blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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. 







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




blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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.


Peg’s photos






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blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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

 Oratorio della SS. Carita di San Piedro

Chiesa San Agostino 



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


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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




blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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.  


blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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.  














blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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
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!

blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

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


blog Blog 2019 Sicily 2019

The Ancestral Towns

March 31, 2018

My grandparents were born in the small towns of Partanna and Santa Ninfa, emigrating to the US in 1914-15.  I am the first time on the US side anyone has visited these places.   The two are in the province of Trapanni between the cities of Trapanni and Marsala but inland, and in an agricultural zone that today produces mostly grapes and olives.  The area was inhabited by the Greeks, and not far from these towns there are some fine examples of Greek temples, which I will show in a subsequent post. 


Partanna is by far the more interesting, having a palace, some ruins and a great view to share. It is on a hill some 400 meters above sea level and 50 kilometers from the coast.   Here it is on the approach with our excellent Canon zoom.  



Vinyard on the outskirts of Partanna


Today there are about 10,000 inhabitants.  Its most notable architectural feature is the Castell Grifeo, now the Museo Regionale di Preistoria del Belice.  The castle dates back at least to 1453 and perhaps to 1400.  It contains mostly items excavated locally at a site called Contrada Stretto.  Per their website the  “Skull Drilled,” discovered in the Contrada Stretto, dates to the early bronze age, 3500-2000 BCE.  The skull has a large hole, drilled while the person was alive.  It is evident that the subject survived.  This “magical-surgical” procedure was probably used to cure mental illnesses.  There is also an 18th century fresco showing King Roger II, a Norman nobleman, defeating the Arabs near Mazara.  Later Roger and his soldiers liberated Sicily from the Arabs.  Mazara is not far from Partanna.  We passed nearby today.


Via Palermo, Partanna


The family name is Palermo, of course I can not be totally certain if this street is named for the family or the city, but nearly every town in Sicily has a via Palermo.



This church, The Church of Purgatory, is a mere facade.  The Grifeo family built it in 1722.



The damage ocurred during an earthquake in 1968.  Also damaged was the Church of San Francisco, although the clock tower survived and it still in use.  San Francisco dates from around 1500, while the tower was added in 1650. 


We are in Partanna on a Sunday and not a creature is stirring.  We could not even find a restaurant for lunch, so we drove the 6km to Santa Ninfa only to find the same situation, although luckily we ran across an open bar.  He had some tasty if floppy small round pizzas and arancini, rice balls, that in this joint are stuffed with beef in one and ham in another.  They roll them in corn flour and drop them into a hot oil.  The white wine was quite good.  It was a men’s only place today, watching soccer on tv while a few had something to drink. 


Santa Ninfa was founded in 1605.  Largely rebuilt after the devastating 1968 earthquake, its appearance is largely modern.  Today there are 5000 inhabitants and like Partanna is surrounded by farms, also mostly producing olives and grapes judging by what we saw on the way from that town.  There is a huge olive oil silo on the edge of town, a towering witness to the efforts of farmers and their employees. 


There are several regional DOP’s (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) for wine in this areaAlcamo, Delia Nivolelli , Delia Nivolelli, Erice, Marsala, Menfi, Moscato di Pantelleria or Passito di Pantelleria or Pantelleria, Salaparuta There are more DOP’s in this region than anywhere else in Sicily, if not all of Italy.  Judging by the size of the fields we drove through I am not at all surprised.  And no wonder I like the stuff!  It’s in the genes.


Judging by what we saw in the area, their fast food is pizza, like most everywhere in Italy, arancini (rice balls), fries, and something called panelle or paneddi, which are flat panels just 1/8″ thick.   They are made water and chickpea flour cooked into a porridge (like polenta), and then cooled until firm, cut into pieces, and fried in olive oil.   They are sometimes served in bread or roll.


Finally, this story.  In Valencia I happened to meet another American about a year ago.  His name is Jim.  One of us said, “My grandparents were born in Sicily.”


“No kidding, mine too.”


“Really!  What a coincidence!  My grandfather was born in Partanna.” 


“You don’t say.  Mine too!.”   


In addition to this coincidence, we live just five minutes from one another.