Palermo is an anomaly. It cannot be explained easily but it’s precisely this complexity that gives it its charm. But once there what is there to do? Palermo is to be enjoyed and this quick guide to the essential sights should help orientate a potential visitor to Sicily’s capital.
The main sight of note is the cathedral, which is located on via Vittorio Emanuele. This expansive structure, which is very photogenic with its careful arches and nearby palm trees, was built by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th Century and altered many times afterwards.
Next on the list, just off the horrible via Maqueda, is Teatro Massimo, in Piazza Verdi, famous for the penultimate scene filmed outside the opera in The Godfather Part III (if anyone can bring themselves to watch that movie after the glory of the previous two). The theatre is simply beautiful, with again palm trees adorning the outside.
Nearby and also off via Maqueda, is the Politeama in Piazza Ruggero Settimo beside the adjoined Piazza Castelnuovo. This square is known locally as Piazza Politeama, as the Italians need at least two names for everything, (except for love). This splendid theatre, which is host to performances of various genres, is dedicated to a certain Mr Garibaldi who is credited with having joined Italy together 150 years ago.
For a nice picnic, if such a thing took your fancy, there is a large green space outside the south gate of the city, Porta Felice (Happy Gate or The Gate to Happiness, so promising!). Here you can relax away from the madness of the city’s traffic and look over the perfect blue of the sea.
Another sight is Quattro Canti, the gorgeous crossroads between via Maqueda and via V. Emanuele. Here several horse and carts wait to transport tourists around the intense city.
For going our there is the choice between Vucciria and Ballaro’, both of which are very underground and alternative in feel. There will be no soul crushing commercial tripe heard here. Dress for the occasion, heels and swanky shirts are best left at home.
Vucciria is located in Piazza Magione, down a few steps from via Roma close to the corner with via V. Emanuele. Ballaro’ is a market by day and can be found by taking via del Bosco from via Maqueda. In both these areas it would be wise to watch your belongings and try not to end your night lying in a pool of vomit. These are both ways by which you ‘ask for trouble.’
Two last things, for an amazing panino, try the large jumble of streets in front of Teatro Massimo and most specifically, Piazza Olivella (between via Roma and via Maqueda). Here one can eat a panino to die for.
Also beside Teatro Massimo, there is an interesting clothes market called Capo, on via Sant’Agostino. It seems to go on forever and starts with shoes and scarves and ends with spices and vegetables.
A low budget place to stay where you will surely meet wonderful people is Your Hostel, via Gagini, 61 (just off via Roma). The staff here are more than just friendly, they make you feel at home. This is one of the best hostels not just in Palermo, but in Sicily. Check their website.
Palermo can be chaotic but it is also wonderful. You must try to like it and it will reward you.
John P Brady writes fiction, articles and a blog about life in Italy, where he has chosen to make his home. His first book, a collection, entitled Back to the Gaff will be published by Roadside Fiction later in 2014. It concerns the wild happenings in Dublin by night and documents the attitudes of the youth in modern Irish society. Keep up to date with his writing by subscribing:
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