Palermo is a 2700-year-old city in of Southern Italy which is highly famous for its history, culture, architecture and food. It is the capital of Sicily which has lots of interesting stories from the past. The local languages are Italian and Palermitano which is a dialect of Sicilian language. The residents are called Panormiti.
The city was founded as “Ziz” by the Phoenicians in 734 BC. Palermo has gone through extensive redevelopment since 1980 and has become one of the best holiday destinations in Italy. The city attracts a lot of tourists from all around the world to enjoy its Mediterranean weather, tourist attractions and the amazing food. If you think that the city is going to be extremely busy like the other famous tourist destinations in Europe, it is not like that. The environment in the city is very calm and relaxing except some crowded markets which is very natural.
Interesting History of Palermo Italy
History of Palermo is highly interesting. The evidence of first human settlement dates back to 8000 BC from the cave drawings. The proper city was formed in 734 BC by the Phoenicians who were maritime traders. In the beginning the city was named as Ziz. The location of the city helped a lot in trading with the people who lived beyond the mountains with the help of a nice and straight road. During the 5th Century BC, the city expanded, and a new part of the city was built which became the new city. At the same time monumental walls were also built around the whole city to protect it from the external threats.
The city became a Greek colony in 276 BC, but it returned to Phoenician Carthage after a year in 275 BC. Roman conquered the city in 254 BC in the first battle of Panormus. When the Roman Empire started to fall, Palermo was controlled by different Germanic Tribes like Vandals and Ostrogothic. The area of Sicily was taken under control around 536 by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. In 904, Arabs took control of the Sicily and turned it into Emirates of Sicily. The Muslim rule lasted for almost 120 years during which Palermo became the capital of Sicily. The Arabs also introduced many agricultural techniques and crops which became the highlights of the Sicilian cuisines. The city flourished as a trade hub and became heavily populated.
In 1072, the Normans attempted a Christian reconquest of the city. It took them 5 months as the city was highly populated with protection walls all around it. Finally, they conquered the city by using war machines and building numerous stairs to cross the walls. Sicily turned into Kingdom of Sicily and Palermo became the capital of the kingdom. The King held his court in the Pallazo dei Normanni. Palermo Cathedral was also built in the same era and the city started to flourish again. In 1194, Sicily fell under control of the Holy Roman Empire and most of the Muslims in the city were expelled. Remaining Muslims also left the city and the population of the city decreased.
Palermo was also ruled by the kingdom of Spain from 1479 to 1713. It came under Savoy control in 1713 and went back to the Kingdom of Spain in 1717. In 1718, it again came back to the Savoy control. Later it was also ruled by Austria from 1720 to 1734. The Kingdom of two Sicilies were founded in 1816, Palermo was again the capital in it. After a year, the Capital moved to Naples. Sicily suffered a lot by the unrest caused during 1820 to 1848. A new parliament and constitution were enforced and Ruggero Settimo became the first president. Palermo was again conquered by Austria in 1849. In 1860, General Giuseppe Garibaldi captured the city with his troops. Sicily and the city of Palermo became the part of new Kingdom of Italy in 1861 by referendum.
Sicily along with Palermo has seen a dark past due to the mafia wars and some of the government policies. The city was also heavily bombarded during the second World War. However, today Palermo has become one of the top tourist destinations of Italy.
13 Tourist Attractions in Palermo Italy
Piazza Pretoria is located in the center of the Palermo Old town which makes it an ideal place to start the tour of the city. This place is surrounded by stylish palazzos, cafes and restaurants. The Piazza also has a famous fountain which was designed by a Florentine architect in 1554 and was transferred to Palermo in 1557. The Fontana Pretoria has 12 sculpted statues of the ancient Greek Mythological personalities including Zeus, Ares, Apollo and Poseidon. The fountain also has depictions of animals and rivers of Palermo.
Visiting Palermo Old Town
The best place to start the tour of Palermo old town is Quattro Conti, which is considered as the exact center of the old town. It is an open square located right next to the Piazza Pretoria. Quattro Conti was constructed in 1608 and is a marvelous display of beautiful architecture. The square has statues of important figures of Palermo and beautiful marble columns.
Palermo Old Town will take you on a journey back in time where you will witness history in the old buildings, baroque palazzos, fountains and ornamental sculptures. The main streets are linked with narrow alleys which are also shortcuts to many tourist attractions in Palermo. You will see many cafes, bars and boutiques in these streets.
Palermo Cathedral in Italy
Palermo Cathedral was originally constructed in 1185 on the instruction of Pope Gregory I. Since then the church has served many purposes including a mosque and a crypt. Catterdrale di Palermo (Palermo Cathedral) is a blend of many architectural styles including Gothic-Catalan, Neoclassic and Byzantine styles. This architectural variety also depicts the history of Palermo being conquered by different nations. Hence, this is a marvelous structure from inside and outside.
The church is decorated with precious stones and antiques. From the church’s roof, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city, but you have to go early in the morning to be able to reach the roof.
La Martorana of Palermo Italy
La Martorana (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Admiral) is a beautiful religious building in Palermo. La Martorana also features a wonderful variety of architectural styles due to different ruling eras. It is located near to the Quattro Canti in the Piazza Bellini. The main dome of the cathedral features a golden mosaic of Christ. There are frescos and beautiful depictions that decorate the cathedral from walls up to the ceilings.
Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel
These two amazing landmarks are situated at the highest point of the old town which is very near to the Palermo Cathedral. The Norman Palace ( Pallazao Reale or also called as Palazzo dei Normanni) served as the main seat for the Kings of Sicily. The palace was built in the 9th century and is one of the oldest royal palaces in Europe. The palace is a mix of Norman and Moorish architecture and also depicts the royal atmosphere. The central courtyard of the palace is beautifully decorated and is one of the main attractions of the palace. The palace has some wonderful paintings, sculptures and ornaments that decorate the whole place from floors up to the ceilings.
The Capella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) is connected with the Palace and offers a wonderful display of beautiful mosaics and artwork. These exhibits date back to hundreds of year ago and is one of the best-preserved examples of Byzantine architecture in Europe. It was built centuries after the palace in 1132. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Peter and has a central basilica. The walls and ceilings of the chapel are decorated with fantastic mosaics that depict the history and religion.
Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
This beautiful theater is the largest structure of Palermo and was built in the 19th century inspired by the classical Sicilian architecture. This is also located in the Palermo Old town near the port of Palermo. The visiting hours are from 9.30 am to 6 pm. You can also attend and enjoy one of the splendid shows of dance ballets or operas in the evening.
The theater is the largest opera house in Italy and is highly famous because of its acoustic qualities. The theater is also loved by the visitors due to its excellent exteriors and its lavish interiors. The theater is always a busy place so you will need to make reservations before visiting the place. You can take guided tour of the theater and visit the auditorium and boxes as well. This same theater is also famous because of the Godfather movie as the final scenes of the movie were filmed here.
Archaeological Museum of Palermo Italy
The archaeological museum of Palermo is located near the Massimo theater. This museum exhibits an impressive collection of archaeological objects on 3 floors of an old palace. The collections include Etruscan, Egyptian, Roman and Greek works. This museum has a very pleasant display settings with beautiful courtyards which have fountains surrounded with exotic trees. It is a spectacular and a very calm place to visit the history. The admission to Palermo’s archaeological museum is free for everyone.
Capuchin Abbey and Catacombs Palermo
The Catacombs is a very unusual attraction which cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. You can visit this place by reaching underground where you will see an enormous variety of burials and well-preserved bodies from different eras. Yes, it seems a bit weird, but it is true.
The Capuchin Abbey dates back to the 1500s and was dedicated for the use of the Capuchin Monks who would preserve the dead bodies to keep them mummified in their original condition and original garments. You can visit the catacombs and witness around more than 8000 mummified bodies.
Seafood near La Cala Old Port
We have already talked about how famous Palermo is for its food. The seafood is Palermo’s specialty. La Cala Old Port is an excellent place in Palermo to try a huge variety of seafood restaurants. You will also find some Michelin-Starred restaurants at this place. You are truly going to enjoy the food that is blended with tradition and innovation.
There are other main food markets in the center of the city which are close to the attractions of the city. Some of the famous food markets are Ballaro, Vucciria and Mercato di Capo. In these markets you will not only find lush restaurants, but also delicious street food wrapped in traditional environment.
Mercato di Capo of Palermo Italy
Mercato di Capo is the Palermo’s farmer market where you can find a huge variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, goods and souvenirs. It starts at Porta Carini, around 200 meters west of the Massimo Theater. The street food is extremely delicious, and the prices are very reasonable. Try the local cuisine and do not forget to try the Sfincione pizza and the Arancine. There are also many bars near the market.
Mondello Beach near Palermo Italy
Mondello Beach is the closest beach to Palermo. It is not only a great place to get tanned, but it also will mesmerize you with its white sand and the spectacular turquoise waters. It serves as a great venue for getaways and a relaxing environment in the Mediterranean waters. The beach is very famous and also have many restaurants, cafes and bars nearby. Mondello beach does gets crowded at the peak hours but you will always get your space around. You can enjoy a lovely picnic or swim in the crystal-clear waters at the beach.
Mount Pellegrino near Palermo Italy
Mount Pellegrino is located just 5 kilometers away from the Palermo Old Town towards the north. The mountain not only offers a great getaway with pleasant fresh air but also offers spectacular views of the city and the area. This is a wonderful place for hiking adventures. You can also go by a bus which takes you to the top of the hill but working out your legs on the way up is going to give you an added pleasure of hiking. Only try that if you feel totally fit for the climbing.
The nature park at the Mount Pellegrino is famous for splendid top views of the city surrounded by mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. There is also a sanctuary of Saint Rosalia at the mountain. Mount Pellegrino is also a great place to interact with locals as they love to come here for their afternoon picnic or relaxation sessions.
Sicilian wines in Palermo Italy
Sicily has always been famous around the world for its high-quality wines. If you are in Palermo, you will have access to all these famous types and brands. You will find plenty of bars offering famous wines like Marsala, Cerasuola di Vittoria and Carricante. There are many beautiful and picturesque bars in the city where you can have a glass of wine with beautiful views of the city.