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Palermo: More Than a Mafiapolis

By Natalie Horsley

Posted: 18th September 2014 14:24

As far as history and culture goes, Palermo is one of Italy’s richest cities and it is a bit of a treasure trove when it comes to architectural wonders like castles, palaces and churches as they need to be discovered through exploration as the best ones are hidden away. Showcasing an extraordinary architectural complexity, works of art are scattered throughout the centre with Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Renaissance and baroque influences regularly visible across the area. In addition, Palermo is also famous for its people's liveliness and culinary excellence.  You can also enjoy the shopping and the exciting nightlife. And don't forget, it is the ideal place for relaxing summer holidays on Mondello beach.

This Sicilian capital came into prominence in the 12th century when it became Europe’s grandest city, in more modern times however, it has become notorious for political corruption and assassinations. And, of course you cannot talk about Sicily without mentioning the Mafia’s, whose influence on the city is still visible to this day with many of the judges requiring 24-hour police surveillance and protection payoffs still being a regular occurrence. They are thought to have made countless millions by selling votes to crooked politicians in Sicily, but don’t worry, you will not be making any appointments with Don Corleone.

Getting In

From the perspective of a map it would appear that the city is an isolated city on the far side of Sicily, away from the mainland. But, as a major commercial hub for the island, Palermo is well connected to the mainland and the rest of Europe. It is actually so well connected that your biggest challenge will be deciding what way you would like to get to and from there.

If you are travelling by plane then Palermo International Airport can be found on the western side of the city, connecting back to the main town area via bus, train, or taxi. It services pan-European and mainland destinations. The other airport in Palermo, Boccadiflaco, caters to independent pilots, and offers regional transport to Enna as well as the Aeolian islands.

Of course, there are plenty of options via boat and Palermo’s ports are constantly busy with connecting passengers. In addition to the cruise ship port for the major cruise lines, there are a number of regional ferry connections. Ferry service is available to and from Genoa, Civit vecchia, Naples, Malta, and Cagliari on a daily basis, and many of the ferries offer drive aboard service. Private boat slips at the marina also allow yachts, sailboats, and private vessels to dock at their leisure.

Trenitalia, the national rail service of Italy, operates trains from the mainland to and from Palermo as well as from Palermo to the rest of Sicily. Finally, you can also travel by car using the motorway or a ferryboat connection.

Palazzo dei Normanni

Palermo's greatest attraction, this is a grandiose Norman Place which is used by Sicily’s parliament throughout the week and is open to the public on the weekend. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of several upstairs rooms which include the divine Sala Pamppeiana, which is adorned with Benus and Eros frescoes. As well as that there is the Sala dei Venti which is awash with mosaics of geese, papyrus, lions, leopards and palms; and the Sala di Ruggero II , King Roger's mosaic-decorated bedroom. The Torre Gioaria (tower of the wind) is one of the two existing towers of the Palace. This section of the building is a genuinely thrilling sight to behold, as it was a harbinger of the modern air-conditioning system.

Teatro Massimo

Some fans of The Godfather trilogy might recognise this building from the closing scene of The Godfather: Part III. It’s a fitting place to end any film thanks to its dramatic location and stunning scenery, guided 25-minute tours are offered in English, Spanish, French and Italian daily except Monday. It was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II.  It is the biggest in Italy, and one of the largest of Europe (the third after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna), renowned for its perfect acoustics. It was an appropriately grand venue for the great tenor Enrico Caruso, whose career took off here.

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