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Palermo - cultural crossroads

creato da Ventrix ultima modifica 20/06/2008 15:10

From the Quattro Canti to the Spasimo and from the Cathedral to the Capuchin crypt. We take you through a Palermo where east meets west and old mixes with new.

CattedraleThe Quattro Canti ('Four Corners'), the centre of the oldest part of Palermo and a prime example of Baroque architecture, is in Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Turn left into Piazza Bellini to admire one of the capital's most famous churches, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio which is more commonly known as the Martorana. The church is a unique combination of Arab, Romanesque and Byzantine styles and its decorative mosaics are second only to those in Ravenna. Next to the Martorana is the church of San Cataldo, dating from the Norman domination of Sicily and stunningly simple and austere in style.
We then head back along Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Palermo's Cathedral, a magnificent medley of styles dating from the 12th century with bits being added and changed regularly since, the most disastrous addition being the 18th century dome which spoils the church's general harmony.

It's back on to Corso Vittorio Emanuele as far as Piazza della Vittoria to Palazzo dei Normanni and its adjoining chapel, Cappella Palatina with its glorious mosaics. Palazzo dei Normanni now houses Sicily's regional government and has strict visiting hours which you should check before planning a tour. Close by is San Giovanni degli Eremiti (St. John of the Hermits), a deconsecrated church which, like so many others, bears full witness to all the cultures that passed through this fascinating city. The church is surrounded by a series of wells and is set in a pretty garden with a cloister - a welcome refuge from the chaos outside. The well in the centre of the garden is shaded by a mimosa tree, or rather a Mimosa pudica which closes over when its leaves are touched.

It's time to retrace our steps, making a short detour to see "Lo Spasimo", a number of buildings including the church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo which now host a variety of cultural events. Built in late-Gothic style the church has been roofless for years and houses a couple of Ailanthus altissima trees. Here is one of the many interesting stories that surround the church.

The Capuchin Crypt
A trip to the Capuchin Crypt is not for the faint-hearted. The Crypt's fame dates back to the 1600s when Palermo's finest citizens decided to be embalmed after death and laid to rest under the Capuchin convent, gone but not forgotten. The catacombs are divided into different sections - men, women, professionals and clergy - and you can count hundreds of mummified bodies. Time has reduced most of them to skeletons but some are remarkably intact. A fitting place to end our journey to Palermo, a city where the rough lies with the smooth, where the passion of the people and their heritage is dulled only by the intensity of the heat and where the desire for rebirth is almost palpable - just like the bodies awaiting in the crypt.

Our journey through Palermo continues with
The sights, sounds and smells of Palermo

Back Doors - - A personal reaction to Palermo
Palermo on the Web - - A guide to Sicily's capital city
Sicily - - All you need to know before leaving for Sicily.

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