Sicily, island crossroads between Italy and Africa since forever. You can drive or train the length of it in less than a day, and see cities, ancient artifacts, beaches, mountains and a large volcano. Driving (more of this in a later post) works well but if you pick your destinations the train and bus work very well. I review a route that covered the cities of Palermo, Siracusa, Modica and Trapani in a large train and bus loop. I later visited Catania, although that was to establish how it worked by car, which in fact was pretty well. Sicily’s main gateways are Palermo and Catania. I picked Palermo via Rome to get there.
Palermo is Sicily’s largest city with impressive medieval buildings reflecting Norman, Byzantine and Islamic influences. It has a vibrant street market life both for fast food and groceries.
It’s a nice walking city with an extensive 19th century downtown.
The streets fill up in the early evening.
Palermo Cathedral was mostly started in 1185 by the Normans, who conquered Sicily in 1072, although there are plenty of add-ons, including the renaissance-era porch entrance. It was built over a previous Byzantine chapel and mosque, and verses from the Quran can still be found on the exterior.
The Galleria Regionale della Sicilia in the Palazzo Abatellis has interesting art, including the cheery Triumph of Death which has Guernica like overtones.
Palermo can be run down in places, reflecting it’s hard past.
The Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni) has a brilliant example of Byzantine influence on the Norman invaders who built over the original Emir’s palace. The Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina) was built between the 1140s and 1170s, with elaborate mosaics and frescos.
Two 12th-century Norman-era co-Cathedrals overlook Plaza Bellini – on the left is the Martorana, or Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (St Mary of the Admiral) and the San Cataldo church with its distinctive red domes is on the right.
The interior of the Martorana has baroque added to a 12th-century Norman interior. I wished they’d left well alone. Puffy angels should not get in the way of the seraphim IMHO.
For those of you that can deal with baroque, there is plenty of it. The Oratory of the Rosary of Saint Dominic (Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico), opened in the late 16th century but with the interior from the early 18th century, is worth a look.
The Church of Jesus (Chiesa del Gesu), opened in 1636, is quite ornate. Again, if you like that kind of thing.
And not forgetting the occasional forgotten Fascist artifact, this appearing to be a memorial constructed in around 1935 with important proclamations from Benito Mussolini and WWI Italian General Diaz.
I stayed at the Palazzo Brunaccini hotel which was central to the medieval center, had large modern rooms and great breakfasts. It’s hard to eat badly in Palermo, these places are highly recommended:
Bisso Bistrot – modern take on Italian classics.
Trattoria ai Cascinari – outstanding traditional restaurant. I would go here if you had to pick just one.
Ferro di Cavallo – simple traditional menu, really well executed.
Italian and Sicilian microbrews are worth trying – Birra e Basta in the Borge Vecchio area north of the old city is a good place to do that.