Lonely Planet in their “Southern Italy,” book writes about the four quadrants and their main attractions as follows:
“Southwest of the Quatto Canti is Albergheria, a rather shabby, run down district once inhabited by Norman court officials, now home to a growing number of immigrants who are attempting to revitalize its dusty backstreets. The top tourist draws here are the Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace) and its exquisite chapel, both at the neighborhood’s far western edge.”
“On the middle level of the Norman Palace’s three-tiered loggia, this mosaic jewel of a chapel, Capella Palatina, designed by Roger II in 1130, is Palermo’s premier tourist attraction. Gleaming from a pains taking five year restoration, its aesthetic harmony is further enhanced by the inlaid marble floors and wooden muqarnas ceiling, a masterpiece of Arabic-style honeycomb carving that reflects Norman Sicily’s cultural complexity attraction.”
On weekends, when Palermo’s venerable Palazzo dei Normanni isn’t being used by Sicily’s parliament, visitors can take a self-guided tour of several upstairs rooms, including the gorgeous blue Sala Pompelana, with its Venus & Eros frescoes, the Sala dei Venti, adorned with mosaics of geese, papyrus, lions, leopards and palms, and the Sala di Ruggero II, King Roger’s mosaic-decorated bedroom.”
“Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the remarkable, five-domed remnant of Arab-Norman architecture occupies a magical little hillside in the middle of an otherwise rather squalid neighborhood. Surrounded by a garden of citrus trees, palms, cactus and ruined walls, it’s built atop a mosque that itself was superimposed on an earlier chapel. The peaceful Norman cloisters outside offer lovely views of the Palazzo Normanni.”
Snaking for several city blocks east of Palazzo dei Normanni is Palermo’s busiest street market, Mercato di Ballaro, 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 – smile nicely and you may get a taste.”
“Northwest of Quattro Canti is the Capo neighborhood, another densely packed web of interconnected streets and blind alleys.”
“A feast of geometric patterns, ziggurat crenulations, majolica cupolas and blind arches, Palermo’s cathedral, Cattedrale di Palermo, is a prime example of the extraordinary Arab-Norman style unique to Sicily. The interior’s most interesting feature are the Norman tombs of Roger II and other Sicilian royalty, and the cathedral treasury home to Constance of Aragon’s fabulous gem-encrusted, gold filigreed 13th century crown.”
“Catacombe dei Cappuccini (catacombs) house the mummified bodies and skeletons of some 8000 Palermitans who died between the 17th and 19th centuries. Earthly power, gender, religion and professional status are still rigidly distinguished, with men and women occupying separate corridors, and a first class section set aside for virgins. From Piazza Independenza, it’s a 15 minute walk.”
“Capo’s street market. Mercato del Capo, running the length of Via Sant’ Agostino, is a seething mass of colorful activity during the day, with vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese and household goods of every description.”
Vucciria (northeast quadrant) is considered to be the liveliest of Palermo’s districts which has transformed itself into a quaint, offbeat village with boutiques and some of Palermo’s best museums.
The Museo Archeologico Regionale museum has been closed for years due to extensive renovations but a Trip Advisor commentator states that this museum was open to the public as of May, 2015. This splendid museum displays some of Sicily’s most prized Graeco-Roman artifacts.
The following descriptions of the other attractions within the Vucciria section are from Lonely Planet’s book, “Southern Italy:”
“Vucciria’s greatest treasures are its two baroque oratories: Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Zita (Via Valverde) and Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico (Via del Bambinai 2), covered top to bottom with the ornate stuccowork of Giacomo Serpotta (1652-1732). Known collectively as the Tesori della Loggia, they can be visited on a single ticket, together with a cluster of nearby churches.”
“The market, Mercato della Vucciria at Piazza Caracciolo was once a notorious den of Mafia activity but is a muted affair today compared to the spirited Ballaro and Capo markets.”
“La Kalsa, the southeast quadrant of Quattro Canti, is the oldest district in Palermo. It has taken La Kalsa many years to recover from the mass destruction it suffered from the bombardments in 1943 and the resulting poverty. Pauline Frommer writes in her Italian guidebook, “Today, thanks to ongoing building restoration and a burgeoning art scene, the Kalsa is one of the bright spots of Palermo (it’s my favorite part of the old city for authentic discovery) and home to some of its most compelling museums and churches.” I’ll be covering this section more extensively in my next blog as this is probably where I will be sojourning.
As per Lonely Planet’s book on Southern Italy, “New City, north of Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, Palermo slips into cosmopolitan mode. Here you’ll find fabulous neoclassical and art nouveau buildings hailing from the last golden age of Sicilian architecture, along with late 19th century mansion blocks lining the broad boulevard of Viale della Liberta.”
“Palermo’s grand neoclassical opera house, Teatro Massimo, took over 20 years to complete and has become one of the city’s iconic landmarks. The closing scene of “The Godfather: Part III, with its visually stunning juxtaposition of high culture, crime, drama and death, was filmed here.”
“Teatro Politeama (Piazza Ruggero Settimo), is a grandiose theater, which is a popular venue for opera, ballet and classical music, staging afternoon and evening concerts from October through to June. Designed by architect Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda between 1867 and 1874, it features a striking façade resembling a triumphal arch topped by a huge bronze chariot. It’s home to Palermo’s symphony orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana.”
For a self indulgent and extravagant experience, Lonely Planet authors recommend that one heads to the luxurious marble lined Moorish bathhouse, the Hamman on Via Torrearsa. They add the following commentary: “You can indulge in a vigorous scrub down, a steamy sauna and many different types of massages and therapies.”