Behind the scenes of the historic centre
Are you staying in one of our apartments in the historic old town of Palermo? Then you have chosen the perfect base from which to explore the town centre on foot. And in even better news, all the properties we offer are in a part of town that’s both nice to look at and not particularly heavy traffic. Allow us to offer some insider knowledge… Huge thanks to our friends on the Filly Biz team for the photos.
The name “Kalsa” is a leftover from the time when Palermo was an Arabic city – the neighbourhood was then called “Al Khalesa”. This can be translated as “the chosen” which is still reflected in the peace and quiet of this elegant district. The Kalsa developed thanks to the Sicilian nobility, who settled here during the 20th century and today is a symbol of the regeneration of Palermo. This map guides us through the neighbourhood on foot, offering a route to discover all the most splendid streets of La Kalsa.
“Il Capo” is one of the four districts of the historic centre of Palermo, famous for the long-established market from which it takes its name. You could hardly find a more lively neighbourhood than this. No ordinary weekly market, think of “Il Capo” like a vast, uniquely Palermo outdoor shopping centre, where you can find not only fresh fruit and vegetables, but (just about) everything the Palermitans could ever need. This map takes us on a walking tour of the market and some of the other attractions in the area.
“La Loggia” is the next of the four quarters of the historic city of Palermo. It is also known as “Castellammare”, after its location along the sea, including the old port. This formerly industrial marina has now become the popular area known as “Cala”. This map shows us the way to the tourist port of Palermo, passing first through the beautiful central avenues of the neighbourhood, such as the bustling shopping street, Via Roma.
The Albergheria is last in our list of the four districts of the historic centre of Palermo – but in fact it’s the very first! Historians tell us that this is the most ancient part of Palermo: relics of the ancient Phonecian civilisation have long been found here. Visitors can still bask in the area’s special atmosphere of antiquity. This map guides us on a walking tour around the remains of a large Roman villa and other celebrated neighbourhood attractions.
Palermo deserves to be compared to cities like Milan, Turin and Rome for the quality of its Art Nouveau architecture (known as “Liberty” in Italian). Palermo was an important centre of the style, though often overlooked in favour of its more northern sisters. To find out what you’ve been missing, just follow the path of our map.
While graffiti and street art were once dismissed as vandalism, they have now become trendy statements of local character that cities love to use as a marketing tool. Fostering a culture of street art is also a great way to brighten less colourful neighbourhoods, and Palermo has excelled at this. This map guides us on foot through the four main concentrations of this art in Palermo. Huge thanks to our friends on the Filly Biz team for the photos.
Palermo is full of stunning churches – mostly Catholic, for obvious reasons. The patron saint of Palermo is Santa Rosalia. However, Palermo’s long history actually predates the advent of the Catholic Church, and Rosalia lived as recently as the 17th century. Before Christianity arrived on the island Palermo already had a patron: the “genius” (“Genio“) of Palermo. Indeed, Santa Rosalia is about a relatively recent 17th century history. The idea of this “genius” never fully disappeared. On the contrary, it has become increasingly important as a symbol of Palermo’s independence from foreign occupiers over the past 150 years. This fascinating map guides us on foot around some of the most famous monuments to the Genio.
If you meet people with Nordic features in Sicily, they are not necessarily tourists from Scandinavia! On the contrary, they will probably be descendants of the medieval conquerors from Normandy. This map guides us on foot through some of the most famous Norman buildings – but don’t be surprised to find elements of Arabic and Byzantine style. The Normans greatly appreciated what was left by their predecessors, and created one of the world’s first truly multicultural architectural landscapes. This unique fusion is part of what makes Sicily unique, and many of the surviving structures were recently awarded patronage by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
Palermo is a city that not only touches the sea but is also built around and above water. Whilst the Mediterranean Sea is impossible to miss, beneath the city runs a network of underground canals. These man-made channels supplied Palermo with fresh water from the mountains, a system dating back to the Arabian era. This map guides you on foot around the most important fountains and water features of Palermo. Huge thanks to our friends on the Filly Biz team for the photos.
Richard Wagner called the Via della Libertà in Palermo the Champs-Élysées of Sicily. At that time, the area around the avenue was packed with the splendid Art Nouveau villas of rich and noble Palermitans. Today, due to the building boom and the unfortunate influence of the Mafia in the property market of the 50s and 60s, many of these villas have vanished. However, what survives is the greenery of the neighbourhood and, despite everything, some precious details of Art Nouveau (known here as “Liberty” architecture) have been preserved. This map guides you through the “Libertà” area. Inside this special corner of the city you will find Art Nouveau, Italian fashion and the history of the Mafia. Huge thanks to our friends on the Filly Biz team for the photos.
You knew that Italian style is the envy of the fashion world – but did you know that it has its roots in Sicily? For this we must thank above all a man named Domenico Dolce. Hailing from humble roots in a mountain town to the East of Palermo, he was Sicily’s embodiment of the phrase “zero to hero”. It should therefore come as no surprise that you can find glorious examples of the fashion industry on every corner of Palermo – both behind the glass of boutiques and larger stores, and being sported by the city’s elegant inhabitants. This map will guide you through the most fashionable streets of the city, and in particular to a pair of absolutely ‘must-visit’ destinations.
The sanctuary of the Capuchin monks of Palermo hides a rare treasure in its cellars: the catacombs of natural mummifications. On the foundation of this property, in the 17th century, the Capuchin monks and especially their secular patrons were buried inside a structure which is genuinely unique in the world. This map will guide you on a walk from the catacombs to an historic Arab-Norman building: “La Cuba”.
For lovers of more exclusive attractions, the outskirts of Palermo offer fantastic treasure. This map recommends a route around spectacular villas, built in different eras and styles, on the western edge of the old town of Palermo. We struggle to pick a favourite, but one we truly love is “La Zisa”. Built by the finest Arabic craftsmen for a Norman king, the name refers to the fresh “summer breeze”.
Palermo is a popular destination for cruise ships, which disembark en masse through the main entrance of the port of Palermo. This has obviously led to the area becoming very touristy – we feel a little too much. This map shows how to skirt the congestion and avoid the ‘tourist traps’, leaving you free to discover a more authentic Palermo at your own pace.
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About the Author
The information on this site comes from our Sicily expert Britta Bohn. Britta has been dealing with daily life and life in Sicily for over 20 years, and she is delighted to share her personal top tips for a perfect stay in Palermo.