Like Sicily in general, Palermo has also experienced the succession of very different Mediterranean cultures. The city was founded by the Phoenicians in the seventh century a.C. with the name of Zyz, “flower”, because of the beauty of its territories located within a valley, called Conca d’Oro. The valley is still crossed by four rivers: the Kemania, the Oreto, the Pannaria and the Papireto.
Object of the desire of the Greeks, Palermo was conquered only by the Romans in the third century B.C. after the victory of the First Punic War. Despite this, at the fall of the Roman Empire, Palermo was invaded by barbarians. When in 535 A.C. the Byzantine naval fleets of Belisarius (general of Justinian I, of the Eastern Roman Empire) conquered it, they decided that Palermo should become the capital of their kingdom. In 827 a.C the Arabs arrived. They built the Kalsa district, numerous mosques and other buildings surrounded by fragrant orange groves. Palermo is still the most Arab city in Italy, both for the evident influence on the architecture and for the gastronomic fusion.
The Norman period
The most flourishing period, however, was starting from 1040, when the Norman kings decided to peacefully coexist in the city different cultures, religions and ethnicities and create a new avant-garde state. In 1198, at the age of four, Frederick II, son of Henry VI and Constance of Hauteville, became king “Stupor Mundi”. Endowed with voracious intellectual curiosity, from an early age he was educated to tolerance of all faiths. Frederick II spoke five languages, loved art, nature and literature. The Palazzo dei Normanni, the Cathedral and the Churches of San Cataldo, Martorana and San Giovanni degli Eremiti, are all Arab-Norman style buildings erected in Palermo during the medieval period and which earned the city recognition among the UNESCO heritage sites in 2015. From the Angevins to the Kingdom of Italy. In the thirteenth century, Charles of Anjou defeated Henry VII (son of Frederick II) and chose the city of Naples as the seat of the capital of the kingdom. It was the Aragonese (Spaniards) who then took possession of Palermo, recalled by the citizenship that with the Sicilian Vespers had risen in opposition to the policy of the Angevins. From 1494 to 1759 Palermo was governed by the Viceroys, administrators of the King of Spain, who shared power with the barons, great feudal lords of the place. The Bourbons later abolished the office of Viceroy and settled in Naples unifying the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and governing Palermo until the arrival of Garibaldi, who caused its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy .
The monuments and gardens of Palermo are numerous and of great artistic value. The Palazzo dei Normanni, home of the Sicilian parliament, in which the Palatine Chapel can be visited; the Cathedral, founded in the late twelfth century, which contains the tomb of several rulers of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, including Frederick II himself, as well as frescoes and mosaics.
Remarkable is the regional archaeological museum of Palermo dedicated to Antonio Salinas, which traces the history of the island and its dominations. The Porta Nuova, a classic triumphal arch built at the end of the sixteenth century to celebrate the victory of Charles V over the Turkish armies and which was rebuilt in 1669, after its total destruction. Finally, if you love the Art Nouveau style, certainly visiting the Teatro Massimo (built to celebrate the unification of Italy) will be an essential stop.
The Archbishop’s Palace, home to the Diocesan Museum, Palazzo Pretorio, was built and renovated so many times that it is still called “an encyclopedia of architectural style”. The Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, in Arab-Norman style. La Martorana, of Greek Orthodox origin who later became Catholic in the Norman period. The church of San Cataldo, in which the large domes and a mosaic floor of considerable artistic interest stand out.The cemetery of the Capuchin friars is a fascinating place for lovers of the gloomy and is also known by the name “Catacombs”; inside the remains of friars and famous people have remained unchanged thanks to the high humidity.