A Concise History of Palermo
Separating Northern Africa and Europe, and providing passage between the Orient and the West, the Mediterranean Sea has always been one of human history’s focal points. Sicily is set in the middle of the sea and, as you might expect, its capital city has seen a fair share of drama throughout the centuries.
Palermo has been passed around like a hot potato from one grand civilization to another, with eighteen different rulers, by my count. Here’s a guide, as succinct as possible, to the tumultuous history of this ancient city.
|8000 BC||The first evidence of human activity in Palermo is cave drawings by an extinct tribe known as the Sicani.|
|734 BC||The Phoenicians establish the city, naming it “Ziz”, and later pass it onto their successors, the Carthaginians. Palermo quickly becomes an important point of commerce.|
|276 BC||Following the Pyrrhic War, Palermo passes to the Greeks, who call it Panormus, meaning “all-port”.|
|246 BC||After just three decades of Greek rule, the Romans take over. Palermo becomes an important trade center for Rome, and Christianity is introduced during their rule.|
|440 AD||As the Roman Empire is collapsing, King Genseric and the Vandals take possession of Palermo, but are unable to hold it for long: another Germanic tribe, the Ostrogoths, soon usurp them.|
|536||During the Gothic War, the Byzantine Empire takes over Palermo, and manage to hold onto power for almost 400 years.|
|904||Palermo enters a golden age after being conquered by the Moors and named the capital of the Emirate of Sicily. It becomes an important center of learning, and the 2nd largest European city (behind Cordoba).|
|1072||Under Roger II and the Normans, Christianity returns to Palermo. The Palazzo Normanni is established in Palermo during the Normans’ reign, along with the Cathedral. The Kingdom of Sicily is equaled in power only by the Kingdom of England, also a Norman possession.|
|1194||The Holy Roman Empire takes over, but eventually cedes control to the powerful House of Anjou (1266), who can only hold onto Palermo for sixteen years. In 1282, the House of Aragon ascends to power.|
|1479||A great number of Palermo’s finest buildings are constructed during the rule of the Spanish Kingdom, who own Sicily until 1713. Following Spanish rule, the city is run for short periods by the House of Savoy and Austria.|
|1734||The period of the House of Bourbon is marked by strife and warfare, with the populace staging insurrections against the unpopular French rulers.|
|1861||Led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, Palermo frees itself from the French and becomes a part of the Kingdom of Italy, which is where it’s stayed ever since.|