My first visit to Palermo was a memorable one that far exceeded my expectations
for both the city and the people. I really did not know what to expect as I
booked my ticket to Palermo -- most people in San Francisco made some remark
about pizza or the mafia when I mentioned my upcoming trip to Sicily. I was
pleasantly surprised that Palermo offers considerably more than what my friends
The first hint that Palermo was going to be something unique came before I even
set foot on the ground. From the air, Palermo is beautiful with dramatic
mountains rising sharply from the turquoise sea. Once in the historical part of
the city, it became evident that Palermo is truly a special place.
For me, Palermo's beauty is as much the result of its setting as it is the
city's historical and cultural richness. Palermo's architectural mix is unlike
anything I have ever seen and is a testament to the many cultures that have
inhabited the city in the past.
From the Palazzo dei Normanni to the Teatro Massimo to the Santa Maria
dell’Ammiraglio Church it seemed like everywhere I turned I saw evidence of the
many influences -- Arab, Norman, French, Spanish and Byzantine -- that have made
Palermo such an interesting city. My favorite area for exploring was La Kalsa
with its narrow labyrinthine streets and vibrant street life. The Chiesa di
Santa Maria dello Spasimo was a highlight with towering ailanthus trees growing
up through its unfinished ceiling.
I discovered that Palermo's appeal extends well beyond the city boundaries once
I set out along the coast in a kayak from Mondello Beach. Within a short time
I found myself marveling at the high limestone cliffs as sardines leapt in the
sparking waters ahead of me and delicate, translucent jellyfish swam below. I
visited the hidden, but beautiful "Oil Cave" where the sea is a glowing blue
color and the walls are dotted with small shining minerals.
Finally I can't forget the people of Palermo. In my travels it is rare to find
a population so friendly and accommodating. Despite my lack of Italian I managed
to meet many wonderful Palermians.
The people of Palermo should take pride in their beautiful city and fascinating
history. I will treasure my memories from my time in Palermo and am looking
forward to my next visit.
Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) is an autonomous region of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 25,700 sq. km and 5 million inhabitants.
Towns and Cities
Sicily's principal cities include the regional capital Palermo, together with the other provincial capitals Catania, Messina, Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), Trapani, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Ragusa. Other famous Sicilian towns include Cefalù, Taormina, Bronte, Marsala, Corleone, Castellammare del Golfo Francavilla di Sicilia, and Abacaenum (now Tripi). The regional flag is divided diagonally yellow over red, with the trinacria symbol in the center.
The volcano Etna, is situated close to Catania. Etna is 3,320 m (10,900 ft) high, making it the tallest volcano in Europe. It is also one of the world's most active volcanos.
The Aeolian islands to the north are administratively a part of Sicily, as are the Aegadian Islands to the west, Ustica Island to the north-west, and the Pelagian Islands to the south-west.
Sicily has been noted for two millennia as a grain-producing territory: olives and wine are among its other agricultural products. The mines of the Caltanissetta district became a leading sulphur-producing area in the 19th century, but have declined since the 1950s.
Sicily is well known as a country of art: many poets and writers were born on this island, starting from the Sicilian School in the early 13th century, which inspired much subsequent Italian poetry and created the first Italian standard. The most famous, however, are Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Salvatore Quasimodo, Gesualdo Bufalino and the dialectal poet Ignazio Buttitta. Other Sicilian artists include the composers Sigismondo d'India (from Palermo), Vincenzo Bellini (from Catania), as well as the sculptor Tommaso Geraci.
Noto and Ragusa contain some of Italy's best examples of Baroque architecture, carved in the local red sandstone. Caltagirone is renowned for its decorative ceramics. Palermo is also a major center of Italian opera. Its Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in the world, seating 1400.
Sicily is also home to two prominent folk art traditions, both of which draw heavily on the island's Norman influence. Donkey carts are painted with intricate decorations of scenes from the Norman romantic poems, such as The Song of Roland. The same tales are told in traditional puppet theatres which feature hand-made wooden marionettes.
The 1988 movie Cinema Paradiso was about life in a Sicilian town following the Second World War.
The autochthonous peoples of Sicily, long absorbed into the population, were tribes known to Greek writers as the Elymians, the Sicani and the Siculi or Siceli. Of these, the last were clearly the latest to arrive in the island and were related to other tribes of southern Italy, such as the Italoi of Calabria, the Oenotrians, the Choni, the Opicans, and the Ausonians.
Sicily was colonized by Phoenicians and Punic settlers from Carthage and by Greeks, starting in the 8th century BC. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BC. Other important Greek colonies were Gela, Acragas, Selinunte, Himera, and Zancle or Messene (modern-day Messina, not to be confused with the ancient city of Messene in Messenia, Greece). These city states were an important part of classical Greek civilization, which included Sicily as part of Magna Graecia - both Empedocles and Archimedes were from Sicily. Sicilian politics was intertwined with politics in Greece itself, leading Athens, for example, mount the disastrous Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War.
The Greeks came into conflict with the Punic trading communities with ties to Carthage, which was on the African mainland not far from the southwest corner of the island, and had its own colonies on Sicily. Palermo was a Carthaginian city, founded in the 8th century BC, named Zis or Sis ("Panormos" to the Greeks). Hundreds of Phoenician and Carthaginian grave sites have been found in necropoli over a large area of Palermo, now built over, south of the Norman palace, where the Norman kings had a vast park. In the far west, Lilybaeum (now Marsala) never was thoroughly Hellenized. In the First and Second Sicilian Wars, Carthage was in control of all but the eastern part of Sicily, which was dominated by Syracuse.
In the 3rd century BC the Messanan Crisis motivated the intervention of the Roman Republic into Sicilian affairs, and led to the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage. By the end of war (242 BC) all Sicily was in Roman hands.
The initial success of the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War encouraged many of the Sicilian cities to revolt against Roman rule. Rome sent troops to put down the rebellions (it was during the siege of Syracuse that Archimedes was killed). Carthage briefly took control of parts of Sicily, but in the end was driven off. Many Carthaginian sympathizers were killed-- in 210 BC the Roman consul M. Valerian told the Roman Senate that "no Carthaginian remains in Sicily".
For the next 6 centuries Sicily was a province of the Roman Empire. It was something of a rural backwater, important chiefly for its grainfields which were a mainstay of the food supply of the city of Rome. The empire did not make much effort to Romanize the island, which remained largely Greek. The most notable event of this period was the notorious misgovernment of Verres.
In AD 440 Sicily fell to the Vandal king Geiseric. A few decades later it came into Ostrogothic hands, where it remained until it was conquered by the Byzantine general Belisarius in 535. But a new Ostrogoth king, Totila, drove down the Italian peninsula and then plundered and conquered Sicily in 550. He in turn was defeated and killed by the Byzantine general Narses in 552. Sicily was then ruled by the Byzantine Empire until the Arab conquest of AD 827-965. For a brief period (662 - 668) during Byzantine rule Syracuse was the imperial capital, until Constans II was assassinated.
The cultural diversity and religious tolerance of the period of Muslim rule under the Kalbid dynasty continued under the Normans who conquered the island in 1060-1090 (raising its status to that of a kingdom in 1130), and the south German Hohenstaufen dynasty which ruled from 1194, adopting Palermo as its principal seat from 1220.
Conflict between the Hohenstaufen house and the Papacy led in 1266 to Sicily's conquest by Charles I, duke of Anjou: opposition to French officialdom and taxation led in 1282 to insurrection (the Sicilian Vespers) and successful invasion by king Peter III of Aragón.
Ruled from 1479 by the kings of Spain, Sicily suffered a ferocious outbreak of plague (1656), followed by a damaging earthquake in the east of the island (1693). Periods of rule by the crown of Savoy (1713-20) and then the Austrian Habsburgs gave way to union (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The scene in 1820 and 1848 of abortive revolutionary movements against Bourbon denial of constitutional government, Sicily was joined with the kingdom of Italy in 1860 following the expedition of Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1894 labour agitation through the radical Fasci dei lavoratori led to the imposition of martial law.
Despite some economic development in the half-century after Italian unification, Sicily was largely bypassed by the industrial growth which transformed the larger urban areas of northern Italy. The organised crime networks commonly known as the mafia extended their influence in the late 19th century (and many of its operatives also emigrated to other countries, particularly the United States); partly suppressed under the Fascist regime beginning in the 1920s, they recovered following the World War II Allied invasion of Sicily.
An autonomous region from 1946, Sicily benefited to some extent from the partial Italian land reform of 1950-62 and special funding from the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, the Italian government's Fund for the South (1950-84). The island returned to the headlines in 1992, however, when the assassination of two anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino triggered a general upheaval in Italian political life.
In the broadest sense of the term, Sicilians are those people who live in or whose ancestors lived in Sicily.
Sicily has been long known as a "melting pot" of ancient cultures and peoples, and highly valued for its location. The inhabitants of the island are therefore descended from numerous peoples, mainly Greeks, Italians, Phoenicians, Saracen Arabs and the pre-colonial indigenous peoples known as Sicans/Sicani (generally residing in the west of Sicily and possibly an Iberian tribe), the Elymi, and the Sicels/Siculi (residing mostly in the eastern portion of the island and probably an Italic tribe).
There is also the presence of Norman, Lombard, Provençal, Aragonese and Castilian blood in some Sicilians, due to either conquest of, or migration to, the island.
A common presumption about the peopling of Sicily has been as follows:
Sicilians residing in the east, southeast, and northeast portions of the island are primarily of Greek (and probably Sicel) descent. Cities such as Syracuse (Sirakousa), Messina (Zankle), Agrigento (Akragas), and Taormina/Giardini-Naxos, were originally Greek settlements. In the southwest, west, and northwest of the island, the inhabitants are primarily of Phoenician/Arab and Sican descent. Cities such as Trapani and Palermo were Phoenician settlements.
However, a recent genetic study (, Department of Biology, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, Italy) rejects the above assertions:
The genetic distance matrix used for identifying the main genetic barriers revealed no east-west differences within the island's population, at least at the provincial level. FST estimates proved that the population subdivision did not affect the pattern of gene frequency variation; this implies that Sicily is effectively one panmictic unit. The bulk of our results confirm the absence of genetic differentiation between eastern and western Sicilians, and thus we reject the hypothesis of the subdivision of an ancient population in two areas.
The few Sicilians with Norman or Spanish blood are found mostly in the large northern cities such as Palermo and Cefalu. Sicilians of Lombard descent are to be found primarily in the centre and central-east of Sicily, in towns such as Piazza Amerina, Nicosia and Aidone, where a Gallic-Italic dialect is spoken to this day. There were also significant Lombard settlements in Randazzo and Paternó in the middle ages. San Fratello, in the Province of Messina, was the destination of a large contingent of mercenaries from Provence in the middle ages, and to this day, the San Fratellans speak a unique Provençal-Sicilian dialect.
Sicilians are noted for having very dark and expressive eyes; "the eyes of Sicily".
Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian, a separate Romance language, descended from Vulgar Latin, with Greek, Arabic, French, Provençal, German, Catalan and Spanish influences. It is important to note that Sicilian is not a derivative of Italian. Although thought by some to be a dialect, Sicilianu is a distinct language, with a rich history and a sizeable vocabulary (at least 250,000 words), due to the influence of the different conquerors of, and settlers to, the island. Sicilian dialects are also spoken in the southern and central sections of the Italian regions Calabria (Calabrese) and Puglia (Salentino); and had a significant influence on the Maltese Language, which was a part of the Kingdom of Sicily (in its various forms) until the late 18th century. With the predominance of Italian in Italian schools, the media, etc., Sicilian is no longer the first language of many Sicilians. Indeed, in urban centers in particular, one is more likely to hear standard Italian spoken rather than Sicilian, especially among the young.
Sicilian generally uses the word ending [u] for singular masculine nouns and adjectives, and [a] for feminine. The plural is usually [i] for both masculine and feminine. By contrast, in Italian masculine nouns and adjectives that end in [o] in the singular pass to [i] in the plural, while the feminine counterparts pass from [a] to [e].
The "-LL-" sound (in words of Latin origin, for example) manifests itself in Sicilian as a voiced retroflex plosive with the tip of the tongue curled up and back, a sound which is not part of Standard Italian. In Sicilian, this sound is written simply as "-dd-" although the sound itself is not [d] but rather [?]. For example, the Italian word bello is beddu in Sicilian.
In numerous villages, the Arbëreshë dialect of the Albanian language has been spoken since a wave of refugees settled there in the 15th century. While it is spoken within the household, Italian is the official language and modern Greek is chanted in the local Byzantine liturgy. There are also several areas where dialects of the Lombard language of the Gallo-Italic family are spoken. Much of this population is also tri-lingual, being able to also speak one of the Sicilian dialects as well.
Empedocles (c. 490 BC – 430 BC), scientist and philosopher
Diodorus (1st century BC), historian
Gorgias (c. 483 BC &ndash 375 BC), sophist, philosopher, and rhetorician
Archimedes (c. 287 BC – 212 BC), scientist
Frederick II (1194 – 1250), Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily (Frederick I of Sicily)
Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835), opera composer
Francesco Crispi (1819 – 1901), politician
Giovanni Verga (1840 – 1922), novelist
Luigi Pirandello (1867 – 1936), dramatist
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896 – 1957), writer, poet
Palermo (Palermu or Palemmu in Sicilian) (population 680,000) is the principal city and administrative seat of the autonomous region of Sicily, Italy as well as the capital of the Province of Palermo
Palermo was founded in the 8th century BC by Phoenician tradesmen around a natural harbour on the north-western coast of Sicily. The Phoenician name for the city may have been Zîz, but Greeks called it Panormus, meaning all-port, because of its fine natural harbour. Palermo is widely considered to be the most conquered city in the world, as the following history will show.
Palermo remained a Phoenician city until the First Punic War (264-241 BC), when Sicily fell under Roman rule. The Roman period was one of comparative calm, Palermo coming under the provincial administration in Syracuse. When the Roman Empire was split, Sicily and Palermo came under the rule of the Eastern Byzantine Empire.
This lasted until the 9th century, when Muslim forces from north Africa invaded, taking Palermo in 831 and all of Sicily by 965. The Muslim rulers moved Sicily's capital to Palermo where it has been ever since. In the Muslim period Palermo was a major city of trade, culture and learning, with (it is said) more than 300 mosques. The city was renowned throughout the Muslim world. It was a period of prosperity and tolerance, as Christians and Jews were allowed to live in peace.
In 1060 the Normans launched a crusade against the Muslim emirate of Sicily, taking Palermo on January 10, 1072 and the whole island by 1091. The policy of tolerance continued under the Norman rulers, though the mosques were converted into churches. The resulting blend of Norman and Arab culture fostered a unique hybrid style of architecture as can be seen in the Palatine Chapel, the church San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the Zisa. 
The Norman dynasty did not last, and Sicily in 1194 fell under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. Palermo was the preferred city of the Emperor Frederick II, who is buried in the cathedral. After an interval of Angevin rule (1266-1282), Sicily came under the house of Aragon and later, in (1479), the kingdom of Spain. As the seat of the Spanish viceroy, Palermo grew in population from 30,000 in the mid-15th century to 135,000 on the eve of the plague of 1656. In the 15th and 16th centuries Palermo was adorned with a large number of baroque buildings, many of which still exist today.
Sicily's unification (1734) with the Bourbon-ruled kingdom of Naples as the kingdom of the Two Sicilies inflicted a devastating blow on the elite of Palermo, as the city was reduced to just another provincial city, the royal court residing in Naples. Palermo and its many palaces fell into decay. Palermo was the scene (January 12) of the first of Europe's revolutionary upheavals of 1848 and held out against the Neapolitan crown until May 1849.
The Italian Risorgimento and Sicily's annexation (1860) to the kingdom of Italy gave Palermo a second chance. It was once again the administrative centre of Sicily, and there was a certain economic and industrial development led by the Florio family. In the early 20th century Palermo expanded outside the old city walls, mostly to the north along the new boulevard, the Via della Libertà. This road would soon boast a huge number of villas in the style of Art Nouveau or Stile Liberty as it is known in Italy, many of which were built by the famous architect Ernesto Basile. The Grand Hotel Villa Igeia, built by Ernesto Basile for the Florio family, is a good example of palermitan Stile Liberty. The Teatro Massimo was built in the same period by Basile and his son and was inagurated in 1897.
Palermo survived almost the entire fascist period unscathed, but during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 the harbour and the surrounding quarters were bombed heavily by the allied forces and were all but completely destroyed. Six decades later the city centre had still not been fully rebuilt, and hollow walls and devastated buidings are commonplace.
The importance of Palermo got another boost when Sicily became (1947) an autonomous region with extended self-rule. Palermo again was the seat of a parliament, as it had been in the Middle Ages, and the future looked bright. Unfortunately, many opportunities were lost in the coming decades, due to incompetence, incapacity, corruption and abuse of power.
The reduced importance of agriculture in the Sicilian economy led to a massive migration to the cities, and mostly to Palermo, that swelled in size. Instead of rebuilding the city centre the town was thrown into a frantic expansion towards the north, where practically a new town was built. The regulatory plan for the expansion was largely ignored, as contractors bribed the city officials who themselves profited massively from the "sacking of Palermo", as it was commonly called. New parts of town appeared almost out of nowhere, but without parks, schools, public buildings, proper roads and the other amenities that characterise a modern city. The Mafia played a huge role in this process, which was an important element in the Mafia's transition from a mostly rural phenomenon into a modern criminal organisation.
At the turn of the 21st century, Palermo is still struggling to recover from the devastation of World War II and the damage caused by decades of uncontrolled urban growth. The historic city centre is still partly in ruins, the traffic is horrific, and poverty is widespread. Being the city in which the Italian Mafia historically had its main interests, it has also been the place of several recent well-publicized murders.
Palermo is a city with monumental problems, but is also a city of almost three millennia of history, beautiful palaces and churches, colourful markets, marvelous food and a distinctive cultural identity.
The Cathedral has a heliometer (solar "observatory") of 1690, one of a number1 built in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries. The device itself is quite simple: a tiny hole in one of the minor domes acts as Pinhole camera, projecting an image of the sun onto the floor at solar noon (12:00 in winter, 13:00 in summer). There is a bronze line, la Meridiana on the floor, running precisely N/S. The ends of the line mark the positions as at the summer and winter solstices; signs of the zodiac show the various other dates throughout the year.
The purpose of the instrument was to standardise the measurement of time and the calendar. The convention in Sicily had been that the (24 hour) day was measured from the moment of sun-rise, which of course meant that no two locations had the same time and, more importantly, did not have the same time as in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was also important to know when the Vernal Equinox occurred, to provide the correct date for Easter.
The "solar clock" can be up to 16 minutes fast or slow. The reason for this is explained fully in Main Articles Analemma and Equation of time, but can be summarised thus: the earth rotates on its axis every 24 hours but it also orbits the sun. Thus the sun will appear directly over the same spot increasingly early (or late) each day. The correct track to draw on the ground is a figure 8 rather than a line.
One site of interest is the Capuchin Catacombs, with many mummified corpses in varying degrees of preservation. Close to the city is 600 meter high Monte Pellegrino, with spectacular views of the city, its surrounding mountains and the ocean.
The astonishing stucco work of the baroque sculptor Giacomo Serpotta can be seen in many of the city's churches but his masterpiece must be the Oratorio del Rosario in Santa Cita (or Santa Zita).
The patron saint of Palermo is Santa Rosalia, who is still widely venerated. On the 14th of July, people in Palermo celebrate the "Festino", which is the most important religious event of the year. The Festino is a procession in the main street of Palermo to remember the miracle attributed to Santa Rosalia who, it is believed, freed the city from the Black Death in 1624. The cave where the bones of Santa Rosalia were discovered, is on Monte Pellegrino (see above): when her relics were carried around the city three times, the plague was lifted. There is a Santuario marking the spot and can be reached via a scenic bus ride from the city below.
Before 1624 Palermo had four patron saints, one for each of the four major parts of the city. They were Saint Agatha, Saint Christina, Saint Ninfa and Saint Oliva.
Palermo International Airport is located 32 km (19 miles) west of Palermo. Buses departs roughly every 30 minutes from the central railway station (via Piazza Ruggero Settimo) to the airport, and can sometimes during rush hour take more than an hour.
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