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.
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.
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.
Twelve months ago, we rang in 2011 at a wild party in Savannah, Georgia, a city which definitely knows how to let its hair down. As the clock struck midnight, I know I kissed Jürgen, and I faintly remember kissing a couple other people, too. We entered 2011 full of excitement -- it would be our first full year of travel, and we knew that a lot of incredible times were waiting for us. But, even so, I think we underestimated how much we were about to experience.
Before we moved to Sicily for 91 days, I didn't know that there was actually a town called Corleone. I had assumed that the name was invented by Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather. So I felt a thrill upon discovering that the town actually does exist, just an hour from Palermo, and that it indeed has a past strongly identified with the Mafia. It was just a matter of time before we visited. My name is Michael, after all.
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.
Segesta was founded high upon Mount Barbaro by the Elymian people, one of three Bronze Age cultures that flourished in Sicily before the arrival of overseas powers. Eventually, though, the foreigners came knocking and, after a doomed alliance with Carthage, Segesta attached its fortunes to Athens. The Romans and Arabs also took possession of Segesta, but the city was abandoned completely at some point during the Middle Ages. This desertion allowed Segesta's ruins to survive relatively untouched, shielded from the destructive march of history.