The Albergheria is the oldest neighborhood in Palermo. This is where the Phoenicians founded the city, and it hosts the royal palace which all the city’s rulers have called home. Despite this rich history, today’s Albergheria is one of the most run-down sections of Palermo. Nowhere else is the juxtaposition of dilapidated housing and exquisite historic buildings quite so jarring.
Hailed as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, the tiny hamlet of Sávoca has a spectacular mountain setting just four kilometers inland from Sicily’s eastern coast. Among the legions of people it’s charmed is Francis Ford Coppola, who filmed the Sicilian scenes of The Godfather here.
The eastern coast of Sicily is defined by the looming presence of Mount Etna, the largest and most active volcano in Europe. Though it had just erupted spectacularly a few days prior, we couldn’t resist checking it out during our final road trip on the island.
Still a healthy city of about 40,000 people, Caltagirone has been home to human activity since prehistoric days. The name comes from the Arabic “qal’at-al-ghiran”, or “Hill of Vases”, which serves as an indication of how tightly connected to pottery the town has always been. Caltagirone was completely destroyed in the 1693 earthquake that leveled much of eastern Sicily. But like Noto, it was rebuilt in grand style, with a heavy emphasis on Baroque architecture.
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.
After a couple great months in the Vucciria’s Casa Zatlo, we’ve switched to a different apartment near Il Capo. The Casa del Bastione. It’s a nice change for us; we get to experience a new, noticeably quieter section of the city and we’re close by the incredible market of Il Capo. Best of all? It’s got a terrace. And although the last few weeks have been marked by rain, we’ve taken advantage of every hour of sunlight that has presented itself.
Set in the mountains just ten miles east of Palermo, the town of Carini enjoys a privileged view towards the sea. With a population of only 35,000 and a world-famous castle as its main attraction, it sounded like a nice, easy escape from city life, and we chose a Wednesday morning to explore it.
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.
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.
Cefalù numbers just 13,000, but its population balloons in the summer. The town is one of Sicily’s finest beach resorts and attracts sunbathers from all over Italy and Europe. From what we’ve heard, it’s unbearable when crowded. And although we found the streets empty in December, the emphasis on tourism was abundantly clear. €3 cappuccinos and stores hawking magnets and postcards to phantoms.