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.
In the 18th century, the elite of Palermo chose Bagheria as the place to escape city life and erect their villas. These remain into the present day, and give the town of 55,000 a peculiar feel. Gorgeous Baroque and Neoclassical villas with poetic names like Palagonia, Spedalotto and Serradifalco are spotted throughout the town, hidden among ugly newer constructions thrown together in the post-war years.