For millennia at the crossroads of civilisations, Palermo delivers a heady, heavily spiced mix of Byzantine mosaics, Arabesque domes and frescoed cupolas. This is a city at the edge of Europe and at the centre of the ancient world, a place where souk-like markets rub against baroque churches, where date palms frame Gothic palaces and where the blue-eyed and fair have bronze-skinned cousins.
Centuries of dizzying highs and crushing lows have formed a complex metropolis. Here, crumbling staircases lead to gilded ballrooms and guarded locals harbour hearts of gold. Just don't be fooled. Despite its noisy streets, Sicily’s largest city is a shy beast, rewarding the inquisitive with citrus-filled cloisters, stucco-laced chapels and vintage stores filled with the threads of faded aristocrats. Add to this Italy’s biggest opera house and an ever-growing number of vibrant, new-school eateries and bars and you might just find yourself suddenly, unexpectedly in love.
Sicily is an island that represents three continents in its history, cuisine, language and even the citizens themselves. Their characters are as varied as their ancestry.
Throughout the years the island is a host to numerous cultural, artistic and religious events. Just like the Greeks, Easter and Christmas are celebrated with much gusto. Every town or village has a patron saint and commemorates their name day with fireworks, eating and drinking. The culture here is one that must be experienced as it is so unique and memorable.
Opera and classical music are also popular in Sicily, with Palermo boasting the biggest opera house in Italy, Teatro Massimo. The superb Taormina Greek Theatre, offers as backdrop of Mount Etna, and has an impressive summer schedule every year, which includes concerts and operas featuring international artists. Popular artists, such as James Blunt, have appeared here in recent years.
For those who adore art, there are many excellent art galleries around the island. The most noteworthy found in Palermo, the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, the Galleria d'Arte Moderna and the new Museo Regionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea della Sicilia.
Things To See
Mercato di Ballarò - Snaking for several city blocks southeast of Palazzo dei Normanni is Palermo's busiest street market, which throbs with activity well into the early evening. It's a fascinating mix of noises, smells and street life, and the cheapest place for everything from Chinese padded bras to fresh produce, fish, meat, olives and cheese.
Fontana Pretoria - Fringed by imposing churches and buildings, Piazza Pretoria is dominated by the over-the-top Fontana Pretoria, one of Palermo's major landmarks. The fountain's tiered basins ripple out in concentric circles, crowded with nude nymphs, tritons and leaping river gods. Such flagrant nudity proved a bit much for Sicilian churchgoers, who prudishly dubbed it the Fontana della Vergogna (Fountain of Shame).
Galleria Regionale della Sicilia - Housed in the stately 15th-century Palazzo Abatellis, this art museum – widely regarded as Palermo's best – showcases works by Sicilian artists from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. One of its greatest treasures is Trionfo della Morte (Triumph of Death), a magnificent fresco (artist unknown) in which Death is represented as a demonic skeleton mounted on a wasted horse, brandishing a wicked-looking scythe while leaping over his hapless victims.