Palermo has a thousand faces. It is a city that displaces and attracts at the same time, confusing with its smells, colors and sounds.
With its art en plein air, its museums, baroque churches and alleys that exude history from every stone and from every brick. Palermo is the capital of the Sicily region, and is particularly appreciated by tourists from all over the world who crowd the streets of the city at any time of the year and appreciate its history and popular traditions.
- 1 History and origin of the name
- 2 The Municipality of Palermo
- 3 Monuments and tourist places
- 3.1 Mondello
- 3.2 Monreale Cathedral
- 3.3 Norman palace
- 3.4 Zisa
- 3.5 Quattro Canti
- 3.6 Kalsa
- 3.7 Palazzo Butera
- 3.8 Via Roma
- 3.9 Piazza Marina
- 3.10 Magione Square
- 3.11 Villa Giulia
- 3.12 Martorana Church
- 3.13 Palazzo Riso
- 3.14 Cala
- 3.15 Lo Spasimo
- 3.16 Castello a mare
- 3.17 Capuchin catacombs
- 3.18 Ballarò
- 3.19 Il Capo
- 3.20 Branciforte Palace
- 3.21 Giardino Inglese
- 3.22 Favorita Park
- 3.23 Villa Malfitano
- 3.24 Villa Bonanno
- 3.25 Villa Sperlinga
- 3.26 Villa Trabia
- 3.27 Capo Gallo
- 3.28 Mount Pellegrino
- 3.29 La Cuba
- 3.30 San Giovanni degli Eremiti Church
- 3.31 Antonio Salinas Museum
- 3.32 Sea Museum, Arsenale di Palermo
- 3.33 Cassaro
- 4 Traditions and holidays
- 5 Culture
- 6 Food
- 7 Eventi
History and origin of the name
As with all the lands that have undergone various dominations, Palermo also owes its peculiar cultural history to the bequests of many peoples.
Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Saracens. Under the Normans it was the city of coronation for the numerous sovereigns of Sicily, precisely to this circumstance we owe the titles attributed to the city: already the name “Palermo” tells a millenary drawing that shows how the Sicilian capital has been the object of dominations.
The story begins with the name Zyz which in Phoenician means the flower or the shining one, then the Greeks called it Panormos (all-port) for its peculiar proximity to the sea and the two rivers that flowed inside it.
It was the turn of the Romans who gave their variant in Panormus thus maintaining the Greek name with which they had known the city. Balarm was then the Arabic name of the city, then modified into Balermus, to end then in Palermo: the definitive and actual name of the city. The dialect version Paliemmu is not to be overlooked.
The Municipality of Palermo
Palermo counts 1.3 million inhabitants, is the fifth largest city in Italy. In its immediate vicinity numerous small-medium centers on the Tyrrhenian coast are connected with the capital. A quarter of the Sicilian population is concentrated in the area of the city of Palermo.
Monuments and tourist places
Art in Palermo can be found everywhere: even when you’re not expecting it! The city, indeed, received from MIBACT, an important recognition: Palermo has been proclaimed Italian Capital of Culture for 2018, after the recent title of Italian Capital of Youth in 2017.
Therefore, the race of the capital towards a rebirth continues; it starts from the youth of the city, passing from culture. Unesco first, in 2015, with the Arab-Norman itinerary of Palermo, Monreale and Cefalù, a world heritage site. Then, 2016, the year of Palermo Città Universitaria, including those who chose it as a venue for studies, accepting shortcomings and benefits. A road that does not stop and that involves every sector.
Palermo, whose name means “all-around port”, is well known for its splendid sea, easily reachable by public transport, bike or car. Among the most popular seaside areas is Mondello, a long sandy coastline that offers various rental services and gastronomic shops for all tastes.
A pearl loved by tourists from all over the world is the nearby Cathedral of Monreale, which is located a few kilometers from Palermo and which is a significant work of art for all of humanity, so much so that it has become part of the UNESCO heritage.
In the heart of Palermo, within the historic center of the city, is the Palazzo dei Normanni, one of the most visited buildings in all of Sicily. Tourists, but also regular visitors, love to cross the threshold of the Palazzo dei Normanni because they can breathe the millenary history and formality, since it is now the seat of the ARS (Sicilian Regional Assembly).
The Palatine Chapel, which means chapel of the Palace, is a jewel of Palermo as it shows inside the fruit of the main artistic currents of Sicily through very rich mosaics of every color and shape.
We have already told you that the origin of the name of Palermo is Zyz which in Phoenician means the shining. The explanation of the name can be found by visiting the Zisa, a monument that “shines” with a very special richness. Worth a visit are its lush gardens.
Inside the Zisa is the Castle, a monument that shows interesting engineering solutions. It is a masterful example of Arab architecture and its interiors, after careful restoration, once more testify to the Norman culture.
Palermo was born with a precise and geometric division of roads: the Quattro Canti represent an octagonal square at the intersection of the two main roads of Palermo: the Via Maqueda and the Cassaro, today Via Vittorio Emanuele.
La Kalsa is a neighborhood where you can breathe the true essence of Palermo. Legends are intertwined with the real story: it is said that a girl who was on the balcony to water her wonderful flowers, fell in love with a Moor from the sea.
A love story was born that ended with the head of the severed Moor: the young girl had discovered that her lover had family in her homeland. Hence the legend of the Moor’s heads, prominent decoration of the Sicilian artistic tradition.
Palazzo Butera was redeveloped on the occasion of Manifesta, the European nomadic biennial of contemporary art and culture that was held in Palermo in 2018. The palace is located in the ancient Kalsa district and belonged to the noble Branciforte family.
We could call Via Roma “the shopping street before the advent of the big shopping centers”. The street connects the Central Station to the Politeama Theater by cutting Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza San Domenico where the church of the same name is located. Liberty style buildings line the whole street.
A stone’s throw from the sea and surrounded by majestic secular trees, Piazza Marina is located in the historic center of Palermo located precisely in the Kalsa district.
On the evening of March 12, 1909, the Italian-American policeman Joe Petrosino was killed in Piazza Marina, and every year there is a commemoration in which the citizens and also the University (which is located in Piazza Marina with the headquarters of the Rectorate) participate.
Piazza Magione (Magione Square) is not only a meeting place for young people who are attracted by the nightlife there in the evening, it is one of the most important squares in the historic center of Palermo. It is located in the Kalsa district and takes its name from the ancient convent that stands nearby.
If you love plants, flowers, trees, paths with a magical atmosphere, the right place for you is Villa Giulia, a public garden in Palermo, located on the border of the Kalsa district, between Via Lincoln and the Foro Italico. An oasis of peace in which to lose yourself among the scents of Sicily.
La Martorana is a church but also a legend of desserts. Who of you has never seen marzipan-colored fruit that spreads especially in the autumn, during the Feast of the Dead? This fruit, cleverly created by the nuns of the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, home of the parish of San Nicolò “dei Greci” gave the name Martorana to the church located in the historic center of Palermo.
Lovers of modern and contemporary art have to visit Palazzo Riso, Museum of Contemporary Art of Sicily is a museum institution in Palermo, in the historic Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
It offers a wide range of exhibitions, always different and for everyone, including children. Among the most appreciated events The butterfly house, a microclimate created specifically to walk among the most beautiful butterflies in the world.
The Cala di Palermo is the best way to reach the sea and walk in the marina. From the ancient port of Palermo to an elegant sea arch lined with modern and elegant nightlife pubs: full of classy bars and restaurants it is a perfect place for a drink at sunset.
The Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo in Palermo is one of the most suggestive in Sicily because it has no roof. An ecclesiastical complex that has a complex and particular history. The lack of the roof is not due to the bombing during the war (as several monuments in Palermo testify) but simply to the lack of funds to finish the construction.
Castello a mare
The Castello a Mare is located in the Cala of Palermo, and was the most important defensive bulwark of the port of Palermo until the 20th century. It is located in the Castellammare Archaeological Park. Today it is home to one of the most popular restaurants, called Castello a Mare, by the Palermo-born chef Natale Giunta.
Palermo shows its esoteric appearance passing through the Catacombs of the Capuchins. Mummies of all kinds, bodies of children, friars and seculars. A particular itinerary that we recommend to those who love the discovery of the underground mysteries.
Palermo is by nature a welcoming land thanks to its variegated origins that still continue to blend into an eternal union of art, culture, tradition and languages. To touch all this, we invite you to stroll through the alleys of Ballarò, a well-known historic market in Palermo, fresh fruit, fish of all kinds, and the typical abbanniate, the calls of skilled merchant sellers, will take you on a mystical journey of discovery of the lifeblood of the city.
The Market of the Cape of Palermo, as well as the other ancient markets, preserves within it the peculiarities typical of an oriental suk, through stalls and small shops of all kinds. You cannot leave Palermo without being completely immersed in an experience at the market: smells, tastes, colors that will bewitch you, making you part of a city that you will carry in your heart forever.
Palazzo Branciforte is one of the jewels of Palermo. Point of attraction both for those who love museums and numismatic collections, and for the architectural ensemble and the history of the building itself.
The English garden of Palermo is one of the most popular and loved parks of Palermo. “Giardino all’italiana” par excellence, covers an area of 60 thousand square meters and was designed by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile.
We could define Palermo a museum-city whose monuments are not only those within well-defined tourist routes.
In fact, art is found in many different facets. The Manifesta event has made Palermo a city of art in all respects, as well as the Italian Capital of Culture 2018. Simple acknowledgments that have given credit to a long work: years of cultural and social requalification have made the city as it is now, free, open, welcoming to all.
The Parco della Favorita is the largest green area of the city of Palermo. It contains the Chinese Palazzina, a work without equal. It was created in 1799 by Ferdinand III of Bourbon. Today it is a favorite destination for sports enthusiasts who like to run inside and play sports thanks to the support of specific equipment.
In the endless list of palaces in Palermo, Villa Malfitano is also worthy of note, a remarkable residence, rich in history and precious furnishings. Today its spaces are available for all kinds of events and we guarantee that the location is breathtaking!
Villa Bonanno is located at the foot of Palazzo dei Normanni. Unique place to enjoy the warmth of spring days and to recharge your batteries before resuming city tours.
It is in fact a stone’s throw from the Cathedral of Palermo, in the exact spot where the buses pass to visit the city.
Villa Sperlinga is located in the ‘new Palermo’, a garden that welcomes users of all ages. Once surrounded by a stretch of water fed by the Passo di Rigano canal.
Villa Trabia is a large botanical garden located in the center of Palermo, welcoming visitors at all hours of the day thanks to the numerous benches located under the shadow of the centuries-old trees. During the summer season it welcomes events and also students who are looking for some fresh air in the hottest hours.
The Capo Gallo Nature Reserve is a regional nature reserve in Sicily. From the top you can admire the expanse of the clear Palermo sea. It is a destination for excursions, trekking and artistic itineraries because on the top there is Isravele, an old hermit, who periodically opens the doors of his sanctuary in exchange for brushes, canvases and colors.
Monte Pellegrino is the promontory of Palermo. At the top is the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, a destination for pilgrims at any time of the year, the so-called “acchianate”, walking routes to reach the sanctuary of the Saint called “Santuzza”.
The Cuba is located in Palermo within the homonymous district; it is a building belonging to the Arab-Norman itinerary and waiting to be included in the list of UNESCO heritage of Palermo.
San Giovanni degli Eremiti Church
The Church of S. Giovanni degli Eremiti of Palermo is located a stone’s throw from the Quattro Canti and is one of the most visited buildings by tourists from all over the world because it is located next to the church of Martorana, also a destination for great visits.
Antonio Salinas Museum
For lovers of archeology we recommend a visit to the Regional Archaeological Museum “Antonio Salinas”. Among courtyards with lush plants and a fountain with nice tortoises, you can enjoy a museum full of particular pieces.
Sea Museum, Arsenale di Palermo
Opened in 1997, the Arsenale della Real Marina is a monument of Palermo. It is located in the area of the city’s Shipyards and it’s used to display temporary exhibitions and the Sea Museum. It could not be otherwise: a city that owes its name to its proximity to the sea deserves a dedicated museum.
Today it is Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, but in the beginning it was the Cassaro, the oldest street in Palermo. Today it is full of shops of all kinds and is loved by tourists who enjoy long walks in the shelter of centuries-old buildings. The heart of this street is the Quattro Canti.
Traditions and holidays
There are many festivities and events in Sicily: in the province of Palermo there is a calendar full of events with history and tradition. The inhabitants of Palermo are divided between sacred and profane feasts, the result of a long history of different dominations and different cults. Indeed, it is not uncommon to mix Christian worship and a mere pagan festival, as it happens during the feast of Santa Rosalia, which is celebrated every year on 14 and 15 July.
The feast of Santa Rosalia in Palermo is the sacred and profane event par excellence. Rosalia has entered everyone’s heart. When she was very young she did not accept an imposed marriage, she preferred the hermitage and for years lived between the Quisquina and Monte Pellegrino; she died in a cave, and then after centuries, she was made a saint.
The Sicilian puppets (I pupi)
Recently recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and immaterial heritage of humanity, it is the puppet theater. A world-renowned show for the stories of bandits and saints, Shakespearean dramas and above all the hugely popular stories of the champions of France.
It is not only children who love puppets, even for adults it is an art to be saved and passed on. For this purpose, in Palermo numerous associations were born to save the secular tradition of the Puppet Theater, such as the Figli d’Arte Cuticchio Association or the Marionette Museum, located in Piazza Marina, which has the purpose to pass on this art thanks to promotion and knowledge.
If Palermo is the Italian Capital of Culture for 2018 this is not a case. Many virtuous examples of a varied and suitable cultural proposal for everyone. No one, in fact, is excluded: there are many events dedicated to children, training events, games, theme parties.
The Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa (formerly Officine Ducrot) is a former industrial area of Palermo which has now been redeveloped and used as an exhibition space for theatrical, musical, cinematographic events and cultural initiatives of all kinds.
During the year, the Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa host various initiatives, from exhibitions to conferences to film festivals. Most of the initiatives are aimed at the integration of foreign minorities, an integral part of the fabric of the city.
The University of Palermo, founded in 1806, with its more than 40,000 members is one of the 11 mega Italian universities. It offers a varied educational offer that is renewed every year and offers its members numerous extra disciplinary activities. The intention of the University of Palermo is to create professional skills to serve the city.
A university is inclusive if, in addition to welcoming local students, it also offers many opportunities to foreign students. The University of Palermo in this regard is at the forefront: already at the beginning of 2019 courses, 350 students from all over the world were welcomed with the Erasmus project.
Great welcome from the rector and university staff, but most importantly great commitment on the part of the student colleagues to integrate the new students through parties, events and help with the courses of studies. The university usually organizes the Erasmus Welcome Day, a day of welcome for students who carry out a period of study or internship to present the services made available by the university and the city that will become a welcoming home.
Make yourself comfortable and prepare your bellies: Palermo is the home of good food, millennial recipes, reinterpretations and desserts, from breakfast to dinner, passing through various snacks, the city is savored bite after bite. Advices are useful up to a certain point: you have to take your chances if you want to discover beautiful culinary realities. Every corner of Palermo has some surprises: sweets, fresh fruit juices, street food of all kinds and local, bars, trattorias, restaurants for all budgets.
On the street food of Palermo you could write a book, of off course recipes. A single tip, let yourself be guided by the scents! Fries of all kinds, flavors of the oldest tradition, so on and so forth! A small list to whet your appetite: the sfincione, the bread with the meusa, the arancine rigorously accinate or to throw, the stigghiola or the quarume. Good gastro-tour!
Palermo offers a varied cultural offer, it is a lively city full of activities, parties, dinners, exhibitions, free shows, guided tours and unusual discovery routes. The month of October, for example, is characterized by the festival The streets of treasures, among the greatest Italian Festivals dedicated to the enhancement of the cultural, monumental and artistic heritage of Palermo and Sicily.
But on a daily basis it is possible to find, even just walking through the streets, events not to be missed. As the holiday season approaches, the Christmas markets will begin, where you can immerse yourself in the typical atmosphere of lights and decorations. The weekends are particularly rich: fairs, shows, tastings.
We have already said that Palermo is a city of integration and reception par excellence. One more reason to host the Gay Pride, over the years renamed Palermo Pride, an international march for rights, which while maintaining the theme of claiming the rights of the LGBT movement, has decided to choose and incorporate the theme of reception and integration. Borders as human frontiers, migrations as a not just geographic crossing: from one place to another, but also from one identity to another.