The moment you cross the bridge onto the island Ortigia, where the ancient center of Syracuse is found, you’re confronted with what the word “ancient” truly means. The ruins of the Temple of Apollo greet visitors at the island’s gateway, and serve as the perfect introduction to a city rich in myth and history.
La Zisa was built as a summer retreat by Arab architects in the 12th century for the reigning Norman Kings of Sicily. Its name comes from the Arabic al-Azîz, for “glorious” or “noble”. Set in the middle of gardens with the Monte Captuo serving as a backdrop, the Zisa still basically serves its original purpose, providing a nice escape for the residents of Palermo, if not for royalty.
Green oases of tranquility found at the south-eastern end of Palermo’s historic center, the twin parks of the Villa Guilia and Orto Botánico provide much-needed places of relaxation and quiet in the otherwise hectic city.
The uneven, twisting alleyways which dominate the ancient center of Palermo are charming, but a navigational nightmare. Funny, then, that the dead center of the historic district is an impeccably laid-out intersection, and one of Europe’s earliest examples of urban planning.