Sicilia - Places to Visit - Palermo
The city lies on the Gulf of Palermo on the north-west coast of Sicily, in the Conca d'Oro, a fertile area planted with citrus groves.
The historical centre of the city has a regular layout, which it gained over a period of time, at the behest of the Aragons, replacing the maze of narrow streets dating from Arab and Norman days.
Founded by the Phoenicians (8th-7th century) with the name of Ziz (flower), it belonged to Carthage before coming under the domination of Rome in 254 BC., later becoming one of the most important centres on the island. After the fall of the Empire, it was ruled by the Goths before becoming a Byzantine possession in 552. Palermo was conquered by the Arabs in 831 became capital of the independent emirate of Sicily
and entered a period of considerable prosperity. Ruggero d'Altavilla brought it under Norman rule in 1072 and made it the capital of his kingdom, a position it retained until the Angevins chose Naples as their capital city, causing Palermo to decline. Its fortunes were those of the Kingdom of Sicily until it became part of Italy in 1860.
Palermo has innumerable fine monuments and works of art, including: the cathedral (12th century, with 14th-15th and 18th century additions), the Martorana church, dating to Norman times with beautiful Byzantine-style mosaics; the church of S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, Norman with Arab influence and its adjacent cloisters; the church of S. Giuseppe dei Teatini (17th century), the church of S. Cataldo, in Arab-Norman style, the 13th century churches of S. Francesco and S. Spirito, the Oratorio di S. Lorenzo (Baroque).
Non-ecclesiastical buildings include the Palazzo dei Normanni, of Arab origins, with Norman additions and decorations (outstanding Cappella Palatina, with wooden ceiling, mosaics and frescoes), and later renovation; the Palazzo Chiaramonte (medieval), Palazzo Abatellis (14th century, in Gothic-Catalonian forms), the 12th century Zisa, and Cuba, both Arab-style constructions, together with many other buildings and churches of various periods. The Parco della Favorita is an environment of considerable interest.
The city's economy is based principally on the service industries, employment in the public sector being particularly high, and indeed now superior to effective administrative requirements. The numerous commercial activities are carried out particularly by small units or involve only modest trade. There is a busy port, handling passengers and freight.
Though the industrial sector has developed to some extent over the past few decades, it is unable to absorb the large available workforce (Palermo has a high rate of unemployment) and factories are mostly small to medium in size. The most important branches of industry are: housing construction, linked to the high level of urban expansion, shipbuilding, engineering, food manufacturing and textiles.
Agriculture still provides employment for consistent numbers (citrus groves, horticulture in the Conca d'Oro) and the flow of tourists is attracted by the city's monuments and works of art as well as by the nearby beach at Mondello.
Events: Fiera Internazionale del Mediterraneo (May-June), Festino di S. Rosalia (10th-15th July), Festa dei Morti (1st November).
Famous People: Alessandro Scarlatti (musician, 1660-1725), Stanislao Cannizzaro (scientist, 1826-1910), Rosolino Pilo (patriot, 1826-1860), Ernesto Basile (architect, 1857-1932), Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (politician, 1860-1952), Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (writer, 1896-1957).
Cultural Institutions: Accademia di Belle Arti, Conservatorio, University, various libraries and museums, including: Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Carthaginian and Roman remains; splendid sculptures from Selinunte archeological area), Museo Preistorico. `Fondazione Mormino', Gallery of Modern Art, National Gallery of Sicily, Museo Etnografico `Pitr', Museo del Risorgimento, Puppet Museum, Botanic Gardens.
In the Province: Piana degli Albanesi (Albanian customs and dress), Bagheria (Museo di Storia patria), Cefal (Museo della Fondazione Mandralisca), Monreale (Norman cathedral), Termini Imerese (spa and beach resort), Isola delle Femmine (beach resort), Geraci (Museo delle Madonie), Terrasini (Museo del carretto siciliano-Sicilian Cart Museum).