PALERMO. An ancient Phoenician base, Palermo became a Roman city in 253 A.D. After the Barbarian invasion, it was dominated, in turn, by the Byzantines, the Arabs, an We will begin our tour of the town at the richly ornamented Porta Nuova, at the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. To the right, in the middle of a vast garden, stands the Palazzo Reale, built by the Norman King Roger II, from whose-time nothing remains on the outside, but the Tower of S. Ninfa; the vast facade was rebuilt during the Baroque period. We enter a handsome 17° century Courtyard, from which a great staircase leads to the Cappella Palatina, the jewel of ArabNorman art (1140) with delightful mosaics on a gold ground which shines in the rich and and mysterious half-light and with a wooden ceiling in the central nave, which is a splendid example of Arab workmanship. On the next floor are the royal apartments with Baroque and neoclassical decorations.
Leaving the palace, we come to the nearby church of S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, which was likewise built by Roger II. Its round red domes and the luxuriant, tropical vegetation of the enchanting cloister evoke the delicate image of some distant corner of the Orient. We proceed to Piazza della Vittoria, where we see the superb Palazzo Sclafani, whose noble 14° century facade faces Piazza S. Giovanni. We return to Corso Vittorio Emanuele and arrive in Piazza della Cattedrale.
The Cathedral, which dominate this square, has been built and rebuilt in several styles over the centuries. The original building dates from 1185, but the dome, beautiful in itself, though out of keeping with the rest of the edifice, was built by the architect Ferdinando Fuga at the end of the 18° century. On the right side, there is an impressive Gothic arcade and an elaborate Portal by Gambara (15° century). The facadeo dates essentially from the 14° and 15° centuries and is connected by two pointed arches with the curious bell-tower opposite, which was restored in the 19° century.
The interior, unfortunately restored by the architect of the dome, Ferdinando Fuga, contains the majestic, but solemn, Tombs of the Norman and Swabian Kings, of which the most important is that of Frederick II of Swabia, the greatest monarch in Europe after Julius Caesar. We now continue down Corso Vittorio Ema-nuele, towards the centre of town. To the right, we have the church of S. Salvatore with a lavish interior, and further on the church of S. Giuseppe dei Teatini, richly adorned with marbles, frescoes and stuccoes. We have thus reached the Quattro Canti (Four Corners), the scenographic crossroads of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and the magnificent Via Maqueda the heart of Baroque Palermo. Across Via Maqueda, on the right side, we come to Piazza Pretoria where, apart from the monumental Tuscan Renaissance Fountain, we sec the facade of the Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall). In the adjacent Piazza Bellini, we find the churches of S. Caterina, an elegant, purely Baroque edifice, and S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio (known as La Martorana) which behind its Baroque facade preserves a splendid Norman interior (1143) with Mosaics, interrupted here and there by interior 18'° century frescoes. We must sec the charming Cloister and note the elegant 12° century Bell-tower, the most beautiful Arab-Norman structure in Palermo, before visiting the nearby church of San Cataldo (1160), another masterpiece of Arab-Norman architecture, with an austere interior and three red domes in Saracen style. We then go back to Via Maqueda and, following a small lane, across this street, we come to Piazza Quaranta Martiri where stands Palazzo Marchesi with a magnificent Gothic Courtyard and a l5° century Tower which rises next to the Baroque bell-tower of the adjacent Casa Professa (or Gesu). We now return to Piazza Bellini, from where we take the Discesa dei Giudici and, past the church of Sant'Anna. continue straight to Piazza Rivoluzione and the nearby Palazzo Aiutamicristo, which has a magnificent Portico in the courtyard. Behind the Palace is the church of SS. Trinita (also called the Magione), from which we will go in the direction of the harbour, through the ancient Arab quarter of the Kalsa. In Via Torremura we pass the church of S. Teresa and, at the corner of Via Alloro, the church of Madonna della Pieta, with the most beautiful Baroque facade in Palermo which resembles that of churches in Rome of the same period. Along the narrow old Via AItoro lined with beautiful palaces, we come to the Gothic-Renaissance Palazzo Abbatellis with a Tower. The Palace houses the National Gallery of Sicily where we may admire the fresco, Triumph of Death, from the second half of the l5° century, paintings by Antonello da Messina and his school, by Gossaert, and by Garofalo, ceramics and sculpture by Giunta, Pisano, and particulary the magnificent bust of Eleonora of Aragon, by Lantana,
Not far from the Museum is the Church of S. Maria degli Angell (known as La Gancia) with a 15° century- Invade and a richly decorated interior. On the right side of the nearby Piazza Marina stands the 14° century Palazzo Chiaramonte and near the harbour, the church of S. Maria della Catena.
Returning to Piazza Marina with the Garibaldi Gardens in the centre, we notice the Palazzo San Cataldo and the small church of S. Maria dei Miracoli, both built in Renaissance style. Along Via Merlo we come to the magnificent Gothic church of San Francesco d'Assisi (13th century) with a fine rose window in the facade and beautiful Renaissance choir-stalls and sculptures in the interior. Near by is the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, whose stucco decoration of the interior is the masterpiece of Giacomo Serpotta.
It should not yet be too late in the afternoon to take a trip to Monte Pellegrino or to the ruins of SOLUNTO, an ancient GraecoRoman city on the sea at Cape Zafferano near Bagheria. On our second day inPalermo, we will start from Piazza Quattro Canti and walk down from Maqueda to Piaz On the way back, we go to Piazza Olivella, to visit the National Archaeological Museum. Set in a former convent with lovely rooms and courtyards, it contains the most remarkable and important collection of Greek antiquities in Italy with countless sculptures, mosaics, ceramics. coins, and, above all, the celebrated Metopes from the temples of Selinunte.za Verdi and the Teatro Massimo, to have a look at the modern town.
Leaving the Museum, we go to the Piazza San Domenico with the beautiful Baroque church of San Domenico and from there to S. Maria la Nuova (16° century).
In the afternoon, we will first visit the Palace known as La Zisa, one of the few secular buildings remaining intact from the Norman period, which we reach from Porta Nuova by way of Via Colonna Rotta and Via Zisa, Then, taking Via dei Cipressi, we come to the famous Convento dei Cappuccini, once the burial place of the wealthy citiziens of Palermo whose remains, reduced to skeletons, create a scene which is at once gruesome and grotesque. We return to Porta Nuova and follow Corso Calatafimi. At No. 94, inside the Tukory Barracks, we find the Cuba, another Norman palace (1180), which was built on the model of the Zisa and whose dome is visible even from the street.
The rest of the afternoon we will use for visiting the wonderful Cathedral of Monreale. We follow the straight Corso Calatafimi which, climbing slightly, takes us (5 miles from the centre of Palermo) to MONREALE.