In this new itinerary we are stepping to a crossroad of Arabian and Norman uniqueness, combining an extraordinary baroque and liberty style.
In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, between sky and ocean, the following itinerary has led us to discover an extraordinary island: Sicily. A trip that gave us surprising emotions and led us in the heart of Palermo.
It was impossible to escape the fascination of its past, marked by the simultaneousness of the different cultures and traditions of ancient peoples: phoenicians, greeks, arabs and normans.
We couldn't miss discovering the marvellous sicilian sea as well, so we took a break in a characteristic town called Terrasini.
Our itinerary starts in Palermo by visiting the central Via Maqueda, an extraordinary route that includes some of the most important places of interest in the city. Wonderful indeed!
Passing a small crossing we have found ourselves in front of a spectacular monument: the Fountain Pretoria.
In the center of the homonymous Square, Fountain Pretoria is erected, in all its splendour. This surprising fountain is made of Carrara marble, and it is a work of Francesco Camilliani, realized in the 1554 in Florence and later carried to Palermo.
The fountain, because of the nudity of its statues, was soon dubbed by the palermitans as the "Fountain of shame".
The fountain revolves around a central basin, surrounded by four bridges made with stairways and a fence of balustrades. Formed by three tanks, surmounted by a Bacchus from which the game of water is beginning.
All the statues depicting dozens of gods, animal heads and mythological monsters that make this urban element absolutely surprising: one of the most attractions in the city!
The fountain, which occupies most of the extension of the square, is enclosed within a marvellous architectural quadrilateral area.
On one side stands the Palazzo Pretorio, home of the town, built in the XIV century. At its side lies the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria. The third side is occupied by two baronial palaces: Palazzo Bonocore and Palazzo Balti separated by a staircase.
Finally, on the fourth side of the square there is a small staircase that ends on via Maqueda, opposite to the left sidewall of the church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini.
Following our trek on Via Maqueda we found ourselves in Piazza Vigliena, place known as the "four chants" ( I quattro canti).
The word "chant" stands for "canton": The four cantons, in fact, symbolized anciently the four districts of Palermo: Tribunals, Castellammare, Monte di Pietà and Palazzo Reale.
Being a beautiful octagonal square, it is right at the crossroad of the two main roads axes of Palermo: via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele (also known as the "Cassava").
In its simplicity, the square draws a perfect octagon, formed by four beautiful buildings (that's why of the "four" canti/cantons), build in 1600's and surmounted by striking coats of arms in white marble.
Every façade of the four buildings are symmetrically decorated in an astonishing way in each of their four horizontal sections (the sections are called "ordini", in italian).
The first "ordine" (the first , lower section of the façade) of each of the four buildings is dedicated to charming fountains representing the rivers of the ancient city: the Oreto, the Kemonia, the Pannaria and the Papireto.
The second horizontal section is in Doric style, represent the allegories of the four seasons (represented by Eolo, Venus, Ceres and Bacchus).
The third upper section is, instead, entirely dedicated to the statues (in ionic style) of Charles V, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV.
Finally, the last, and fourth level of each of the four buildings is decorated by one of the four saints of Palermo: Agata, Ninfa, Oliva and Cristina, patrons of the city, even before the coming of Santa Rosalia.
Continuing our journey in the heart of the historical Palermo, we found ourselves suddenly in front of what is definitely one of the most characteristic and spectacular attractions of Palermo: its immense cathedral!
A unique mixture of shapes and styles magically guarded in a single architectural body. We may define this as the "result" of the different and numerous populations that, over the centuries, have lived in Sicily.
The Cathedral of Palermo was built in 1184 on a area that housed a former place of worship, a mosque, during the period of Arab regency. The mosque was converted into a christian cult building, after the expulsion of the saracens and the settlement of the normans.
Just look around to notice how the whole city shows a great variety of styles and techniques including the roman, the norman, the greek, the arabic, with the addition of the sicilian baroque, so that these different architectural styles all converge in the whole structure of Cathedral, with the predominance, however, of the style of the XII century: the norman one.
Between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century it was decided, then, to change the identity of the church through the most significant and obvious change, that is, the creation of the dome, which diverges with all the previous styles (and also by many criticized).
Certainly do not go unnoticed the four wonderful towers of Norman style that embellish the exterior on the left side.
On the right side, instead, an elegant portico overlooks a square, it is flanked by two turrets and embellished by three arches in gothic style.
Inside the cathedral are absolutely worth visiting the tombs of the Kings (among the most important we report the sarcophagus of Frederick II and that of Ruggero II); The chapel of Santa Rosalia, patron saint of Palermo, where its relics and a new silver urn are preserved; The Treasury Rooms: an environment in which sacred objects (Monstrances, chalices and vestments) are preserved, some of which date back to the 1500.
A few steps away from the cathedral you meet the palace of the Normans, also known by the name of Royal Palace.
It was erected on a place that housed a former Punic or Roman build, later chosen by the arab population to create a veritable defensive stronghold.
In this place the normans, instead, concentrated the main activities of political life of the city.
Also, outside, it is characterized by a heterogeneous architectural style, the result of the different dominations that have followed over time.
Its interior will leave you breathless!
The most fascinating portion of the palace is surely the Palatine Chapel, a place of worship of the Royal Family, which was built by the will of Ruggero II in 1132.
Tha Chapel is made in the shape of latin cross and consisting of three aisles delimited by granite colums in Corinthian style.
Absolutely outstanding is the golden decoration of the entire chapel: precious mosaics made in Arab-Norman style. Impossible not to be impressed in front of such a suggestive environment!
In norman times the dome, which overlooked the construction, was also visible from the outside; Today, however, as a result of the changes suffered over the centuries, it is totally incorporated by the palace.
The second floor of the palace hosts today the Sicilian Regional assembly and, for this, it assumes the name of Parliamentary floor, where the Hall of Hercules and the Hall of Ruggero II are located.
Hall of Ruggero II uses the same technique of the chapel, being, in fact, "wrapped" by splendid golden mosaics, but this time not offering religious motives, but figures of animals, flowers, plants and hunting episodes.
Close to the palace of the normans is "Porta Nuova" the "New Door". It has been for several centuries the most important access to the city of Palermo by land, being the city surrounded by walls.
From Porta Nuova there are two important city roads: the Corso Vittorio Emanuele (or so-called Cassava) which represents the main city road, and, outside, the Corso Calatafimi, that is the road that leads to Monreale.
The new gate, originally wanted in 1583 by the Viceroy Marcantonio Colonna to commemorate the victory of Charles V on the Turkish armies, underwent in total destruction in 1667, when a gunpowder depot exploded.
Anyway, in 1669 architect Gaspare Guercio rebuilt it in its entirety and placed a decoration on the door in the shape of a pyramid covered with coloured majolica on which is depicted the eagle of Senate with the wings explained, symbol of the city of Palermo.
The façade facing the city imitate the classic patterns of the ancient triumphal arches, while the other one has an original and extravagant architecture dominated by the spectacular presence of four telamons, depicting the Moors defeated by Charles V.
Then we continued our itinerary in Palermo just after a few minutes of relaxation in the beautiful gardens right in front of Palazzo dei Normanni.
Then, our itinerary led us to Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, right in front of the majestic Teatro Massimo, the largest theatrical building in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, third by order of magnitude after "the Opéra National" in Paris and the "Staatsoper" in Vienna.
A real highlight of our wonderful Italy!
The theatre was almost entirely made by the architect Giovanbattista Basile who directed the building of the opera house for several years and left his completion to his son Ernesto, in 1891.
With its bloated windows, accompanied by corinthian columns, the work is entirely inspired by the canons of neoclassicism with a structure of extreme elegance and absolutely proportionate.
The central staircase, with two bronze lions on the sides, leads to the huge entrance overseen by a dome.
When observing the exterior, it is impossible not to recall the opera to a classic greek temple, with its imposing columns and corinthian capitals.
On the six columns, occupying a large part of the main façade, there is, carved on the pediment, the sentence: "Art renews peoples and reveals their lives. Vain are the plays giving pleasure if they do not aim to prepare the future ". Still today, among the many historians, the author of this phrase remains a mystery!
We were lucky to visit the interior of the theatre, which features the characteristic shape of "horseshoe" and the seats are distributed on different levels. Inside are preserved wonderful frescoes.
It was a great emotion for us.
This wonderful theatre is the protagonist of a singular legend. It is said that it was built in a space derived from the demolition of some pre-existing buildings, including the convent and the church of the Stigmata and the church of St. Julian.
According to the legend the spirit of the last Mother superior of the convent, still wanders today inside the theatre and, outside, one of the steps of the theatre is called, in fact, "step of the Nun", in which it is said that would stumble all those who do not believe in the legend.
Terrasini, was the place we chose, as well as to enjoy the beautiful Sicilian sea, also because of its strategic position being located a few kilometers from Palermo and then becouse close to the Falcone-Borsellino airport .
The coast of Terrasini overlooking the Gulf of Castellammare extends from the beach of Ciucca to that of San Cataldo, alternating stony coves with high and steep cliffs on the sea.
Thanks to its panoramic position, facing directly on the sea with a rocky wall of red stone that in some places opens in suggestive beaches, this place opened up some scenarios that seemed to be unique.
The town of Terrasini, also a renowned tourist resort, is historically preserved, unaltered over time, with a particular urban layout with a checkerboard plot that descends towards the sea, characterized by linear stone houses and fortify towers from which you can enjoy beautiful sceneries.
The centre of the delightful town is at Piazza Duomo, a large rectangular urban space, the majestic Duomo dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of Graces, patron saint of the Terrasinesi, is untied in the background of the square.
To note that near Terrasini is located the natural reserve Capo Rama, established by the sicilian region and entrusted in management to WWF of Italy.
We made long walks immersed in the nature and pleasant hours on the seaside, at the sun and in pristine beaches!
Cala Rossa is certainly the most evocative part of the coast, because of its particular colour. Certainly access to the sea from here is recommended to the most sporty and athletic people, in fact, the large rock wall that rises from the sea, is a stretch of sea ideal for those who love to dive, climb and explore the seabed.
For those who, instead, are more inclined to relaxing places (like us) and take a bath in the clear waters of Sicily, we recommend the beaches of San Cataldo and Lido della Cuccia, also embedded among high rocky walls.
Cala Rama, with its rocky headlands 30 meters high that fall overhanging on the sea, is little wonder of nature.
We have reached this stretch of coastline with a boat and we have been admiring a series of caves and coves within easy reach. Among these we mention: Grotta Earwires, Grotta Madonna and Cala Porro.
On the way we discovered a small beach "enclosed" inside a picturesque cove of clear sand, almost as if it had been embedded in the rocks.
Throughout our Sicilian itinerary we have been housed in the immense building named "City of the Sea".
A holiday village that overlooks the Gulf of Castellamare, in one of the most fascinating stretches of the coast.
A peculiarity of this resort-village are the Toboggan, four pool slides that, crossing three swimming pools, will "catapult" you directly into the sea. A must try that!
At the very end we left Sicily with a great desire to return, very soon!
Goodbye the next itinerary...
Our favourite places in Terrasini: