Sicily [part 1]: Palermo

What can you do with one full day in Palermo, you ask?

Palazzo reale

In 1066, the Normans conquered England. In 1072, they moved onto Sicily, nabbing it from the Arabs who had been in power for 2 centuries. (Hence the existing palace they expanded on is also known as the Palazzo dei Normanni.) Three tiers of colonnades house the Sicilian Regional Assembly, which was sitting at the time we visited, so we couldn’t see some of the state rooms. But we got a peek at the amazing …

Cappella palatina

Incredible golden mosaics:

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Geometrical patterns:

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Honeycomb vaulting:

One of the most gorgeously detailed (every surface covered with a mosaic), stylistically interesting (Norman Arab vaulting, Byzantine icons) and best-preserved (it’s 900 years old!) churches I’ve ever seen.

una mostra d’arte

The palace also housed an exhibition of 20th century Italian art. My favourite pieces were these:

  • Renato Guttoso’s Vucciria: the bright colours and the weird perspective aptly portray the crowded sensory overload of the market it’s named for
  • Fabrizio Clerici’s Sonno romano or ‘Roman torpor’: I loved the perspective, the light shafts, the pinky-blue colours and the figures of real Roman statues. He makes something beautiful out of the dead Classical culture (the eviscerated pomegranates, symbol of fertility, and the languid cold statues)

Museo diocesano

If you like saints’ bones, this is for you 😉

Actually, my favourite items weren’t on display; they were the chandeliers with their candy-stick glass flowers shining over the relics:

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Cattedrale di Palermo

The exterior of this 800-year-old edifice was an interesting mix of styles, but the classical interior felt a bit ‘standard’ in comparison.

Teatro Massimo

We got the tour of this slightly dilapidated opera house (the largest in Italy and 3rd largest in Europe!).

First, the auditorium: the beautiful painted panels on the ceiling open out in the summer so the 1,300 guests can get a breath of fresh air. Unlike in many theatres, the stalls seating is not gradated and from the front row you have a better view of the spacious pit than of what’s happening onstage, which is roughly at head-level. All the rest of the seats belong to boxes (6 or 7 per box) or logge: the Royal box a couple of levels up has the best view of the stage and some pretty floral ceiling panels to boot.

We were also shown the round ‘echo chamber’, where the men would retire to smoke and talk business. (What were the ladies doing?) It was good for the latter because the acoustics make eavesdropping impossible, except if you’re right in the middle of the room, in which case your voice reverberates as though you’ve been miked up.

Ristorante ‘a cuccagna

www.acuccagna.com

I pretty much had to be rolled back to the hotel after a well-earned feast at this friendly place. The name aptly means ‘abundance’, ‘promised land’ or ‘land of milk and honey’. Recommended:

  • Sicilian antipasti: salami, truffle mortadella, olives, parmesan, THE BEST aubergine ratatouille, bruschetta, croquettes, arancini …
  • frittura di pesce: deep-fried whole mini-squid and some calamari rings
  • Sides: get the rosemary potatoes – a buttery delight

Verdict

Shabby chic?! Let’s say it’s not my favourite Italian town (probably also because my dad got pickpocketed). The poverty and dilapidation are a bit sad. But the food, weather and history – 👌

Part 2 – daytripping to Cefalu’ – can be found here.

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