On the edge of the bay at the base of Monte Pellegrino rests Palermo, Sicily’s capital and largest – perhaps even most interesting – city. Located on the northern coast of the island, Palermo has been molded and shaped over the centuries by a wide array of distinct cultures. Its sites, flavors, goods, and spirit are a result of a rich history that is woven from the threads of many different groups of people.
To fully grasp the complex history of Palermo, one must understand the allure that major powers throughout history felt in regards to conquering the city. Palermo’s location – the middle of the Mediterranean – along with its natural harbor and status as a port city, made capturing the city an extremely strategic move for major world powers. In fact, some consider Palermo to be the most conquered city in the world.
The city was established during Phoenician times, and throughout the centuries it would come under the control of the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, French, Spanish, Austrians, and, finally, the French (once more) before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
As travelers explore the city, the remnants of these various cultures can be seen in a variety of ways. From the architecture of the monuments and churches throughout the city to the flavors of the cuisine enjoyed in local restaurants to the names of streets and locations throughout the city – it is clear that Palermo is a cornucopia of culture and history.
There is Middle Eastern influence in the city’s bustling markets and food, Norman influence in the city’s architecture, Jewish and Christian influences in the art found throughout Palermo, and so much more. For a truly multicultural and unique experience in Italy – look no further than Palermo.
Palermo’s rich culture helps strengthen its identity as a tourism capital. Travelers who visit Palermo enjoy the city’s buildings and monuments, artistic works, passion for music and theater, and, of course, delectable food and wine. Truly, walking through the historic city center is akin to stepping back in time with the monuments, food, and even the locals serving as a visual record of Palermo’s past.
Aside from tourism, the main economic supports of the city are rooted in industry, commerce, and agriculture – placing it in the Mediterranean’s top twenty largest cities.
CLIMATE AND FESTIVALS
Palermo is the capital of Sicily, a Southern region of Italy that also happens to be the largest island in the Mediterranean. The city of Palermo sits in the northwest area of the island near the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The city is in a basin called Conca d’Oro (Golden Basin), which is formed by three rivers - Papireto, Kemonia, and Oreto. The Palermo mountain range surrounds the city. With the mountains facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, travelers can admire amazing seaside views during hikes or walks, particularly from Monte Pellegrino, a 1,970-foot hill offering panoramic views of the city and the sea.
Palermo’s climate is considered to be subtropical Mediterranean. As a result, summers are quite long, very hot, and noticeably dry, while winters are moderate with some rainy weather, but very rarely snow. Spring and autumn in Palermo are mild and enjoyable. Palermo is great for those who wish to enjoy time outdoors, as it is one of Europe’s warmest cities and features many days of sunshine per year. The average temperature throughout the year in Palermo is around 65 °F. For those who wish to enjoy the sea, expect warm water as well with the average sea temperature ranging from 66 °F to 79 °F.
WHEN IN PALERMO
Explore the city’s many striking and stunning buildings, churches and monuments. Some of the top places to see include the massive Palermo Cathedral – known for its wide array of architectural styles and influences from Norman to Neoclassical, the Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) – a wonderful example of Byzantine architecture and artwork, the Palazzo dei Normanni (the Norman Palace) – one of the oldest royal palaces in Europe, Fontana Pretoria – a sixteenth century fountain in Piazza Pretoria that has become a symbol of the city, and Quattro Canti – a Baroque square at the heart of the city where the two main roads meet, featuring four iconic buildings on each corner. Also worth a visit is the nearby Cathedral of Monreale, which is renowned for its gold mosaics and Norman-Byzantine architecture. In addition, the town of Monreale on its own is a gem, offering remarkable views of Palermo and the bay thanks to its position on Monte Caputo.
Enjoy the outdoors. Palermo is home to the beach as well as the mountains. Outdoorsy travelers can soak up the sun by spending time on the water, on the beach, or hiking and biking on the mountain range that surrounds the city.
Get insight into Palermo’s vast history at the Regional Archaeological Museum. With various sections, it features a variety of artifacts from Phoenician, Roman, Greek, and Egyptian times tied to the history of Sicily. Other important museums in the city include the Regional Art Gallery in Palazzo Abatelli, the Museo Diocesano (Diocesan Museum), and the Fondazione Sicilia collections in Palazzo Branciforte.
Experience the Capuchin catacombs – an eerie testament to the history of the area. Inside the catacombs are 8,000 corpses and over 1,200 mummified bodies. Originally intended to serve as catacombs for the Capuchin friars, over the centuries a number of notable locals were interred here as well, up until the 1920s.
Taste the culture of Palermo at any one of the city’s many food markets, which are bursting with local produce, meat, cheese, wine, and more. In addition, travelers can enjoy the classic Sicilian cuisine of Palermo at one of the city’s restaurants, cafes, and street food carts.
Take in a show at Italy’s largest theater, Teatro Massimo, which is as opulent as a palace and an integral part of the city’s identity.
With an illustrious history, astounding architecture, and lively cultural traditions, there’s no place quite like Palermo. Take your time exploring the city’s ancient streets and Palermo will reveal its endless treasures to you, each one more radiant than the last.
It was wonderful. Definitely one of the best vacations we have ever taken. We spent 5 days in Rome, 5 days in Positano, 8 days in Sicily and
"Hi Tommaso, what a trip! I'm now sitting outside my room looking at the valley of the temples writng the notes "amazing" Mary and myself ha
"Tommaso, we are having a wonderful time on our trip. We just left Sicily and are enjoying our day in Sorrento."