The world’s most comprehensive and exquisite set of Roman mosaics is found in the middle of Sicily, at the archaeological site known as Villa Romana del Casale. The specifics of the villa’s history are largely lost to history, but experts have dated its origin to around the 4th century AD. It’s believed to have been the hunting lodge for Roman aristocrats, possibly owned by Emperor Maximianus Herculius. But there aren’t enough clues to say for certain.
The art of puppetry has a long history in Sicily. Since the Middle Ages, puppet shows have been one of the island’s most popular forms of entertainment. Thanks to the advent of television and radio, the shows are less important than they once were, but Palermo still boasts a few places to catch a performance. We visited the Teatro Ippogrifo, near the Quattro Canti, and had a blast with a story that was loud, funny and surprisingly violent.
We had been in Palermo for over two months by the time we finally got around to visiting its Gallery of Modern Art. I don’t know what kept us; perhaps the over-abundance of things to do in the city, perhaps a personal aversion to modern art. But upon finally visiting the collection, we were blown away. This was the best museum we visited in Palermo.
One of the finest palaces in Palermo is the Palazzo Abatellis, found on Via Alloro in the neighborhood of La Kalsa. The massive building is host to the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, which displays Sicilian art dating as far back as the 12th century.
Fans of ancient painting, sculpture and architecture have no shortage of opportunities to indulge their passion in Palermo, a city whose artistic tradition stretches back centuries. But for those looking for something a bit more modern, we recommend heading out to the Centro d’Arte Piana dei Colli, in a marvelous villa just north of the city.
The Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse is one of the more spacious plazas that we’ve seen while in Sicily, and definitely the most serene. The piazza is framed by gorgeous palaces, churches, cafes and the cathedral, and there’s no traffic to worry about so you can keep stepping backwards to better gawk at the beauty, without having to worry about getting run over. We spent a long, mild evening at one of the bars, drinking wine and silently soaking up the plaza’s beauty.
An aging monarch seated on his throne and holding a snake, the Genius of Palermo is the mysterious emblem of the city. No one knows where it originated or what it truly symbolizes, but it has come to epitomize the city itself.
I would say it was a pretty successful night. We had discovered Mikalsa, a cool bar within walking distance of our apartment, and heard an incredible concert by Renzo Rubino, a local artist trying to make it big. Plus, we became instant addicts of Mikalsa’s home-brewed beer called Panormus, in honor of Palermo’s original Greek name.
Some artists work with clay, others with watercolors. Many use spray paint cans and empty urban landscapes, while others busy themselves with pastels. And, as we’ve now learned, there are some artists whose medium consists of discarded junk found on street corners. Maurizio Ruggiano belongs to the latter group, and we had the chance to visit him in his tastefully cluttered apartment in La Kalsa.
From the regal statues of the Quattro Canti to the delicate stucco work inside the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, it’s apparent that sculpture has always played an important role in Palermo’s art scene. We had the chance to meet one of the city’s modern sculpture artists, Daniele Franzella, who showed us into his apartment and workshop.