May 21, 2012
For 91 Days we lived in Palermo. The capital of Sicily is as famous for its cuisine as its dark ties to the Italian underworld. But food and the Mafia hardly begin to describe this incredible city, which is Italy’s fifth-largest. We had three months to explore the culture, history, people, churches and museums of Palermo, and could have used a few more. Start reading from the beginning of our journey, or skip to the end. Visit the comprehensive index of everything we wrote about, or just check out a few posts, selected at random, below:
We've collected three months of our experiences in Sicily's capital into an E-book, which you can download directly or buy on Amazon for your e-reader. Get over two hundred full-color images, and all our articles from Palermo and Sicily in an easy-to-carry format. With a comprehensive index arranged by category and date, the e-book is easy to navigate, and filled with beautiful photos, amusing anecdotes, and detailed, well-researched descriptions of this Mediterranean city's incredible food, culture and history.
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.
The Castello a Mare doesn't look like much from the bike path; just a collection of ruins. But once inside the gate, the scale of the former castle is striking. The date of its construction is unknown, but estimated to be around 1150. For 750 years, it was one of Palermo's most important lines of defense against pirates and invaders. And during the Spanish rule of Sicily, it served as the seat of the Holy Inquisition.
Our first few minutes in Sicily were spent navigating the streets of Messina, after having arrived on a ferry from the Italian mainland. Honking cars, crazy motorbikes and messy urban lawlessness, it was an immediate taste of the chaos which would accompany our 91 days in Palermo; an antipasto to the capital's main course of noisy pandemonium. By the time we had gotten through Messina and onto the highway, my nerves were frayed and patience spent, but the wonder and excitement of finally being in Sicily remained intact.
Although their presence is practically invisible to tourists, the Mafia is very much a reality for the residents of Palermo. One of the most tangible nuisances is the pizzo: the "protection fee" that Sicilian business owners are compelled to pay to the Cosa Nostra.
Separating Northern Africa and Europe, and providing passage between the Orient and the West, the Mediterranean Sea has always been one of human history's focal points. Sicily is set in the middle of the sea and, as you might expect, its capital city has seen a fair share of drama throughout the centuries.
Found on the outer limits of the city, the Capuchin catacombs hold the remains of over 8000 souls, their disembodied shells propped up against the walls or resting in open caskets. Down in the cold, dry basement of the monastery, the relentless march of decomposition takes its sweet time. It's a gruesome display. Though some bodies have been reduced to skulls and bones, the majority of corpses are still rotting, and their half-decomposed husks are the stuff of nightmares.