crimes committed in Sicily. It portrays quite harrowing pictures of assassinations and bombings and has an antimafia message. We found it ironic that it was anti-mafia but appeared to highlight crimes committed through film, newspaper clippings and photographs. It was however an interesting place to visit and it was free.

Quattro Canti

This is the traditional centre of Old Town Palermo and located on the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda. The ‘four corners’ are also known as Villena Square after the Spanish Viceroy who commissioned its construction. You can find an interesting article about the four facades here

Piazza Pretoria (or Square of Shame)

Just a few metres from Quattro Canti is the square of shame. Although not its official name it is so called because it was an expensive project which features nude statues. At a time of famine and financial hardship this expensive and ‘vulgar’ purchase was not popular with locals. It was installed in 1573 by the Senate of Palermo.

Three of the four sides are enclosed by buildings: the Praetorian Palace (the town hall) built in fourteenth century and renovated in nineteenth century; the Church of St. Catherine (end of sixteenth century); and two palaces, Palazzo Bonocore and Palazzo Bordonaro. On the fourth side of the square a staircase, flanked by two lions made with gray marble.

Teatro Massimo

The theatre is an opera house and home to the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele Opera Company. It hosts several concerts as well as guided tours and there is a full timetable of events and tickets available here. It’s an impressive building centrally located not far from the centre of old town.

The Wall of Legality

The Wall of Legality highlights faces of some of the best representatives who have courageously fought against the mafia and have have died in the fight. It was created in 2022 by the Calapanama association on a 70 metre long wall located outside the Carini barracks of the Carabinieri.

Catacombe dei Cappuccini

This ‘attraction’ is not for those who are grossed out by all things death. I have to admit I found it pretty horrific. The catacombs are advertised as ‘a place where the living meet the dead’ and that says it all really. There are a huge amount of skeletons and skulls dressed in clothes and sorted into rows of male, female, infants and professions. It is macabre and the ‘exhibits’ are from the 17th to the 19th century, many of which are mummified. If you can stomach this come for a visit….just don’t eat before hand!

Giardini Di Palazzo d’Orleans

This surprise find was an oasis in an otherwise busy city. Whilst walking back to central Palermo from the Catacombs, we passed the gardens and were informed it was free to enter. Inside we found a lovely garden as well as ficus trees and other flora and surprising wildlife!

We enjoyed our time walking round the gardens and the fact it was free added to the enjoyment! This place is definitely worth a visit if in the area.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately for us (but our legs were grateful!) we had come to the end of our day. We stopped and had a meal and a couple of cocktails before heading back to the train station. Palermo was a place full of history,culture and surprises and we had a great day. As the capital city of Sicily it is worth the visit and even a few days here. We had a whistlestop tour but managed to see a lot in the day. For museums and tours then a few days would be needed to see as much as possible.

Carol & Nigel x

April 2023

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