10 Things to see in Palermo: a journey between the sacred and the profane
Palermo, a city rich in history and tradition, where the bond of the inhabitants to their land and the sense of community is still very strong: a place where the warmth of the welcome marries perfectly with that of the climate and where the beauty of the historic city centre, proclaimed a Unesco heritage site in 2015, there is the pleasure of discovering a different pace of life from the frenetic pace of many metropolises.
And right from the historic city center and its monuments, marvels of this Arab-Norman city, our ideal journey can start: let’s discover together what to see in Palermo, moving between the sacred monuments and the profane of the local markets.
Royal Palace or Norman Palace
Among the 10 things to see in Palermo in first place we find the Norman Palace.
The Norman Palace or Royal Palace, is located in Independence Square, and it is one of the best examples of the mix of culture that characterizes Palermo.
It is one of the most visited monuments in the whole city, built under Arab domination, to then be elected as royal residence by the Normans and then by the Spaniards, up to currently hosting the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
The succession of the different domains can clearly be identified in the architectural style, which has characteristics deriving from the different cultures: do not miss the courtyards and gardens and above all the King Roger lounge, with its mosaics representing hunting scenes.
The Palatine Chapel
The same King Roger who had the Palatine Chapel built inside the Royal Palace, another unmissable destination: it is a basilica with three naves characterized by incredible Byzantine-style mosaics, among which the most famous is the “Christ Pantocrator”.
Not far from the Royal Palace, in Via Vittorio Emanuele, we meet what is the most beautiful church in Palermo: the Cathedral, with its unique and particular exterior.
In fact, different styles are harmoniously mixed in this building: the sacred building stands on what was once an early Christian basilica, which later became a mosque and returned to a church during the Norman domination. Traces of all these evolutions are preserved, even if the dominant style is the neoclassical one, imposed by the Bourbons.
And after visiting the crypt, where the royal tombs are located, including that of Federico II and Santa Rosalia, the city’s patron saint, we cannot miss a climb up to the roof of the Cathedral, to enjoy a unique view of Palermo.
The Catacombs of the Capuchins
Palermo is also a city full of mystery: like what you can breathe inside the cemetery of the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, “the place where the living meet the dead”.
Thanks to particular climatic conditions, the bodies of the Capuchin friars and nobles who were buried in the Catacombs of the Convent underwent a natural process of mummification.
Over the centuries the friars had refined the techniques of embalming and dehydrating corpses: a custom that continued until the early 20th century. The catacombs currently contain about 8000 mummies and the most famous is that of the “Sleeping Beauty of Palermo”, a 2-year-old girl, who is found in the chapel of Santa Rosalia.
The Ballarò market is probably the most characteristic market of Palermo: large and full of bright colors, inside we can find a huge number of stands offering typical local products, such as fruit, vegetables, fish and Sicilian cheeses.
A true paradise for gourmets and an experience for everyone to enjoy, immersing themselves in the voices and typical scents of the city.
Without forgetting to taste the classics of Sicilian street food: unique dishes, such as the arancina, which offer a riot of flavors, and then finish off with the classic desserts of the local gastronomic tradition.
The Botanical Garden and Villa Giulia
If we want to take a break from visiting the city’s monuments, the Botanical Garden of Via Lincoln is the perfect destination. The paths lined with trees are perfect for enjoying a little coolness even in the hottest months.
Inside the Botanical Garden there are various species of flowers and fruit plants, including the gigantic ficus with intertwined branches, which is the real king of this huge garden.
Next to the Botanical Gardens there is also Villa Giulia, one of the most beautiful public parks in all of Palermo, perfect for a relaxing walk and a little rest under the cool on the branches.
The Martorana Church
Among the 10 Things to see in Palermo there is certainly the Church of the Martorana. Probably one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in Italy, the Church of the Martorana, is characterized by an Arab-Norman style on which late Baroque additions have been inserted.
This church has the particularity of following the Orthodox liturgical calendar, because it has been a reference point for the Albanian colony in Sicily since the 13th century.
The decorations inside the church are so beautiful that leave visitors speechless. In particular the “Christ Pantocrator”, in perfect Byzantine style, which is located on the top of the dome.
The Maximus Theater
Palermo is home to the largest opera house in Italy: the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, which in Europe is second only to the opera houses of Vienna and Paris.
In addition to the experience of attending the performance of a famous opera, we can also participate in one of the many guided tours organized inside the theater, to discover its artistic beauties and the “behind the scenes” of the shows.
The Regional Archaeological Museum
Not far from the Teatro Massimo there is the Regional Archaeological Museum: three floors of an ancient building in which we will be able to discover an incredible collection of works and artefacts from different eras, from the Etruscan to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian times.
Some of the works come from the Temple of Selinunte. Also noteworthy is the beauty of the place where these works are housed: the courtyards of the building are full of trees, including exotic ones, and elaborate fountains, which create a unique and welcoming environment.
We must not forget that Palermo is a seaside city: and there is nothing better than a walk in the late afternoon or in the evening among the tree-lined avenues and Art Nouveau villas of Mondello.
During the summer it is also possible to swim in the crystal clear sea, but if we don’t like excessive crowding, spring and autumn are certainly the best months to discover this beach.
Conclusions 10 Things to see in Palermo
In conclusion, Palermo is a city rich in history and culture. There are many things to see and do in the city, including its unique architecture, markets and restaurants. I highly recommend visiting Palermo to anyone who wants to experience another beautiful area of Italy.