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The capital of the main island of Sicily, Palermo is a gem within the pantheon of European history. Even standing against the impressive culture hubs in the Mediterranean and wider Europe, this city has weathered thousands of years of conflict, cultural change and disasters, yet many of its finest buildings and gardens are still at the heart of the city, begging to be explored.
The tumultuous history of the region means that the architecture of the city has a style all of its own, a unique fusion between medieval Normandy, the opulence of the Arab states, and Italian classicism. The town centre is an enchanting network of these buildings, the result of this truly cosmopolitan city becoming a haven for artists and architects from all over the globe for centuries.
The beautiful façade of the La Martorana belies an utterly unique interior, the result, surprisingly, of a group of destructive nuns. In the year 1433, the church had its Greek mosaics shattered by this group of marauding women of the cloth, and was partly replaced by baroque ormentation, featuring images of saints and gold inlays that still shine to this day. This makes it an incredible site in which to get a true grasp of Palermo’s multicultural past. Although the aesthetic is a criss-cross of Greek pillars and Christian imagery, you’re still bound to be awestruck by the sheer grandeur design of the church vault.
Catacombe dei Cappucini
These catacombs are a spectacular attraction, even if they are little bit morbid. For a truly gothic atmosphere, you can head to the Capuchin Monastery, where a centuries-old interior stairway leads you to the unique halls of the catacombs themselves. In 1599, the monks mummified one of their recently dead brothers, Silvestrio of Gubbio, and placed him in the catacombs. From there, it became a tradition within the sect, and has enraptured travellers ever since. For a spine-tingling adventure into history, make sure to take the full tour, where you can get to see perfectly embalmed 1920’s aristocrats and even the remains of monks from the 18th Century.
The Museo Diocesiano offers a rather different experience than your typical art gallery. The rarities on display here share a unique relationship - all of them were damaged within the city’s sprawl of cathedrals and churches during the Second World War. As a result, there are fragments of Greek mosaics, marble pillars and 17th century paintings to explore, all within the basement and ground floor galleries. Your cultural delve doesn’t end there however - the work of Pietro Novelli is proudly displayed in all its glory, with restored pieces dating back centuries for your appraisal.
Casa Merlo is abundant with exquisite and authentic Sicilian ceramics and pottery, so much so they are revered abroad for their work. The store itself is a perfect place to while away the afternoon. For a more spirited shopping experience, make sure to head to the Mercato di Ballaro, where fresh produce and the vibrancy of the townspeople make for an impressive display.
As to be expected from an island which is abundant with fresh produce, Palermo has more than its fair share of places to get a true taste of Italian cuisine. Antica Focacceria di San Francesco is a Sicilian institution which has been at the heart of the Palermo community since 1834. Make sure to enjoy the Cannoli and wine recommended by the familial, experienced waiting staff.
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