We’ll be back in time- treasures of Sicily (Palermo)

Palermo

Palermo

The route from Selinunte to Palermo takes you past the turn off to my ancestral town of Partanna. I looked twice at the sign as we went by, as if to verify that it in fact exists and my past in part lies here. After that you drive past large and steep mountains along the coast, near the airport and elsewhere. Flat areas lead up to them so you get great views of their breadth and number, not just the height.

The first time I drove in Palermo was back in the 90’s. We rented a car in Luxembourg, driving south to Genoa. I think by then I’d learned that Colombus was actually Colombo, born in this very coastal city, and not Spanish. We went through the Alps to get there, descending to the city through long tunnels on well engineered highways. The Italians do know a lot about road building. We descended to the port to take the ferry to Sicily. We passed Corsica and Sardinia along the way, the latter far off the starboard, and then some coastal islands on the Sicilian coast. I imagined seeing Ulysses float by, tied to the mast. There was no Ulysses on this drive, but a Garibaldi or two instead, with notes of The Leopard floating around there somewhere. Sicily rolls out before us, changed much yet there is much the same.

Castellomare di Golfo, Sicily
We stopped in Castellomare di Golfo for lunch, with wonderful views of the coast

Once in town we easily found our apartment, right across from Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, home of the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, which played in the plaza across the street the next evening. The apartment is in an old building – there are many thousands of those in Palermo. We had a code to get in the main entrance, where we retrieved the key. The apartment is just a floor or two up. There’s an old elevator that stopped a half floor above the apartment door. Once inside we could see that the apartment was built in two buildings, unless strange layouts and a living room on a lower level are somehow typical. The kitchen is one butt wide, stuck in a closet along the hallway.

There’s a bronze four horse chariot at the Teatro entrance, and three bass reliefs. The huge plaza in front affords a broad view of the impressive structure. Cross it and you are on Liberta, the main drag that’s now a pedestrian zone. It has many posh shops and eateries galore. In this area you find several churches that house amazing works of art. You come to Cuatro Canti – Four Corners. Up the hill is the Cathedral with its impressive mosaics.

Perhaps the most impressive art is to be found in Chiesa Gesu ( Gesu means Jesuit), and not just impressive compared to other churches, but it holds its own to any other structure anywhere, even St Peter’s in Rome. Innumerable Ph.D. dissertations are packed into this Baroque structure completed in 1636, measuring a mere 72.10 m compared to St. Peter’s 212m in length.

Gesu, Palermo
Gesu’s amazing decor

It suddenly struck me as equally astounding as the art in Gesu is the complexity of these constructions projects. You have building materials to collect, stone workers to organize, artists to hire and train as well as their materials to find and transport. All of this has to be financed, with monies collected and disbursed. No doubt there were lots of problems, some imposed by nature and others by clever crooks, but here it is today still with us, as astounding as ever.

An example of the exquisite sculpture in Gesu, Palermo
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Gesu has putti galore

Santa Caterina is a veritable art museum for Baroque painters as well as sculptors, and a great bakery to boot, as you find out as you wait in the cloister for the numbers of visitors to subside to safe levels. Lots of pistachio based goodies.

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Hold onto your jaw when you enter Gesu
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Santa Caterina has many paintings and some sculptures, fewer than Gesu.
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Santa Caterina ceiling painting

While our friends were still with us we had some delightful meals as well as some less so. We went to one of our favorite local places. It had declined compared to two years. The same with another we went to after it was just the two of us left. Similarly the famous street market, the Mercato della Vucciria, is all but gone, a victim of the pandemic.

By that time we were tiring of Sicilian food, which had become repetitive. We found a Roman restaurant, named Cacio and Pepe. Cacio and pepe is one of the four truly Roman pasta dishes, served in almost every restaurant in its home city. The food and service at Cacio and Pepe was so good we returned for the final night out for the six of us. Antipasto came out but we had to wait for the wine, which was white and still very warm. They offered to chill it at the table. I turned down the bottle. On a warm night like this one it would probably take 20 minutes to chill a bottle of very warm wine and in the meantime we already had our antipasti. I had them bring another. It was well chilled. Otherwise it was a delightful experience, outdoors in an attractive setting on a side street off Liberta.

The next day our friends departed by train and plane. After checking into a strange little basement apartment we went to the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonino Salinas. We went there in 2019 during our month long sojourn. Immediately I regretted not taking our friends, for it contains many superb items collected from Selinunte.

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Some of the metope from Selinunte
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museo Archeologico

My second regret was not taking them to see more of Serpotta. You can not see his work elsewhere. See some of his superb sculptures, mostly in plaster, see photos and video on my post: https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/the-heights-of-serpotas-art-the-oratorio-santissimo-rosario-in-santa-cita/

We’ll be back in time- treasures of Sicily (Selinunte)

From the Valli dei Templi we drove to the town of Marinella di Selinunte. The town as well as the archaeological site on its door step sit on the coast. We were looking for a B and B called Arcos. After a few hours drive from Agrigento through some lovely scenery we found the street but were unable to find the house. We called while idling in the parking lot at the hotel at the end of the road. I spoke to him but had a hard time understanding. He may have a heavy Sicilian accent, to which I am not accustomed, or he was speaking Sicilian, which even some native Italians have trouble deciphering. We retraced our steps and when we got to the stop light, I told him we were at the ‘semaforo.’ That’s Spanish for stop light. Perhaps it is Italian or Sicilian as well as he then knew where we were, and said he’d come out to the street. We turned around again. There he was a few hundred meters away. We saw that the house had no number, that there is indeed an arch, albeit to nowhere, but it sits behind the gate, invisible from the road. So how are you supposed to find the place? Why would he not resolve the problem- could it have something to do with legal requirements? Italians are notable for the ways in which they avoid taxation, so I would not be surprised that this was exactly the case, as later he refused to provide a receipt for the night.

It’s a lovely place our elderly host has although there’s just one bathroom for the 7 of us. He had to use the same one, thus 7 and not 6, unless he had a facility aside from the one in the house.

As we were unloading our bags in the rooms he told me that he could not find one of the remote control for the air conditioning in one of the rooms. We decided to take that room. I thought that by nightfall it would be cool enough. That proved to be true. Also this way we would not worry about our friends being unable to sleep.

He continued looking around for the remote control. In the process he came back into the room. He asked to enter but before I could say no, he came in. I had no clothes on. Not a huge deal. But a minute later he came in again, without even knocking. I was rather miffed. Then not but five minutes later one of our friends walked in without knocking, as the door was open to allow some air to circulate. I was starting to have a difficult day.

Dinner that night was in town. There were more challenges to come. We managed to drive in the wrong way on a one way street, turned around by people sitting on their front porch facing the port. Then we managed to park too far from the port, where we had just been while going the wrong way, forcing our somewhat hobbled compatriot to walk much farther than necessary. At least it was downhill.

The streets along the way were hacked into the hillside in a maze-like fashion. The route to the sea was not marked. We had to ask a woman who was sitting with neighbors outside in the evening’s cool. She gave us perfect instructions. Keep going down.

We settled on a restaurant in the public square when we finally got there, eating and drinking for an hour or so. As we sat there a priest started to conduct a mass nearby, outdoors and in front of a sort of manger. A small crowd gathered. Perhaps it was a blessing of the fish or some such rather than an ordinary ‘culto.’ At any rate what he was doing could serve for any run of the mill hocus pocus.

Afterwards we went to a nearby restaurant run by a local. His family has had this place for years. He’d spent some time in Australia, spoking English quite well. Good typical Sicilian dishes on a lovely Sicilian coast line night that cooled nicely as the sun set.

The next morning we came to a breakfast table set just outside the ample kitchen. There was coffee – the Italian version, not the American, our host pointed out. It’s a difficult adjustment for people accustomed to a beverage that has a lot more water in it and is not roasted to such a black color. As happened the day before each person had a pastry stuffed with ricotta, a very Sicilian breakfast. Its a far cry from, say, a Dutch breakfast, with hearty bread and slices of cheese and various meats.

The archaeological park is just a few minutes drive. It’s large. On our last visit we were deterred from a complete visit by the distances, so we all selected to take the transportation on offer. You have to walk to the small museum to board, passing by Temple E, one of five temples here. The museum does not have much to offer as almost all the goodies are in the The Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum in Palermo, of which more anon. On our last visit, just two years ago, there was an excellent video that played upon the Greek columns they erected in the large hall, and on the wall behind. This was no longer available, a major disappointment.

Selinunte was an ancient Greek city. There were some 30,000 people at its peak around 490 BCE. There were also Phonecians and native Sicilians in the area.  We know quite a bit of its history. Check out the wiki at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selinunte

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Temple E, its columns now standing upright after spending many centuries on the ground

The Acropolis is at the far side of the park overlooking the sea, a gorgeous location for a temple or any other structure.

The Acropolis in Selinunte
The Acropolis in Selinunte, watercolor
Selinunte Beach at the Acropolis
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The Acropolis

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Sanctuary of Hera
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Perseo e la Medusa, Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum

Our next stop was Palermo. We have a place near one of the main music halls. It’s a beautiful ride. Our place was very easy to find.

I dropped the car off at the rental agency and returned to explore our abode for the next few days. Apparently it stretched between two buildings judging by all the ups and downs in such a comparatively small space. The kitchen is in what must have been a closet. It might have been an afterthought. Other than a microwave it had all the basics. The basics were not in great shape. The moca pot’s handle was broken. The teflon on the pan had been scratched off. These and a few other things would be inexpensive improvements yet our friendly host hadn’t bothered. Soon we were out and about in this busy, friendly and down in the heels ancient city on the sea.

Palermo- a city to visit, a city on the edge

Arpil 2019
 
Palermo has many charms, starting with the friendly people, continuing with the superb church art and architecture, many lovely parks and piazzas, opera, and a ton of diverse history.   To these charms add the Greek temples in Arigento and Selinunte, Erice, Siracusa, Noto and other destinations not far away, and you have a location of major interest to both short and long-term visitors. 

 

Palermo would be a much lovelier city if they could do a better job in the non-tourist areas where they are dreadfully inept at trash removal and street cleaning.  There are some buildings in need of demolition or renovation, and exterior cleaning, but given the size and age of the city I am less concerned with those big dollar projects than the daily need to clean up.   There is chronic labor unrest, and substandard buildings from the 70’s and 80’s that accompanied the depopulation of rural Sicily.  That Sicily largely disabled the Mafia is a vast credit, and it honors those heroes, but corruption of a less invasive type is still an issue.    My sense is that with a big push on the clean up Palermo could be a mighty fine place to live given its location, climate,  and rich heritage, and while that alone would not solve the other matters, it would cure a lingering source of discontent.  

 

 

The parks  

 

 

We are near Giardino Inglese.   To get there we walk on a few less than well maintained streets, along which you pass some fabulous bakeries and pastry shops, and at least two good restaurants we’ve been to, one being Ristorante di Diego which we enjoyed last Saturday night.    Once you get to the parks, you are in a different world – tranquil, clean, beautiful.   You might think you crossed a vast ocean between one place and another given the sharp contrasts. 

 

 

 

Architecture

 

 

Palermo was heavily bombed in WW2.  You can still see some of the effects around the port.   However tere are many palaces in good to excellent condition that are hundreds of years old, and you can pay to see some.  Baroque architecture is common, especially among the churches.  The Arabo-Norman style is unique to Palermo.   See my post on the Palazzon Normani 
 
The main street, Via Liberta, is pedestrian only on weekends, from near us down to the center.  This makes for tranquil strolling and leisure gazing at the buildings, shops and fast food places along the way.  You smell the barbecue wafting from the Ballaro street market.  Here, all roads and, as a result all paragraphs, lead to a place to eat.

 

 

Four Corners

 

 

Piazza Pretoria

Piazza Pretoria


 

 

 

 
 
Palermo is not a top tier city when it comes to art museums.   Given its size, around 800,000 people, that is neither surprising nor unusual.   There is a very good archaeology museum,  the Regional Archeological Museum Antonio Salinas, and there is at least one dig you can visit, Necropoli Punica , taking you back a few thousand years.   There are two modern art museums.  Neither have the resources for major foreign expositions.  You see some of the more well-known Sicilian artists from the 19th c and some of the contemporary artists as well.  
 
From the Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Della Sicilia at the Palazzo Riso:

 

 

 

Death of Duchamp – famous or infamous for his portray of toilet as art

The Last Selfie

 
 

 

Check out my posts on several of the more famous churches.   
 
Photos by Peg

 

 

 

Duomo Monreale

April 20, 2019

Duomo Monreale , also referred to as the Cathedral of Monreale, sits at height over the valley in which Palermo resides.  The views of the city,  the large natural port, and the surrounding urban and rural zones are expansive.  Here’s a video with some good shots of the valley, taking you then to the Duomo and the adjacent cloisters.

 

The cathedral was built under the Norman King Guillermo II, who along with his brother is buried here in a coffin aside a petition near the altar.  Legend would have it that he fell asleep beneath a tree in the nearby forest.  In a dream, Mary told him to build a church here.  They found treasure in the tree’s roots.  The gold financed the  project, which began in 1172.  The result today is a UNESCO Heritage Site, one of Italy’s finest churches.  It is in the Arabo-Norman Style, 102 x 40 meters in size.  The interior is wall to ceiling in what I would call ‘late’ Byzantine style mosaics.  The underlying drawings are a bit more realistic than what you might find in Orthodox churches.  There is not a bare centimeter anywhere in the buliding.  The floors are exquisitely formed patterns in marble.  The arches are Moorish in style as is the external decor.    

There is an extensive wiki so for more about this superb building.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monreale_Cathedral

 

Peg’s photos

 

 

 

 

 

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Chiesa San Agostino and Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro

Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro is a small church originally connected to a secular effort to raise funds for the ransom the religious abducted by pirates. The anteroom  has outstanding frescoes by Guglielmo Borremans.  One is “The escape of St. Peter from the Prison,” the other “The Glory of St. Peter.” There is also “Francis of Assisi,” “Achaio,” “Vincenzo de ‘Paoli,” and “Paolino.”

Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro
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 Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro

Chiesa San Agostino 

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Construction on the Romanesque Chiesa San Agostino (Chiesa di Sant’Agostino) is locally known as Santa Rita.  The building was built in the early 14th century . The rose window has 12 intersecting semi-circles and has an unusual trim that defines the entire otherwise plain facade.  The Gothic portal features arabesques (abstract patterns) and plant motifs. 

stucco statues by Serpotta

 

Necropoli Punica

Necropoli Punica dates to between the city’s founding in 734 BCE as ‘Ziz’ (changed to Pánormos by the Greeks) in 734.  The Necopolis on Corso Calatafimi has an excellent if somewhat technical narrative panel.   You can walk into the dig and one level down into several burial sites.  The site is behind the Norman Palace, placing it between the now diverted rivers Papimeto and Kemonia Rivers.  (‘Punic’ refers to the Carthaginians, who were Phoenician in origin). 

 

The panels discuss the ancient development of the city.  The earliest description of the site dates to the 10th century, by an Arabic geographer.  Archaeological digs show the first area settled to be nearby the Palazzo Normani.  It then goes through the eastward expansion in the 6th c. BCE.  They even discovered the unit of measure used in the layout –  the cubit, 54 centimetes/21.3 inches. 

Human remains were either inhumanted or cremated.  Some remains were found in calcarenite (a type of limestone) slabs, simple trenches, others were laid out in underground tombs.  They show you examples in the dig, including that of a 5-year-old girl.  There are decorative motifs linked to the Egyptians, and an oinochoe, a large jar used to mix wine.   

I should have brought my Indiana Jones hat – I felt the buzz going down these stairs: 

 

 

Watercolor self portrait in leather hat

 

 

 

Superb Baroque ceiling paintings of Chiesa di San Giuseppe dei Teatini

Open the door and you are a greeted by an amazing display of Baroque art in a brightly lit interior.  There are stuccoes by Paolo Corso and Giuseppe Serpotta.  Frescoes in the nave and the vault by Tancredi, Borremans and Velasquez. They were severely damaged during WW2 but expertly restored. There is a wood crucifix by Fra’ Umile.  Giacomo Besio of the Theatines order built the Chiesa di San Giuseppe dei Teatini at the beginning of the 17th century.  It has a large  a blue and yellow ceramic dome.  

 

Chiesa Santa Ninfa ai Crociferi, a repository of fine art

There is a circuit of churches in Palermo.  These buildings are centuries old.  Due to high maintenance and restoration costs they charge a small entrance fee.   On the circuit is Santa Ninfa which we happened across walking down the center of via Maqueda, today being pedestrian only.  I noticed the name on the exterior plaque and as my grandmother was born in a village named Santa Ninfa, we walked up the steps to take a look.  Two women sat at the door selling tickets.  Neither spoke English.  One offered a written guide but none were available in English.   I jokingly said, well since there are none in English, please come with us and explain everything.  Much to my surprise, she got up and did just that.  We were very glad she did.  I only wish I could have taken notes.

Construction of the church built in Ninfa’s honor began in 1601, financed by donations from several noble families of the city, including the Englishman Sir John Francis Edward Acton, commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and prime minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV.  Giovanni Macolino, Giacomo Amato, Giuseppe Clemente Mariani, Ferdinando Lombardo (the facade) and Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia were the architects.  Doors opened in 1660, though much was lackeing.  They completed the building in 1750 .

There are some relics of Saint Camillus in the church, below a gorgeous altar made of wood painted to look like marble.   You have to get close to see that it’s wood you are looking at.  In addition the church houses many artworks of important artists.  Giacomo Serpotta has several statues fabricated in stucco.  The slender curves are exquisite.  Our guide explained that these stucco statues are built around a  wooden skeletal structure and then formed by hand.  Unfortunately I have no photos of his work in this church.    Here is an example however: 

Serpotta putto in Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita, Palermo.

Here are two pieces that are in the church:

Martyrdom of Santa Ninfa

Saint Camillus takes care of the infirms, Vittorio Perez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a painting by Guglielmo Borremans,  a rare if not the lone representation of the “Death of Saint Joseph,”  about whom the Christian Bible says so little, as our impromptu guide noted at the end of her charming 45 minute tour of this obscure church. 

Ninfa is one of four patron saints of Palermo, and is credited with ending a drought.  A few meters away from the church is a four way intersection, Quattro Canti.  Our guide told us she is one of the four commemorated in the four statues you see there.  

Santa Ninfa at Quattri Canti

 

There is a forced perspective wooden roof painted to look like a dome!  There is a point at which you can stand, look up and it is as if the peak of the dome is in the very center.  There is one in San Ignacio in Rome.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercato Ballarò

April 5, 2018

 

Walked through the huge Mercato Ballarò market today.  Vendors loudly barking (abbanniate) their wares.  Scooters inch through the crowds viewing the colorful booths, cars struggle through intersections, almost nudging the pedestrian traffic.  A few restaurants pass out fliers but we had great street food, lunch for 2 for 6 euros, eggplant pasta with a tomato ricotta sauce and an arancini (rice ball).  A woman next to us ordered a panelle on bread –  they really do eat those here.  Panelle is made of ceci (garbanzo) flour.  Sounds Arabic in origin-  falafel for example is made from the same flour.

 

This oldest Palermo market goes from Piazza Casa Professa to near Corso Tukory.  They sell much of the local fruit production- oranges (ugly but tasty), artichokes, rapini and more.   It looks like a mass of crowded stalls and with the road invaded by wooden boxes that contain the goods that are constantly shouted, abandoned, chanted to advertise the good quality and good price of the products.  There is some meat but much seafood. 

 

A fun place to visit, a great place to shop! 

Mercato ballarò
Mercato ballarò
Mercato ballarò
Peg buys sausage
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melanzane pasta

 

 

There is much confusion about a vegetable called rapini, brocoli rab, and brocoletti.  Brocoletti was developed in Japan as a combination of kale and brocoli.  It is officially called brocolini.  Rapini aka brocoli rab has buds that resemble brocoli.  Compared to brocoletti the buds are small and the stalks much more slender.  Rapini is what they sell in southern Italy.  Taste wise they seem very close to me, and I will take either one!  Mixed with sausage, garlic and olive all it is a great contorno!  We bought some and cooked it up!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapini

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapini

Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas

Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas has examples of Punic (Carthaginian), ancient Greek, as well as a rare Phoenician sarcophagus.  It contains some of the fine work from the Greek temples of Selinunte, built by the Elymians.  

 

Yes, those are turtles!

Phoenician sarcophagus circa 1500 BCE,, cover only is original.  Female figure

 

Gold tiara

 

Frieze from Selinunte

 

Artist rendition of a Selinunte temple

 

Ariel view of Selinute