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Palermo | A Cultural Melting Pot

Updated: Mar 23

Settled by the Phoenicians, colonized by the ancient Greeks, conquered by the Romans, invaded by the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards and most recently the Germans, each leaving their mark, to complete the mosaic that is Sicily.

Day 1

Our train from Rome to Sicily arrived in Messina in the early morning and in Palermo close to 4 hours later, partially because the train had to be unloaded from the boat in Messina and that took some time.

We had planned on not renting a car while we were in Palermo. Traffic is brutal, parking virtually non-existent and it’s easy enough to get around by walking or public transportation. The center of Palermo is a pedestrian-friendly area with many streets closed to vehicular traffic.

By 9:30 am we were off the train and only a few blocks from our hotel. While at the station, we oriented ourselves to make our next trip leg seamless then headed to our hotel to leave our luggage. So free of luggage, with camera in hand, we were off to see the sites of the city.

St Cataldo Church, built in the 12th century is an excellent example of Norman-Arab architecture.

The buildings and sculptures found in Palermo are impressive to say the least. In addition to providing a feast for the eyes, many structures also have interesting back stories. One example is the Fontana della Vergogna (Fontana Pretoria) which is presently located in the Piazza Pretoria. Presently? Yes. Presently. It was erected in Florence in 1544 by Francisco Camilliani for don Luigi de Toledo. Falling on hard times, di Luigii sold the statues and fountains which were broken up into hundreds of pieces and transported to Sicily where they can be seen today. Some of the parts got lost and there are fewer statues than there once were. So this fountain which was in the garden of a wealthy Florentine, is moved to a plot of land that is between a church and a nunnery. Some of the nuns were not happy looking at the naked statues and removed what they saw as offensive parts. Thus giving the fountain its nickname - Fountain of Shame.

Next to the amazing Piazza Vigliena with its fabulous Baroque Buildings which date back to the Spanish Occupation.

The architecture is incredible, everywhere you walk, everywhere you look, is an object of sheer artistry.

The Cathedral of Palermo took my breath away.

Exquisite! A masterpiece.

Beautiful on the inside as well, where the shades of white emphasize the architectural details


We opted for a tour of the church which allowed us to climb to the roof where we could walk from dome to tower

And the view of the mountains…. I could spend all day here, if the guide allowed it, but alas he did not

Some buildings are an interesting mix

No laundry facilities in your rental? No Problem. You can use one of these outdoor style laundromats to wash your clothes.

There are 4 old markets in Palermo. Below is the entrance to one of them

Not everything at the farmer's market is edible

The sunset was spectacular and with the cloud formation perfectly accentuated these statues.

Ok by now I was starting to get really hangry. My stomach was growling but it was not yet 7pm when the earliest of the Sicilian restaurants are open for dinner. We read that Pizzaria Frida was good (named after the famous Mexican muralist - Frida Calho), and that it offered vegan options. We dropped by at 5:30 and they asked if we wanted to make reservations for later. We declined, figuring to just return later if we were not lured to another eatery. We got back there a little before 7 and were welcomed in and offered a table. By 7pm there was a line of people clamoring to get in. So glad we got there early.

I knew the pie looked and smelled good but was not prepared for just how good. I live in the NY area and grew up with amazing pizza. My vegan pizza at Fridas was the best pizza I have ever eaten. I ate the whole thing. It had fresh basil, eggplant that melted in my mouth, fresh cherry tomatoes, and the crust that was the most perfect crust airy but not mushy, crispy on the bottom but not over cooked - it was as if I died and went to heaven.

My husband had a more traditional pizza with cheese and meat and savored it. He really is not into cheese-less. He is of the opinion that a cheese-less pizza is flat bread with vegetables…not pizza. At night the Quattro Cianti | Four Corners | Piazza Vigliena comes to life with the delightful sounds of music. A stroll through this area is imperative. And so, after dinner we walked through 4 corners where we were greeted with the most beautiful sounds coming from a violin.

There are 3 old Souk | Bazaar | Marketplaces in Palermo that date back to the Arab occupation within the city walls, the Ballaro, Capo, and the LaVucciria. Each offers fresh produce, fish, delicious street food and typical outdoor market merchandise. The night was still young so we decided to meander through La Vucciria.

Day 2

During October in a southern city, it is always nice to find an urban oasis where there are trees, flowers, various plants, and shade. The Palermo Botanic Garden is one such place and walkable from the city center.

If there is a tree it should be climbed.

We saw a variety of succulents there. One in particular caught my eye because I have never seen an aloe tree before. My experience was confined to the knowledge of the small aloe plants that grow on hills or in a pot in the kitchen near the stove.

As we continued our walk we came upon a fountain with this statue

I love outdoor markets and the Ballaro was all that was expected and more

So many things struck me when I snapped this photo. How is that tiny house accessed? What is the man with the cart planning to build? Why is there a fence on the sidewalk?

Day 3

We started off the day with a trip to Monreale where one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Sicily is located. Cathedrale di Monreale, a marvelous structure in the Byzantine style, packed with iconography is the perfect example of the deference paid to both the Orthodox and Latin sects in the liturgy. Inscriptions and passages are found simultaneously in both Latin and Greek. To get there we took the bus from Palermo, not any old bus, and especially NOT the local bus. Everyone, and we mean “everyone”, said to stay off that particular local bus. Apparently, it is always very crowded and rife with pickpockets. In fact, judging by how emphatic this tip was, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the thieves on that bus have been taking the same wallet from each other for decades. Heeding this advice we took the express bus located across from the main train terminal and had a very pleasant ride up to and from Monreale.

In 2017 we took a three week trip to Crete and during that time we saw prickly pears growing by the side of the road. My husband taunted me and said “go pick one”. I did but I do not recommend it. Hundreds of glass-like shards immediately impaled my hands and took hours to remove. Remembering this experience when we passed a vendor selling prickly pears, my husband suggested this might be a safer way to try them. We purchased two which the seller happily cut for us. They were delicious and buying rather than picking is definitely the way to go.

There have been waves of people from all over the world that have called Sicily home with each bringing its own unique flavor to the area. Recently there have been African immigrants and with them fabulous colorful garments that are available for purchase at the marketplace. Wonderful cottons.

Tastings are available at the markets

Lots of grilling going on at the Markets

It is said, or at least my husband has said, that you can’t leave Palermo without trying arancini (Sicilian rice balls). We stopped at Ke Palle Arancine d'Autore which offers traditional arancini, arancini with meat, fish arancini, baked arancini, vegetarian arancini, vegan arancini, pasta arancini, and sweet arancini for dessert. Each of those categories has several options. With 21 different possibilities, it’s the Baskin Robbins of Rice Balls. So Good.

If you have read any of my previous blogs you will have noticed at least one photo of an Irish Pub. Yes Palermo has one and to honor my husband's Italian/Irish heritage we had a stout birra.

We hope you enjoyed your virtual trip to Palermo | A Cultural Melting Pot. To see more photographs of Palermo:

To continue reading about our recent trip to Sicily by way of Rome please look for our next segment - Trapani - Ornithology and Archeology - Birds and Ruins

If you missed Sicily by Way of Rome please click on the link below

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