Palermo what to visit: 12 must see and and some secrets…
But here we want to give you some information about the most interesting and suggestive places. Why is Palermo unique? Because of the mixture of artistic styles that tell us about a millenary history made by population very different from each other: Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish, just to mention a few. Let’s discover together what can be seen in Palermo.
What you should not miss:
1. Palazzo Dei Normanni – Unesco Site
The Norman Palace (also known as Royal Palace) has some unique features: it has been center of power for centuries and it still is today. Indeed it is the seat of the Sicilian Parliament (Assemblea Regionale Siciliana). Located in the highest point of the old city, at the beginning of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, it really tells the history of the city.
But what makes it so special? Just to give you an example, a small secret: right at the entrance you will find a glass plate under your feet that hides the remains of the Phoenician walls: what a visit card! Once you are inside you will discover that the mix of artistic styles and historical periods is typical of this palace. Courtyards from the Spanish period and royal apartments from the 18th century live together with other rooms with Islamic decorations and with the real jewel: the Cappella Palatina, built by the the first Norman king, Roger II Hauteville.
2. Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II, first king of Italy between 1861 and 1878, it is the main and oldest street of Palermo, known also as Cassaro. Here you find churches and aristocratic palaces as well as small workshops, cafes and street artists: you can’t miss a walk in Corso Vittorio!
3. The Cathedral of Palermo – Unesco Site
Not far from the Norman Palace, walking along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the Cathedral is the second must see place. The southern facade is simply spectacular and gives you an idea of grandeur and harmony at the same time. And here we reveal you the second small secret: if you give a look to the portico and you focus on the first column on the left, you will notice an unusual inscription that is, in fact, a verse of the Qur’an written in Arabic. Once you enter, you will be surprised noticing how different it is from the outside: much more sober and austere.
Many are the amazing things inside:
- The royal tombs of Roger II, Constance of Hauteville, Henry VI and Friedrich II Hohenstaufen.
- The meridian, unexpected to be found inside a church.
- The crypt, with the royal treasure and the crown of Constance of Hauteville.
- The chapel of our patron saint: Santa Rosalia!
4. Quattro Canti
Built between 1608 and 1620 by the Roman architect Giulio Lasso, this square is the real heart of the city center: a real triumph of baroque art! The official name is Piazza Vigliena, but everyone calls it Quattro Canti (four corners). It is the intersection between the two most important old streets: Cassaro (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II) and Via Nuova (today via Maqueda, after the Spanish viceroy Bernardino Cárdenas Duque of Maqueda).
5. Piazza Pretoria
Dominated by a magnificent and imposing fountain, the square is right in front of Palazzo delle Aquile (the city Hall) and between the churches of Santa Caterina and San Giuseppe dei Teatini. Even if the official name is Fontana Pretoria, locals call it Fontana della vergogna (fountain of shame) because of the nudity of the statues.
6. Piazza Bellini
Dedicated to the most famous Sicilian opera composer, Vincenzo Bellini, it was once known as the square of the three churches. They are indeed Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (also known as Martorana), San Cataldo, both Normans, and Santa Caterina.
7. Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (Martorana) – Unesco Site
It was founded in 1143 by Georg of Antioch, admiral of king Roger II from 1108 to 1151. The church was modified many times and today it shows an original mix of Byzantine mosaics and baroque decorations. The atmosphere here is unique!
8. San Cataldo – Unesco Site
Founded by Maione di Bari, admiral of king William I from 1154 to 1160. It has three red domes that are nowadays a real symbol of Palermo. You will find it quite intimate inside.
9. Santa Caterina
Now it is time for some baroque! The church and the convent of Santa Caterina hide an incredible embroidery of colored marbles coming from different parts of the world. Not only the church: after the visit of the rooms of the convent and the rooftop, you can have the opportunity to taste some delicious Sicilian pastries prepared following the original recipes of the nuns!
10. The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
Welcome to the the largest opera house in Italy with its 83205 ft! It was inaugurated in 1897 with the Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi. The theater became famous thanks to the final scenes of The Godfather Part III. It is here that Anthony Corleone, Michael’s son, performs in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, in the role of Turiddu. While Mary Corleone, Michael’s daughter, dies on the staircase of the theater.
11. Historical street markets
You can not say you have visited Palermo without having seen one of its historical markets. Three of the oldest are: Ballarò, Capo and Vucciria. Ballarò is the biggest and it is the one that shows better the multiethnic aspects of the Palermitan society today. Capo is smaller and it is known for its fresh fish. The Vucciria has lost in the last years its typical aspect of every day market, but it has turned into a lively quarter with streets full of small restaurants and meeting spot for the nightlife.
12. Monreale – Unesco Site
Last but not least on what to visit in Palermo. This is a must see. Being a bit far from the city center (8km), you might need a half day to visit it. Monreale is pure beauty and we invite you to visit it together with us and fall in love with one of the most beautiful churches in the world!
This is just a small selection of what to visit in Palermo. There is much more… Palermo Wonders: Be ready for your perfect day!