I have now done some preliminary overall study of what to do in Sicily and the island, itself. At this point, I typically start collecting data on the places which I am remotely thinking about visiting, including Palermo, Cefalu, Agrigento, Aeolian Islands, Taormina, Catania, Syracuse/ Siracusa and Mt. Etna.
A brief history on Palermo, Sicily, from “italyguides.it” is as follows:
“Palermo‘s strength is in its beauty and civilization more than its defensibility or military tradition. Completely accessible by sea, and situated in a valley, it has always been a target for invaders and an obvious foothold into Italy. Thus it has become one of the most conquered and occupied cities in the world.”
“The Phoenicians who were the first to occupy Palermo, named it Zyz, “the flower“. They were later superseded by Carthaginians, then by the Romans who changed its name to Panormus.”
“By Medieval times the city was in the hands of Greek Byzantine powers till the ninth century, when thanks to Arab conquest, it flowered into its true splendor becoming the capital of Sicily having, in its heyday an emir, giving it great status in the Arab world. In this period the city was enriched with sumptuous palaces, more than three hundred mosques and lively markets. The city assumed the “Aswanesque” form and structure of a typical Islamic metropolis, which it has preserved to this day. The principle quarter at the time surrounded the residence of the Emir, and was known as La Kalsa. It became the zone of mosques, artisans, salesmen and soldiers, bordered by the ancient fortified castle – il Càssaro.”
“In the hands of the Normans, il Càssaro became the headquarters for all governors till the arrival of Frederick II who became the father of one of the greatest epochs in Palermo‘s history. It was he who united the cultural characteristics the city had collected over the centuries from diverse dominions, creating a coherent patchwork “whole” from its fragmented past. Building the tolerant approach to the city’s Arab characteristics as his Norman predecessors had done, he created an environment in which diverse aspects of Palermo maintained their peculiarities under one comprehensive government. The result was an ethnically varied, thriving city of international renown.”
“During the Angevin domination, Palermo‘s primate Charles left Palermo and conquered Naples. In one of his many subsequent absences, the Sicilian Vespers revolt broke out, restoring Palermo to echoes of its stolen former glories, this time under Spanish Aragon rule.”
“Palermo remained in Aragon hands, as an independent state, and later under direct Spanish rule till the mid 1700’s.”
“For a short period it subsequently fell into the hands of the Bourbons before Garibaldi‘s unification of Italy with the Expedition of the Thousand, who bought Bourbon domination to heel, ushering in the historic period known as the Risorgimento (“Resurrection”).”
Pauline Frommer writes the following about Palermo in her Italy guidebook:
“The city was and is multicultural, not only in its eclectic architecture but in its sultry charm. Over the centuries, various rulers tried to impose logic on the city plan, building arrow straight streets (like Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, which intersect at the heart of the city–the Quattro Canti—dividing it into four distinct districts), but Palermo couldn’t be tamed, as you’ll see when you wander along the narrow, meandering back streets. Here you’ll come upon tiny shops selling exotic textiles and ebony statues alongside conventional Italian pottery, and stumble on small ethnic restaurants abutting traditional Italian trattorie. Over the years, Palermo has been inhabited by Jewish merchants, Turkish and Syrian craftsmen, Persian artists, Spanish royalty, and Mafia dons—and each faction has left its mark. A more contemporary symbol of Palermo’s diversity and tolerance is a place in the northern part of the city where three streets form a triangle: They’re called Via Martin Luther King, Via Isaac Rubin, and Via Anwar Sadat.”
As I review the above map, I see where we will be arriving which is at the train station, Palermo Centrale, on Piazza Giulio Cesare, just south of the heart of historical Palermo. We will be staying somewhere in this historical center.
This is Pauline Frommer’s comments regarding Palermo’s lay of the land:
“Palermo’s historical center with its web of narrow, winding streets, is parsed into quadrants by two pencil-straight thoroughfares, Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda. These streets intersect at Palermo’s core, the Quatto Canti (four corners). “New” Palermo is to the north of the old city, on either side of Viale della Liberta. There aren’t as many sights here, per se, but you’ll get your share of wonderful local flavor if you spend some time on these streets and duck into neighborhood shops and restaurants.”
“The Quattro Canti (again where Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda meet) is the best point of reference for exploring the city. Spreading back from each corner of the intersection are the four distinct districts of historical Palermo: Albergheria (southwest quadrant); Il Capo (northwest quadrant; Vucciria (northeast quadrant); and La Kalsa (southeast quadrant). It makes the most sense to attack these districts individually, devoting a half day or so to each, time permitting.
The main attraction just south of the Quattro Canti intersection is the Fontana Pretoria which is a huge fountain. The following is the description of this attraction found in Lonely Planet’s book, “Southern Italy:”
This huge and ornate fountain, with tiered basins and sculptures rippling in concentric circles, forms the centerpiece of Piazza Pretoria, a spacious square just south of the Quattro Canti. The city bought the fountain in 1573; however the flagrant nudity of the provocative nymphs proved too much for Sicilian church goers attending Mass next door, and they dubbed it the “Fountain of Shame.”