A tour of Italy around Palermo and Sicily
If you are in the mood for a European tourist destination, you should consider the island of Sicily, a region of southern Italy. Depending on your own specific interests, this beautiful area might be your ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. And parts of Sicily haven’t yet been discovered by tourists. This article presents Sicily’s capital, Palermo. Companion articles present western Sicily and eastern Sicily.
Palermo is Sicily’s capital and largest city with a population of about 700,000. It was founded in the Eighth Century B. C. by the Phoenicians who wanted to take advantage of its natural harbor. This strategically situated city was conquered again and again. For example, in the past this was a Muslim city with two or three hundred Mosques. The period of the Norman occupation starting in 1072 and lasting for well over one hundred years was considered Palermo’s golden age. The conquests continued almost unabated. Palermo was heavily destroyed during the Second World War. To some extent Palermo is still in the hands of a conqueror, the Mafia.
Start at the Cathedral, built in 1185 on the site of a Byzantine basilica that was transformed into a mosque by the Saracens in the Ninth Century. Other historic churches worth visiting include San Giovanni dei Lebbrosi, San Giovanni degli Eremiti, and the Greek Orthodox church La Martorana. Many churches and other buildings are situated in or near beautiful parks. The Teatro Massimo (Great Theater) is the largest opera house in all Italy. The movie Godfather Part III included a famous scene, violent of course, that occurred on the Teatro’s steps.
The Palazzo Reale was the seat of government for centuries. It is now the home of the Sicilian Parliament. The Palatine Chapel was the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily. Its mosaics are well worth seeing. The building and its furnishings are a great combination of Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman styles. Don’t miss the Salinas Regional Museum of Archeology with its prehistoric cave drawings. Then for a change of pace visit the Museo delle Marionette many of whose marionettes are hundreds of years old.
Finish your tour at the Piazza Pretoria (Pretoria Square). The fountain that dominates the square is decorated with hundreds of sculptures whose lack of clothing led to the name, “Fountain of Shame”. We suggest that you see this square at night. Sicily has always adapted foreign foods to come up with Sicilian versions. Put together all these foreign influences and you have the unique Sicilian cuisine. See our companion article I Love Touring Italy – Palermo, Sicily for a sample menu and more information on local wines as well as an in-depth examination of its tourist attractions. Marsala DOC, which was first exported to England well over two hundred years ago, is Sicily’s best-known wine. Most Marsalas are sweet; some are great, others are not.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but between you and me, he prefers drinking fine German, Italian, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He teaches various classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com and his Italian travel website www.travelitalytravel.com .
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