The Phoenicians founded Palermo back in 734BC naming it Flower, aka Ziz. It seems fair that Modern Day Palermo, known for it’s onerous traffic, glorious art, still active Mafia and challenging piles of garbage should own such a name.
Marty, a firm believer in visiting Capital Cities, says you can’t gauge a country without visiting theirs. He dragged me to Zagreb, Croatia for which I am forever grateful and insisted on four days in Palermo. Bring it on!
In Palermo the African Influence is becoming stronger by the day. With the increasing Migrant population the mayor said in 2016 (from Daily Mail Australia Feb 13th 2017) –
‘Palermo is a Middle Eastern town in Europe. It is a mosaic city and we are happy about that.’
Palermo is exotic. It has palm trees, Africans and African Food and it’s inhabitants eat gelato in brioche, going about their lives with stoicism and bravado. Let’s just say that the Mafia is not as welcoming of the migrants as the Mayor. However, this is just background noise for a traveller and won’t affect your visit to Ziz.
Walking the streets is the best way to get to experience Ziz – the people, their markets, ruined palazzos, beautiful churches, art and food – it’s a crazy ride.
Walking down Via Vittorio Emanuelle, the street connecting Porta Felice – the City Gates at La Cala (the port) and Porta Nuova – the northern City Gates, is a good way to get connected to the city. There are diversions on either side of the street and indeed the landmark Quattro Canti is midway along it, but it seems that all roads lead back to Vittorio Emanuelle.
This photo taken one Sunday belies it’s normal pace.
Let’s start this street walk with two of my favourites photos.
Flea market vendor at Piazza Marina, near our Airbnb apartment in Via Allora in the old Arab district of La Kalsa. La Kalsa had a bad reputation once upon a time but it is gradually getting some TLC and we enjoyed living there.
And his dog. The park behind the fence is Giardino Garibaldi, home to a 150 year old weeping fig.
We’re close to the Port here so let’s divert to Porta Felice and La Cala.
Leaving Piazza Marina we cross over Via Vittorio Emanuele to the area known as Vucciria. Once a bustling market selling meat, fish and vegetables, it wasn’t flourishing at all when we went through. Good to see some of the buildings finally getting some love and attention though.
One market stall.
The Fontana del Garraffello built in 1591 survived WWII bombing, unlike the rest of the buildings in Piazza Caracciolo. Maybe it was divine intervention, because the waters of this fountain are said to have medicinal properties.
But before we go marketing lets sneak back to Via Vittorio for some gelato.
Mercato del Capo and Ballarò are still thriving markets.
Estratto di Pomodoro – The rich tomato paste that forms the taste of Sicilian Cooking.
A good price for Lumache Nostrane or Homegrown Snails.
Sale di Trapani – Salt from Trapani and Capers of all sizes.
Coffee in Sicily is always a pleasure. Las Vegas Cafe is squeezed between Mercato del Capo and law courts in Via Pagano Giovan Battista.
The markets have the freshest looking fish.
Quattro Canti or Four Corners is the central point of Palermo. The curved facades of each corner capture the sun as it progresses through the sky, earning it the name of Theatre of the Sun.
The below photo shows one quarter of the baroque square formally known as Piazza Vigliena. Other names for this corner are Quattro Canti, Four Corners or Theatre of the Sun.
Nearby in Piazza Pretoria is Fontana Pretoria . The Fountain and it’s attending sculptures are in a circular setting which can be walked around. It arrived in the City from Florence in 1574 and in the 18th and 19th Century became a symbol of the corrupt government, gaining the name Piazza della Vergogna” (Square of Shame). The nudity of the statues only compounded the shame.
Teatro Massimo is situated on Via Maqueda, the street that intersects on Via Vittorio Emanuele at Quattro Canti. When coming from Porta Felice end, turn right and walk along the pedestrianised street bordered by flower boxes toward the Theatre that first opened it’s doors in 1897 to accolades of the third biggest in Europe. In 1974 it closed it’s doors for quick renovations and opened it’s doors again 23 years later in 1997. That kind of thing happens in Sicily.
Street Band performing outside the Teatro. Not only did these guys play, but performed street theatre as well, darting away into the crowd when finished.
Palermo Cathedral lies just before our destination of Porta Nuova. It has had many renovations since it’s inception in 1185 and now sports a mix of styles, even spending time as a mosque in the 9th Century. An interesting place to visit.
Follow this map as a rough guide.
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