Palermo Tourist Attractions


The really old part of the city is restricted to the small area on each side of the present Via Vittorio Emanuele. The oldest part of all lay between the Norman palace and the cathedral. The New Town then adjoined it, in the area between the cathedral and the harbor, which at that time extended as far as the present-day Via Roma. To the southwest of the Old Town, on both sides of Corso Calatafimi. lay a large necropolis (cemetery) dating from the Punic and Roman periods, part of which was excavated in 1953.

Quattro Canti

This open space, circular in form and the setting-out point for our suggested walks through Palermo, was laid out between 1608 and 1620 by the Roman architect Giulio Lasso at the junction of the two major streets in Palermo at that time, Cassarò (now known as Vittorio Emanuele), which leads from the Norman Palace to the harbor, and Via Nuova; the building of the latter was begun with much ceremony in 1608, and it was later re-named Maqueda after the Spanish viceroy. Lasso designed this junction so that there would be a concave frontage on each of the four corners; behind one is hidden the church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini. At ground level on each corner he built a fountain, with sculptured figures on the three upper floors, accompanied by Classical Greek columns, Doric at the bottom, then Ionic and finally Corinthian. It was long after 1620 before they were finished; consequently, above sculptures symbolizing the Four Seasons at the bottom, it was possible to insert statues of the four Spanish kings since 1516, namely Charles V, Philip II, III and IV, the latter having ascended to the throne in 1621. On the uppermost floor are the female patron saints Cristina, Ninfa, Oliva and Agata.
Although originally named Piazza Vigliena, after a Spanish viceroy, the unique design of the "square" has resulted in that name being almost forgotten and in its generally being known simply as the Quattro Canti.

San Giuseppe dei Teatini

This great basilica on the south corner of Quattro Canti in Palermo was built by Giacomo Besio between 1612 and 1645; the dome was added in 1725. The entrance will be found in Via Vittoria Emanuele. Its internal features include the dome fresco "Triumph of A. Andrea Avelino" by Guglielmo Borreman (1724), paintings by Pietro Novelli and late 18th century stuccoed marble fittings.

Church of the Gesù

The oldest Jesuit church in Sicily stands a little to the north on the Piazza Casa Professa in Palermo. First built in 1564, lavish reliefs and sculptures in stucco and marble were added in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the center of the apse can be seen a representation of the Holy Trinity, and nearby two marble groups by Giocchino Vitagliano (1704): Abigail kneeling before King David (left) and Abraham and Melchizedek (right). The two paintings in the second chapel on the right are by P. Novelli. The church was carefully restored after suffering heavy bomb damage in 1943.

Palazzo Belmonte-Riso

Following Via Vittorio Emanuele in Palermo in a southwesterly direction, on the right will be seen the Rococo building of the Palazzo Belmonte-Riso built by Giovanni Venanzio Marvuglia in 1784. A little further on, not far from the Cathedral, stands the National Library of 1586.


Palermo's cathedral was consecrated in the late 12th C. The Cathedral Treasury holds a wealth of interesting pieces, including the incredible crown of Constance of Aragon.

Norman Palace

Cappella Palatina


Piazza Giuseppe Verdi

From the Quattro Canti Via Maqueda runs northwest to the busy Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, lying between the old and the new town.

Teatro Massimo

Returning to Via Maqueda we find ourselves in the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, where Via Maqueda enters Via Ruggero Settimo, with its taxi-stands and post office. On the left side of the square Giovanni Battista Basile and his son Ernesto built the 3,200-seat theater between 1875 and 1897. It was officially opened on 16th May 1897 with a performance of Verdi's "Falstaff", and thereafter became one of Sicily's major opera houses.
The statue of Lyra is by Mario Rutelli (1850-1931).
Address: Piazza G. Verdi, I-90138 Palermo, Italy

Harbor District

From the Piazza Ruggero Settimo in Palermo, Via E. Amari leads down to the harbor, with the Marittima rail station and piers for hydrofoils and ferries.

Foro Umberto I

Along the seafront to the east and southeast of the Porta Felice extends the Foro Umberto I, a broad boulevard which affords magnificent views of the Bay of Palermo and is a popular resort of the citizens on summer evenings. At the southern end of the Foro Umberto I is the beautiful Villa Giulia park, also known as La Flora (laid out in 1777). On the west side of this the Botanic Garden has a magnificent variety of plants including date and coconut palms, banana trees and fine stands of bamboos and papyrus.

Piazza Marina

West of Santa Maria della Catena in Palermo lies the picturesque boating harbor, La Cala, and to the south is the Piazza Marina, almost entirely occupied by the tropical Giardino Garibaldi. The Palazzo Chiaramonte, usually known as Lo Steri, on the east side of this square, was built between 1307 and 1380 and later became the residence of the viceroy.

Archeological Museum

The Archeological Museum in Palermo contains an incredible collection of antiquities and is considered one of the finest of its kind in Italy.

La Martorana

La Martorana is most famous for the beautiful interior with 12th C mosaics. Of particular note is "Christ the Pantokrator", as well as the mosaics of George of Antioquia, and Christ crowning King Roger II.

San Cataldo

Built immediately next to the Martorana the church of San Cataldo, with its bright red dome rising above the decorative surmounting cornice, is similar in many ways to its neighbor. It, too, was a gift from one of the top state officials of the Norman period. When William I succeeded his father in 1154 he appointed Maio of Bari to succeed George of Antioquia as Grand Admiral. As he came from Italy and not Greece, like his predecessor, Maio dedicated his church to a saint from his homeland, Bishop Cataldo of Trani, and chose the "Latin" ground plan, a triple-aisled basilica. Its longitudinal direction is emphasized by three Arabic domes above the elevated central nave. Its Arabo-Norman character is also demonstrated by the cubic exterior with three ogee windows on each side surrounded by blind arcades, and the fine ledge running around the upper edge.
The same strong square-shaped masonry is seen inside as well as out. Apart from the beautifully ornamented inlay of the floor and the capitals on the four ancient columns, the inside is entirely devoid of decoration. The three capitals referred to are Corinthian, one showing a variation from the original.

Santa Maria della Catena

Some 500m/550yds further on the left from the Garibaldi Gardens in Palermo will be seen the church of Santa Maria della Catena, whose name refers to the fact that at one time the harbor (La Cala) could be closed off with a chain (catena). The actual chain is displayed in the church. Begun about 1500 and completed in 1540, the building is a fine example of an amalgam of Late Gotho-Catalan features with those of the Italian Renaissance. The doorway sculptures are by Vincenzo Gagini (16th century). A portico with three flat-arched arcades leads into the triple-aisled basilica, which was converted to the Baroque style in the 18th century.

Palazzo Lo Steri Chiaramonte

This palace, also known as Lo Steri (from hosterium), lies to the south of Santa Maria della Catena, on the far side of Via Vittorio Emanuele. It was built by the powerful noble Chiaramonte family from Agrigento in the 14th century, the time when the family reached the height of its powers only to fall from grace some years after. Work commenced in 1307 under Manfredi I. Chiaramonte, Count of Mädica and Seneschal (steward) of the Kingdom, and continued until 1380, but the second floor was never completed. In 1396 Andrea Chiaramonte was publicly beheaded in front of his palace because he had rebelled against King Martin I. Later the palace served as the viceroy's residence between 1468 and 1517, as the seat of the Inquisition (c. 1600) and as a courthouse from 1799.
It is a massive block building measuring 40 by 40m/130 by 130ft, with four wings around a square inner courtyard. The ground floor has a rather chilly appearance, while the first floor has some beautiful windows with pillared arcades divided into three. Inside, the wooden 14th century roof above the main nave with portrayals of historical and legendary themes has been preserved.

Botanical Garden

Near to the Villa Giulia in Palermo stretches the Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico) which was laid out in 1789; the massive entrance with Doric-columned lodges on each side and the central dome were the work of Franzose Léon Dufourny in 1789. The Garden, one of the most important in Europe, covers 11ha/26.5 acres and contains over 12,000 species from all over the world, some growing in the open and some in hot-houses.
Address: Via Abramo Lincoln, I-90100 Palermo, Italy

Palazzo Abatellis & Galleria Regionale della Sicilia

Palazzo Abatellis was built by Matteo Carnelivari in 1490, for Francesco Abatellis. It served as a priory from the early 16th C to mid 19th C, and today contains the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia.

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.

Capuchin Catacombs

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.
Address: Piazza Cappuccini 1, I-90100 Palermo, Italy



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