A sense of faded grandeur permeates Palermo. The stately old palaces which occupy nearly every corner are usually shuttered up, damaged beyond repair, or have been converted for use as art galleries. The Palermitano aristocracy must surely have resided in splendor, but they’ve long since left the scene, removing all trace of their easy wealth. Today, in this chaotic and messy city, it’s almost impossible to imagine what life must have been like for them.
Only in a city as ancient as Palermo could a construction known as the “New Gate” date from 1583. Found adjacent to the Norman Palace, the Porta Nuova is still the main entrance to the city center from the west.
In 1968, the hillside town of Gibellina was devastated by a 6.1-scale earthquake. Somewhat like the residents of Noto, who befell a similar fate, the town decided to abandon the ruins and start from scratch in a location which was close by, and hopefully more stable. Between 1985 and 1989, an Italian artist named Alberto Burri used the old city’s ruins as the canvas for his most audacious work of modern sculpture. The resulting concrete cemetery is a bold piece of art, a comment on death, and a moving tribute to the devastated city.
There are two types of eccentrics: those you feel sorry for, and those you’re secretly envious of. The first kind are poor and fill their house with cats. They have crazy, stringy hair and scream obscenities at malicious neighbor kids. The second kind have the good fortune of being royalty and are able to indulge their every screwy whim. “Bring in that funny peasant boy. Now do your silly dance! I need more cats, a leopard perhaps. And build me a palace… a Chinese palace!” If you’re going to be an eccentric, it’s a lot better to be the rich kind.
After centuries of foreign occupation, Sicily enthusiastically joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Finally free of the hated Bourbons, Palermo celebrated its allegiance to the new King Vittorio Emanuele by ordering a theater built in his honor. After thirty years of construction, the Teatro Massimo (“Maximum Theater”) opened to great fanfare in 1897. It’s the largest opera house in Italy, and the third largest in all Europe.
Hidden coves. Crystal clear water. Prehistoric caves. Utter solitude. If all that sounds good after the noise and muck of Palermo, hop in a car and head out to Sicily’s first national park: the Riserve Naturale dello Zingaro.
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.
If you’re an adult human living in the 21st century, you have at some point in your life suffered a catastrophic computer crash. You’ve been faced with the choice of whether to try and recover your system, or just start fresh with a clean install. And you’ve probably learned that, almost always, the best option is to start clean and reinstall from scratch. Restorations rarely work and, even if you’re able to cobble your computer back to a semi-functional state, there are usually problems. No, it’s best to bite the bullet, lose some work, and start over. For metaphorical proof from history, just look at the Sicilian city of Noto.
On our second day in Syracuse, we made our way to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, where some of Sicily’s greatest ruins are bunched together, almost as though our ancient forebears wanted to facilitate future tourist groups.
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.