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.
One of the top sights in Palermo is the Norman Palace, on the western extreme of the old city center. A massive complex built in the 11th century, the palace is still used today as the seat of the Sicilian government. Tourists are allowed in, but understandably restricted to a small section.
If you don’t want your jaw to smack painfully against the ground, you’d do well to wear a tight chin strap when visiting the Cathedral of Monreale. During our tour, my mouth was wide open, rivulets of drool escaping my gaping jowl. But I didn’t care, and I doubt anyone was paying attention. To be inside the Monreale’s cathedral and concentrate on anything other than its shimmering beauty is nearly impossible.
Tucked into a small plaza just south of the Corso Vittoro Emanuele is the church of San Francesco d’Assisi. Originally built in 1260, the church has undergone many transformations in its 750 years, and still plays an important role in Palermo’s religious life.
Charming, horseshoe-shaped La Cala was the main fishing port in Palermo, until the 16th century when it lost most of its size due to receding waters. The spot has played an important role in Palermo since the days of the Phoenicians, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot to see here.