Have a wander around the centre and see a lot in a short time.
Our visit starts from the heart of Palermo, the Politeama Square. Actually this is not his exact name, but the Palermo people love to call it “Politeama” because of the magnificent theater that is a splendid building of late 1800’s of neoclassical style built by the architect Damiani Almeyda.
The “theater of the people” was built in 1874, it has a huge horseshoe-shaped hall with two rows of platforms dominated by a large gallery. It could accommodate 5.000 spectators. On the roof above the entrance, there is a bronze quadriga (chariot) of Apollo by Mario Rutelli and beside it a pair of bronze horses by Benedetto Civiletti. Today the Politeama hosts performances of symphonic music and continues to offer us moments of great intensity.
1st step: via Ruggiero Settimo
We start from via Ruggiero Settimo, which is part of the long roadway that runs through the city to the Central Station of Railways. This street is the most elegant of the city. Here are the fashion shops and the oldest boutique, here the people of Palermo make their purchases and their walk.
2nd step: Teatro Massimo
The second theater in Europe after the Paris Opera, the Teatro Massimo opens its doors on 16 May 1897 with Falstaff, a “brand new” opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Among the spectators was Ernesto Basile, son of the designer Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, who designed this theater according to the neoclassical-eclectic style.
The large anonymous inscription engraved on the architrave warns us: Art renews people and reveals their life. Love of art is useless where it does not seek to prepare the future. In other words, art is the only instrument of development of the people and only through it we recognize the different civilizations.Today, the Massimo hosts the official season of classical music, opera and ballet. You can book a visit.
An old legend says that if, when going up the stairs you stumble into the step of the monachella, it’s because you haven’t believed the story of the ghost of the nun from the convent that was there before the theater and who now wanders at night through the lonely halls.
Opposite the theater, there are two pedestrian streets with unusual names: Via Bara and via dell’Orologio bring us to the Olivella, historical district of evenings in Palermo, full of small restaurants and artisan shops where to get refreshments during the day. In the square of the Church of Sant’Ignazio all’Olivella, we also find the great Regional Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas.
3rd step: via Maqueda
Built in the seventeenth century to make space for the construction of new palaces, it takes us straight to the intersection with the old Cassaro (now Corso Vittorio Emanuele) opening itself to the wonderful Quattro Canti Square.
4th step: Quattro Canti
Piazza Vigliena, known as Quattro Canti, is an octagonal square with four richly decorated and quite appealing façades. The four corners divide the old city into four neighbourhoods or districts (La Loggia, Il Capo, la Kalsa and l’Albergheria).At this point, heading to the right, we can go towards the Cathedral and the Royal Palace, going left we can head down to the sea through the Vucciria marketand the district of piazza Marina. If we go straight on we’ll get to the Piazza della Vergogna, the Martorana and San Cataldo and the streets of the old artisans (Calderai, Candelai, etc.) and the Ballarò market. The choice is yours.
5th step: La Vucciria
To the left of the 4 Canti we descend to the Cassaro (Corso Vittorio Emanuele). This is the oldest street in Palermo, dating back to the Phoenicians (just 2,700 years ago). It links the Royal Palace to the sea and in the stretch that you have chosen to walk down, it crosses Vucciria market.
You access the Vucciria by some of the hundred roads that we find on the sides of the Cassaro, just after the crossing with via Roma. We recommend that you enter by the main entrance, the staircase that opens onto via Roma leads to Piazza Caracciolo. It is a historical market. In its heyday, it was home to artists and intellectuals. In the counters we find fresh fish, fragrant spices and beef and pork drastically (and dramatically) displayed. Its charm consists precisely of its bright tones and peaceful shouting that accompanies the sale of goods, the disrepair of its alleys.
Many people believe that this disrepair captures much better the meaning of life than a quiet tree-lined street of a residential neighbourhood. The Vucciria opens itself to the north of the square San Domenico and its large church. The square makes us rediscover the sun at the exit of the narrow streets and a stop in one of its cafés can be an occasion to reflect before having a sweet home-made ice cream.
6th step: Piazza Marina (distance 1.2 kilometres)
Continuing along the Cassaro you come to piazza Marina which you will find on your right. It’s a fascinating area and it’s great to get lost in its narrow streets, browsing through the artisan shops. The centre of the square is occupied by Villa Garibaldi a garden designed by G.B. Basile (the architect of the Teatro Massimo) just as he did the unification of Italy (1860). Go through the beautiful gates and you’ll end up in front of one of the oldest ficus in Italy, 30 metres high with a 21 metre trunk and a foliage of 50 metres. A really gigantic city monument to greenery. On the weekends, a picturesque vintage market is held all around the square and along the pavements. Looking at the Cassaro, we find the Church of the Chains. It seems that, a few thousand years ago, the chain that used to close the Old port of La Cala was attached to the church wall. Among the historic palaces surrounding the square there is the interesting museum of Palazzo Mirto, the Steri, the Hotel de France. However, the whole area is so rich in history and art that it deserves a closer look so that’s why we have chosen for you: Palermo viva