Palermo city guide

Palermo is the capital of both the province of the same name and of the entire island of Sicily. It is also, with just under 700 thousand people, the fifth largest city in Italy in terms of population. The city is located on the northern coast of the island. Thanks to invasions by different peoples, all of whom have left their influences behind, the city makes an extremely eclectic impression.

All about Palermo

Tourist information

Cathedral palermo
Cathedral

Region: Sicily. Province: Palermo. Postal code: 90100. Area code: 091. Town Hall: Palazzo delle Aquile, Piazza Pretoria, 1 (tel. +39 0917401111). The city’s tourist office is called C.I.T. (Centro di Informazione Turistica). There are six offices, which can be found near the city’s main attractions. Four of them are open only in the morning and early afternoon. The C.I.T.’s Bellini and Cavour are also open in the afternoon and early evening.

Public transportation to/from Palermo

The official name of the nearest airport is Aeroporto Falcone e Borsellino (but is generally called Aeroporto Palermo-Punta Raisi) and is located 35 kilometers (31 miles) near the town of Cinisi. There is a direct train connection to Palermo by the so-called Trinacria Express train. The A29 freeway towards Trapani also leads to the airport.

There are 10 railroad stations of various sizes in Palermo. The most important was built in the 19th century and is simply called Stazione Centrale.

The city’s largest port is called Porto Civile. It is here that passengers from the big cruise ships come ashore. Outside of this port, there are a large number of smaller tourist ports and some fishing ports.

Public transport inside Palermo

There are four different ways to travel around the city. The local train system consists of two lines, one of which goes to the airport. Bus transportation within the city is provided by the company AMAT. Some lines also go to communities outside Palermo. Since 2015, the city also has four streetcar lines. AMAT is also responsible for car sharing.

Tourist attractions

Cappella Palatina Palermo
Cappella Palatina

The Palazzo dei Normanni is a huge palace facing the Piazza della Vittoria. The main attraction of this palace is the Cappella Palatina.

The Corso Vittorio Emanuele is popularly called Càssaro and is the oldest street in the city. It runs slowly downhill from the Porta Nuova at the top of the hill to the Porta Felice, which is near the coast. What is unusual about this street is that many other streets open onto it, but it is only crossed by two roads. These are the Via Roma and the Via Maqueda. The intersection with this second street is marked by some historic buildings erected in a Baroque style.

Along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele you can find various attractions such as the San Giovanni degli Eremiti Church and the Piazza Bologni, with its baroque buildings.

Other attractions are the Teatro Massimo and the Cathedral. The most famous museum is the Museo Archeologico Regionale.

The San Domenico Church and the Martorana Church are also worth a visit.

A beautiful view can be had from the so-called Passeggiata delle Cattive (“Weeping Women’s Path”). This is a terrace on the city walls near the Porta Felice overlooking the sea. It was built in the 17th century and can be reached by stairs from Piazza Santo Spirito. The sad women were widows who were seen as prisoners (captivae, in Latin) as a result of the grief caused by the mourning period.

Curiosities

Palermo was founded as early as the 7th century BC. The name derives from Greek (Pánormos) and more or less means “large port”. Around the 11th century, Arab influences caused the letter n to change to an l. Other names by which the city was known were Phoenician Ziz and Arabic Madinah, meaning “city.”

Shopping in Palermo

Galleria delle Vittorie

The Galleria delle Vittorie is Palermo’s most famous shopping arcade. The building was inaugurated on October 2, 1935, which is also reflected in the futuristic architectural style that was in vogue during the fascist period. The intention was to imitate other already existing Italian shopping malls. The five-story square building has an entrance on each side. Above each entrance are fascist murals.

Markets

The oldest, largest and most famous market in Palermo is called Ballarò and is located near the Casa Professa in Piazza Ballarò. The market spreads between Piazza Casa Professa and the bastions of Corso Tukory. The neighborhood where the market is located is nowadays quite prestigious.

The Vucciria Market is held in Piazza Caracciolo.

Day trips province of Palermo

The town of Bagheria is nicknamed “city of the villas”. Corleone is one of the bigger towns in the central part of the province.

A brief history of Palermo

Palermo was founded as early as the 7th century BC. The name comes from Greek (Pánormos) and more or less means “great port.” Around the 11th century, Arab influences caused the letter n to change to an l. Other names by which the city was known were Phoenician Ziz and Arabic Madinah, meaning “city.”

Early history

“Sicilian Vespers,” painted in 1846 by Francesco Hayez. The painting can be seen in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.

People must have been living in the area even before the 7th century BC, since prehistoric graffiti has been found on the territory.

During ancient times, Palermo was a Phoenician colony before being incorporated first by Pyrrhus and then by the Romans.

Middle ages

In the 5th century, the region was conquered by the Barbarians. These were in turn overpowered by the Byzantines. The Arabs, in the 11th century, got rid of the Byzantines. The city was declared the Emirate of Sicily and a period of prosperity and splendor followed.

The next occupiers were the Norman Ruggero I and his descendants. These were succeeded by the Swabian dynasty. The high point of this period was the time when Frederick II was in power.

The Sicilian Vespers

In 1282 a popular uprising began in Palermo known as the “Sicilian Vespers”. This was directed against the House of Anjou, which had meanwhile come to power. King Charles ruled with such a heavy hand that he antagonized all population groups. Moreover, he imposed high taxes in order to obtain money for a war against the Byzantine Empire. After an officer searched a Sicilian woman on the way to evening mass (hence Vespers), he himself was stabbed and all the French were killed or chased away.

In 1283, Peter of Aragon was crowned king of Sicily. The Spanish retained power until the end of the 17th century.

18th Century and Later

Starting in the 18th century, the rulers followed each other in rapid succession. Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, Charles III of Spain and Ferdinand IV of Bourbon were the rulers of the island. The latter, as Ferdinand I, even became “King of the Two Sicilies.” (The second Sicily was the southern half of the boot).

In 1860, a revolt against the house of Bourbon ensued and Garibaldi’s troops were welcomed into the city with cheers.

Palermo

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