Outside City Center, Palermo
The sights some distance from the city center should be visited separately. These include the churches of San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi (in the southeast) and Santo Spirito (south), the medieval buildings of Cuba and Zisa (southwest and west), the Capuchin abbey (west) and Monte Pellegrino with the church of St Rosalia (northeast).
Corso dei Mille, an extension of Via Garibaldi, begins east of the main rail station and leads southeastward. It is so-called because it was here, on the night of 26th/27th May 1860, that Garibaldi's "Army of a Thousand" first clashed with the Bourbon forces. The Corso crosses the bed of the Oreta river, spanning it with the city's oldest bridge. The bridge is named after Roger II's Grand Admiral George of Antioquia who endowed it in 1133; mention has already been made of him in connection with his building, some 30 years later, of the Martorana, or church of Santa Maria del'Ammiraglio. The bridge contains seven arches which decrease in size as they near the river banks.
San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi
About 1km/1,100yds from the Ponte dell'Ammiraglio the church of San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi stands on the left. Its date is open to debate; the majority opinion is that it was built outside the city (which was then still held by the Arabs) by Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger I during the siege in 1071; if this is so, it is the oldest Norman church in Palermo. Originally dedicated to John the Baptist, it obtained its present name from a lepers' hospice which adjoined it. Frederick II gave the church and hospice to the Teutonic Knights of La Magione, and it remained their property until well into the 18th century. During restoration in 1930 the Baroque additions were removed, thus restoring the church to its original condition.The plain, severe edifice with two Moorish domes - one above the tower, the other above the chancel - is asymmetric in form, having one tower at the left side. The east section of the nave is somewhat wider than the west, and terminates in three semi-circular apses. Two rows of massive octagonal columns support rounded arches and divide up the basilica-like interior. The wooden ceiling has been restored. On the altar stands a 15th century painted crucifix.
Santo Spirito and Chiesa del Vespro
Following the Corso Tukåry westward from the main station, turn left into Via del Vespro and the Sant'Orsol Cemetery. Here stands the Chiesa del Vespro or Santo Spirito, in front of which the "Sicilian Vespers" (the murder or expulsion of all the French in Palermo and later in the whole of Sicily) began on 31st March 1282 and from which event it obtained its second name. It was this event which inspired Verdi to write his opera of the same name. The church was built in 1173-78 by Archbishop Walter of the Mill (Gualterius Offamilius) as the oratorium of a Cistercian abbey, outside the city walls as they were at the time. In the years that followed it was frequently altered, especially when the viceroy Domenico Caracciolo had the abbey pulled down in 1782 to make room for the new cemetery. It was not until 1882, the 600th anniversary of the Sicilian Vespers, that the decision was taken to restore it in its original form.The north side is impressively colorful, as is the east side with the crossed arches of the three apses made from lava. The south side is simpler, for it is here that the cloister adjoins the building. In the south transept signs of earlier abbey-buildings can be seen. The interior of the Basilica, clearly reflecting the strictness of the Cistercian Order, has two rows of round pillars supporting the ogival arcades. The tall chancel is separated by an ogee arch. The roof trusses are open in form.
Santa Maria di Gesù
From the former Minorite house of Santa Maria di Gesù, on the lower slopes of Monte Grifone (832m/2,746ft) there is perhaps the finest view of Palermo and the Conca d'Oro, particularly in the morning light.The tomb of the founder, Bishop Beato Matteo del Gatto of Agrigento, will be found inside the church. The original beautiful cloister in the priory precinct has been preserved. A monk will guide visitors to the belvedere, from where there is a fine view.
Above the priory, on Via Conte Frederico in Palermo, stand the remains of the Favara or Maredolce Palace, a summer retreat of Roger II. Possibly with Arabic antecedents, it was a four-winged edifice surrounded by a lake on three sides. The best-preserved section is the northwest side with its blind arcades. Inside will be found a small, groin-vaulted and domed chapel.
When La Cuba at Corso Calatafimi 94 in Palermo was completed in 1180 under King William II it lay far outside the city in a large park with an artificial lake. Today it is within the precincts of a barracks, and permission has to be sought from the officer of the watch in order to visit it. The Cuba, the name of which probably comes from the Arabic word cubat, meaning vault, is a rectangular building with walls divided up by ogival blind arcades. Inside are remains of Arab stalactite decoration. Its original beauty was described by Boccaccio in the sixth tale of the fifth day of his "Decameron".
Address: Corso Calatafimi 94, I-90100 Palermo, Italy
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €2.00
The Villa Napoli Park goes back to Norman times; it is entered through the doorway of a block of flats. Here, in a lemon-grove, stands the pavilion with the "small dome", Cubula (at Corso Calatafimi 575, Villa Napoli bus station). It dates from the same time as La Cuba. A square building with a small, red dome, it is open on all sides with ogee doorways with layered archivolt mouldings and Moorish ornamentation.
Near La Cuba turn north from Corso Calatafimi into Via Pindemonte, which leads into the Piazza Cappuccini. Here will be found the Capuchin Abbey, known for its Catacombs. These underground passages were hewn in the volcanic rock after 1599 and used as burial places right up to 1881. Anyone who is not put off by the macabre scene can see about 8,000 mummified corpses, arranged by sex and status, which lie in the passageways or hang from the walls. The clothes betray the origin and calling of the deceased, for until a few years ago the mummies were given regular changes of fresh clothes by their relatives. The corpses were first laid in the colatoio, a small, tightly closed drying-room, and then after eight months they were washed in vinegar, dressed and placed in the niches in the walls or in open coffins.
This palace was built about 1165-80 by Kings William I and II. It can be reached either from the Capuchin priory by way of Via Cipressi, Piazza Ingastone and Via Zisa or, alternatively, from the Norman palace along Via Collonna Rotta, Piazza Ingastone and Via Zisa. It was originally given the Arabic name El'Aziz (the magnificent), from which the Italian name is derived, and it is one of the Islamo-Norman summer residences, the solatia, where royalty went to relax. The three-story building is rectangular with ressauts (ogee mouldings) at each end; the crenellations are 16th century. There are three entrances along the east side, from the central one of which a bridge once led to an island with a pavilion standing in the middle of an artificial lake.Behind the entrances a corridor runs lengthwise through the building, providing access to the rooms behind. The main room is the central Fountain Room with mosaics and stalactite vaulting; high up on the rear wall is a fountain from which water flowed down over a sloping wall to provide a cooling effect before crossing the room and finally ending up in the lake at the front - a system frequently found in Arabic palatial architecture. In 1787 Goethe described the building as "not large, but with beautiful, wide and well-proportioned rooms; scarcely inhabitable in a northern climate, but in the south a most welcome form of residence". The thermal baths near the northwest corner, which were discovered in 1973, and the chapel are examples of the other buildings which once formed part of La Zisa.In 1971 this relatively well-preserved building suffered from a partial internal collapse, but restoration work has been completed.
Parco della Favorita
In 1798-1800 King Ferdinand IV of Naples, having been forced to flee to Palermo before the advancing French troops, built an exile residence for himself, his Queen Maria Carolina and their daughter Maria Theresa in the midst of extensive parkland on the southwestern slopes of Monte Pellegrino, outside the city. He was in fact exiled for a second time in 1805-15.Today it is used as a public park, with tennis courts, a football stadium and horse racing track, with three busy roads runing through it. The main entrance is in the Piazza Miscemi in the northeast.
Pallazino Cinese Favorita
A short distance from the Parco della Favorita stands the Pallazino Cinese (Favorita), built in 1798-1800 by Venanzio Marvuglia in the Chinese style which was then in vogue. The entrance is made more impressive by a half-round columned hall. The rooms include Chinese, Turkish and Pompeiian salons, and there is a view of the park and Monte Pellegrino from the terrace on the roof.
The former working quarters now house the Museo Etnografico, whose collections were donated mainly by the folklorist Giuseppe Pitré from Palermo. On display are costumes, painted farm-carts, hand-tools and equipment, puppet theaters, Nativity scenes and much more.
The Marmino Foundation Archeological Museum in Viale della Liberta exhibits a large number of finds as well as a coin collection.On the road to Monte Pellegrino there are two villas with beautiful gardens which are open to visitors. From the city center take Via Monte Pellegrino and then Via Bonanno, and turn off towards the coast along Via Cardinale Rampolla. Where it merges on the left into Via Papa Seregio I the Villa Igiea will be seen by the sea on the right and Villa Belmonte on the left, on the slopes of Monte Pellegrino.
This Classical edifice, built by Ernesto Basile in a park by the sea and fitted out with a magnificent ball- and banqueting-room, lies in the suburb of Acquasanta, north of the harbor. It is now used as a hotel. There is a famous view from the garden terrace.
This villa, built in 1800 by Venanzio Marvuglia for Giuseppe Ventimaglia, Principe di Belmonte, lies in the suburb of Arenella. He elected to use the Classical style; on the entrance side, above the ground floor, can be seen a temple-like facade with six Ionic columns under a triangular pediment, while at the back is a spectacular row of Ionic pilasters.
Convento dei Cappuccini
1.5km/1mi west of the Porta Nuova, on the edge of Palermo, is the Convento dei Cappuccini (1621), with underground passages which contain mummies and skeletons of ecclesiastics or well-to-do citizens in the clothes they wore during life (and which are sometimes renewed by the descendants). No further burials of this kind have been permitted since 1881.
Feast of Santa Rosalia
The feast is held on July 10-15 honoring the patron saint of the city. It includes bands and fireworks.