Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, is one of those cities with a very distinct, almost tangible atmosphere, a place of mystery, where reality often outperforms the traveller’s imagination.
The city has passed from one dominating power to another with remarkable frequency due to its strategic position at the heart of the Mediterranean. The result of this quilted history is evident today in the vast range of architectural styles, the intriguing fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes and in the etymology of the names of many places.
Visiting Palermo is still somewhat of an adventure, some parts of the old town centre have remained untouched since they were bombed during the war. The often faded grandeur of many of Palermo’s wonderful palazzi and churches in the centre gives way to popular areas where the way of life doesn’t fully belong to the 21st century. This is particularly true of the markets, whose Arabic origins are still evident today thanks to their noise, aromas and colours, their narrow streets, the exotic array of food on display and their souk-like atmospheres.
Artistic delights abound at every corner, maybe most strikingly in the Arab-Norman Palermo and its neighbouring cathedrals since 2015 part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Spread over a combined 6,235 hectares and including nine monuments – Arab-Norman Palermo is an outstanding example of a socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. This interchange gave rise to an architectural and artistic expression based on novel concepts of space, structure, and decoration that spread widely throughout the Mediterranean region… The innovative re-elaboration of architectural forms, structures, and materials and their artistic, decorative, and iconographic treatments – most conspicuously the rich and extensive tesserae mosaics, pavements in opus sectile, marquetry, sculptural elements, paintings, and fittings – celebrate the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins”.