Sicily’s historic capital of Palermo has been recognised 2018’s “Italian Capital of Culture”… and for good reason! Throughout its over 2,700-year-old history, this momentous metropolis has continuously established itself as a hub for culture, gastronomy and architecture, making it wholly deserving of its new title. To get a glimpse into the wealth of attractions that await culture enthusiasts, read on.
Whether exploring Sicily’s music, art, gastronomy or nightlife strikes your fancy, there’s no better place to scope out the island’s gems than Palermo. With a history that dates back to 734 BC, this influential city has undergone a series of tumultuous changes, falling under Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine and Arab rule over the centuries, as well as serving as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire for several decades. Today, the city’s old-world facade still serves as a reminder of its diverse range of cultural influences over the years, as evidenced by its unique amalgamation of sights, sounds and flavours.
If you’re planning to immerse yourself in the wide range of attractions that this year’s Italian capital of culture has in store for curious travellers, we at Prestige Holidays have put together a guide to getting an authentic insight into the city’s wonders. Let’s take a look at some of our favourites.
The most telling indication of the city’s diverse mixture of cultural influences is undoubtedly the Cathedral, which was first built around 600 AD. As Palermo changed hands through the ages, the imposing structure underwent countless alterations, restorations and additions until the eighteenth century. As a result it showcases an eclectic variety of architectural styles today, featuring Moorish, Norman, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements.
I highly recommend making the Cathedral your first sightseeing stop; in addition to the structure’s array of stylistic features, its treasury – which notoriously contains Constance of Aragon’s lavishly decorated crown from the thirteenth century – serves as a fantastic introduction to Palermo’s ruling history. What’s more, its roof offers breathtaking views of the whole city and beyond, which are sure to further heighten your eagerness to explore every inch of this extraordinary city.
Mercati di Palermo
The Arabic influences of its past are particularly noteworthy in the city’s myriad markets, the most famous of which are the Ballaro, Borgo Vecchio and the Vucciria. Their set-up, lively atmosphere and range of offerings are reminiscent to those of Arabic souqs/bazaars from which they are thought to have originated in the ninth century. From Monday to Saturday you’ll find myriad artisan products, such as colourful clothing and intricate jewellery, on sale all day… and for remarkably low prices! Most importantly, however, the markets are the best places to sample Sicily’s delectable street food, which includes specialities such as arancina, sfincione and gelato.
Every true opera enthusiast dreams of attending a performance at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo’s – and one of the world’s – finest opera houses. When it first opened its doors in 1897, word of its elegant decor and matchless acoustics spread like wildfire, immediately attracting thousands of visitors from far and near. Since then the venue has hosted many of the brightest stars of opera, including the unrivalled tenor Luciano Pavarotti. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the passion that characterises Italian opera, a performance at the opera house is an unforgettable treat for both your eyes and ears. You’ll have to book your ticket well in advance, however! Alternatively, a guided tour of the building also promises to be a memorable experience.
Catacombs of the Capuchins
For a thrilling – albeit ghoulish – addition to your sightseeing itinerary, be sure to pay the legendary Catacombs of the Capuchins a visit. Initially founded as a cemetery for a Capuchin monastery in the sixteenth century, the site became a major tourist attraction after friars discovered forty-five corpses in nearly pristine condition when they expanded the cemetery. Today an impressive number of mummified corpses are on display to the general public, ranging from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. If you’d like to get a glimpse into Palermo’s past, it certainly doesn’t get any more authentic than this.
Our Recommended Hotel
After spending your days uncovering the cultural landmarks of Palermo, why not let yourself be pampered in the art-nouveau style Grand Hotel Villa Igiea? My team and past clients have nothing but high praise for this five-star hotel, which sits at the foot of Mount Pellegrino and overlooks Palermo Bay. This location is not only idyllic, but also very convenient: both the city centre and the beach in Mondello are only a stone’s throw away. Whether you’d like to treat yourself to a Shiatzu massage, a game of golf or to a meal on the hotel’s own boat, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this opulent oasis of tranquillity… so much, in fact, that going home will be a real challenge. You’ll be sure to miss the attentive staff, the pool, lounges and lush gardens.