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.
Food, fire, trash, art and architecture; you get a little of everything on a random walk through Palermo. This city is a lot of things, but “boring” could never be considered one of them. Enjoy our last photographic impressions of Sicily’s hectic and beautiful capital city.
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.
On the last day of our final road-trip through Sicily, we drove a few kilometers up the coast from Catania to Taormina, the island’s most popular beach resort. Word of its charm had reached our ears from just about everyone we’d come in contact with: friends, strangers in bars, neighbors, Twitter acquaintances. Even my grandmother called to say that we should really visit Taormina. She’s never even been to Sicily and she’s been dead for ten years! Phone calls from beyond the grave are pretty persuasive: we had to go.
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.
Only in a city as ancient as Palermo could a construction known as the “New Gate” date from 1583. Found adjacent to the Norman Palace, the Porta Nuova is still the main entrance to the city center from the west.
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.
The art of puppetry has a long history in Sicily. Since the Middle Ages, puppet shows have been one of the island’s most popular forms of entertainment. Thanks to the advent of television and radio, the shows are less important than they once were, but Palermo still boasts a few places to catch a performance. We visited the Teatro Ippogrifo, near the Quattro Canti, and had a blast with a story that was loud, funny and surprisingly violent.