Palermo is the capital city of Sicily, a role it took from Syracuse when under Muslim rule around 878 AD. Founded by Phoenicians, it is a port, like all the major Sicilian cities and economic centers, and is located on the north-western part of the island.
It is in a fine naturally protected setting on the slopes of Monte Pellegrino with the attractive harbour below. This location, combined with the rich architectural heritage, make palermo an absolute highlight of a visit to Sicily
Palermo holds a unique place amid cities of the world due to its rich cultural and historical heritage, and also its gastronomy. Due to the historical political conflicts in Sicily, the architecture in Palermo is a mix of Arab, Byzantine, Roman, Norman and modern.
The centre of the city is a fascinating mix of grand palaces, churches and other fine buildings interspersed with narrow streets of crumbling yet beautiful ancient houses - these are as much a highlight of a visit as the more impressive monuments, and what gives Palermo its own very personal character.
Among the historical landmarks of the city, the Palermo Cathedral holds the central position as in the other two major Sicilian cities, Syracuse and Messina. Palermo cathedral is built in Arab-Norman style and is part of a UNESCO listing for Arab-Norman buildings of Palermo.
The cathedral is well worth a visit. Much of it is free but it is definitely worth paying the 7 euro ticket to see the treasury, crypt, royal tombs and the roof. The tombs include those of Frederick II and Roger II. From the roof you will have splendid views over the city and the bay and surrounding mountains.
Palermo's Royal Palace is simply stunning. It is a Norman Palace and today is the seat of the Sicilian Parliament thought once it was palace to the kings of Sicily. It is beautiful but its highlight is the Palatine Chapel which is absolutely covered in gold and coloured 12th century Byzantine mosaics depicting bible scenes. It also has unusual 'muqarnas' ceilings which look like honeycombs and are usuallly found in Islamic architecture.
Palermo has a huge opera house, the Teatro Messimo Opera House, which has been renovated recently and is an active cultural center of the city. It is the third largest in Europe.
Other important landmarks include the Chiesa della Martorana church and the San Cataldo’s Church, The San Cataldo church is another Arab Norman builiding and has three distinctive red domes. The Martorana church contains some fine Byzantine mosaics. The San Giuseppe dei Teatini church is conisdered a key example of Sicilian Baroque and the San Giovanni degli Eremiti church is an interesting blend of Gothic and Arab architecture.
The Archaeological Museum and the Palazzo Abatellis Art Museum are very useful to gain an insight on the history and culture of the city and the region.
Other sites of interest in Palermo are the Palermo Botanical Gardens, the Capuchin Catacombs (a spooky 'display' of long mummified monks) and the panoramic views of the city from the nearby Monte Pellegrino.
Other Palermo information
The feast day of Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of the city, is celebrated on July 15.
Beaches near Palermo include Mondello, which is a very popular beach for summer holidays, Arnella, Cefalu, Pollina, Salinelle and Lascari. On your visit to Palermo, don’t forget to try the local gastronomy to complete the experience of your Sicilian holiday.
2018 is a big year for Palermo as it is the 'Italian Capital of Culture' and also host to 'Manifesta', the European Biennial of Contemporary Art.
Places to Visit Nearby
The Arab-Norman cathedrals of nearby Monreale and also Cefalù are included in the UNESCO listing along with the Arab-Norman buildings of Palermo. The neighbouring town of Bagheria is where the wealthy folks of Palermo built their fancy Baroque villas and is well worth a visit. It is just a short distance further round the coast.