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.
Development to the present day
The basis of the present lay-out of the city is determined on the one hand by the Magistrale des Cassarò (Via Vittorio Emanuele) between the Norman castle and the harbor, which dates from the Arab period (ninth-11th centuries), and on the other hand by Via Maqueda adjoining it at right angles which, together with the junction with the Cassarò (Quattro Canti), was laid out in the 17th century by the Spanish viceroys. The intersection of Cassarò and Via Maqueda has since become a landmark in the labyrinth of lanes which make up the Old Town. In the 18th century it was closed off by means of four gates: Porta Nuova in the southwest, Porta Maqueda in the northwest, Porta Felice in the northeast and Porta Sant'Antonino in the southeast.
After 1860 a second main street, Via Roma, was built running from northwest to southeast and parallel to Via Maqueda.
The city extended beyond its former boundary to the northwest, and Via Maqueda was lengthened by the addition of Via Ruggero Settimo. It was lengthened still further about 1900 when Viale della Libertà was built. The Piazza Ruggiero Settimo together with the Politeama Garibaldi, at the junction of these two roads, has now superseded Quattro Canti as Palermo's focal point. At the beginning of the 20th century this was the prime residential district. The Quattro Canti is also a good place for the tourist to get his bearings and from which to set out on a tour of the city.
In the post-war years Palermo has extended far beyond its old boundaries. The latest areas where building is taking place stretch as far as the Parco della Favorita in the north, while in the west the city has almost reached Monreale.
Palermo, under the name of Balerm, was made the capital of the Emirs of Sicily. Reports by travelers of the time placed its many mosques, palaces and irrigation plants on a par with those in Baghdad and Cordoba. The population increased to 300,000, with Arabs, Jews, Greeks and negroes rubbing shoulders with the original native inhabitants.
On fifth January 1072, following its capture by the Normans under Roger I of Hauteville and his brother Robert Guiscard, a new epoch began. In the 12th century Roger II and William II built churches and palaces, made Palermo into the glittering capital of the Monarchia Sicula and ruled with religious tolerance over Christians, Moslems and Jews alike.
In 1194 the Hohenstaufens under Henry VI, the husband of Constance, the heir to the Norman throne, gained control from the Normans. In 1198 Henry's four-year-old son Frederick II was crowned king in Palermo. As under the Normans, his court included various nationalities and religions, which produced a Sicilian school of poets who wrote in the everyday language of the people. Following the death of Frederick a decline set in 1250. In 1266 Charles of Anjou, brother of the French king, became ruler of Sicily with the aid of the Pope.
In 1282, however, the "Sicilian Vespers" occurred in front of the church of Santo Spirito in Palermo, when all the French were murdered or expelled. Palermo and the whole of Sicily came under the rule of the House of Aragon, represented by viceroys.
In the 18th century the Savoys (1713-20), the Habsburgs (1720-30) and the Bourbons (after 1730) followed one another as rulers. In 1773, as had happened before in 1647, the differences in wealth between the rich barons and the impoverished masses led to a revolt. Attempts at reform by viceroys such as Caracciolo (1782-86) brought no lasting improvements. In the Napoleonic Period the British occupied the island from 1806 to 1815, and King Ferdinand IV of Naples was twice exiled there before being made King Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. In 1821, 1837 and 1848 there were revolts against the Bourbon regime. In May 1860 Garibaldi took Palermo after four days of battle, and union with Italy followed.
Between January and March 1943 Palermo was subjected to heavy Allied bombing. In 1946 Rome declared the island of Sicily an autonomous region, with its own government sitting in the former royal palace.
Since then Palermo's population has increased as people have migrated from the land to the towns, the harbor has been enlarged, industry has grown; in spite of all that, Palermo has the lowest income per capita of all Italian provincial capitals.
As well as the University, Palermo has a large number of cultural institutions.