FACTOID: Palermo is the capital of Sicily and is the 5th largest city in Italy with a population of 650,000 - all of them horrible drivers.
Palermo is located along a bay at the base of Monte Pellegrino. The name was originally Panormos which means port. The town did well under the Romans but the height of its glory was under the Muslims and its beauty rivaled Cordoba in Spain or Cairo. There is a lot of Arab influence in all the churches and the markets. The other influence that is clear is the building that was done during the Baroque period in the 17th and 18 centuries.
Although we started at the airport in Palermo we did not have to drive through the city. The airport is located on the water on the west of the city. We travelled directly south and missed the city. This was good since upon our return we learned that Palermo is one of the worse cities for driving that we have ever been in. We actually returned the car a day early and decided to do everything by foot or bus. When we returned the car we walked to the hotel (about ¾ mile) where we were supposed to be the next day. We thought that at this time of the year there would be no problem getting a room. When we got there we learned there was a big conference in town and there were not hotel rooms available. The person at the hotel called seven of eight close-by hotels with no luck. We were prepared to sleep on a park bench for the night but we wandered back to the Avis rental place because we saw a hotel there and managed to get their last room.
The hotel was not very fancy. This is the rotary phone in our room.
The Queen at breakfast at our hotel.
The view from our room was not too bad.
The second hotel we stayed in was the Hotel Joli which was located right next to a park. It was recommended by Mimo. The building was built in the early 20th century and has recently undergone a major renovation.
This is the art that was over our bed in the hotel. We peaked in some other rooms and they had similar art.
The hotel was very close to the port area and when the big cruise lines were docked you could look down the block and see the looming hulks of the ships over the buildings.
A typical street in Palermo with lots of double parking. We have not idea how the people close to the curb get out of their parking spots. This is found all over the city.
Sicily was not completely upscale although there were some very fancy neighborhoods that we walked through. There were others where you walked down fairly small dark streets and it did not feel particularly safe. This was one of those small streets...and you can see by the way the cars are parked that this is a two-way street.
This is one of the cars parked on this street.
This was parked just up from the car. We saw these carts all over the city attached to horses. Sometimes they seemed to be used to carry things to or from the market and other times they were carrying tourists.
We found this street sign which was written in Italian, Arabic and Hebrew. We did find out that Palermo was almost 15 percent Jewish up until 1492. Spain was in control of Sicily at that time and that was the year that all Jews were kicked out of Spain including all of Sicily. Although we looked around this neighborhood we could find no other sign of anything Jewish.
One homeless/street person was in several locations and we always saw him with a big dog and a duck. The duck was normally sleeping right next to the dog.
This is the Teatro Massimo which was recently refurbished and reopened. The theater opened in 1897 and is one of the largest opera houses in Europe.
The Queen stands in front of the Teatro Politeama. The building was designed in the late 9th century.
This is the Fontana Pretoria. It was done in the 16th century and is composed of three concentric pools with statutes of mythological creatures, monsters, tritons, and sirens. Because there are nude statues it is known as the Fountain of Shame.
This is one of the typical male statues - notice the genital area is covered.
This is one of the typical female statues - notice the genital area on this one.
There are lots of tushes among the various statues.
Rome has its intersection with four fountains and so does Palermo. Called Quattro Canti it is located at the intersection of a busy and fashionable part of downtown. This was done in the 16th century when the city was divided into 4 sections and this was the meeting point that determined the sections. Each building is decorated with a statue of a Spanish King and a patron saint of a season.
The building in this square is a church but has the typical dome of a mosque.
This is San Domenico which is one of the Baroque churches in the city.
This is the inside of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio which is better known as La Martorana named after a woman who founded a Bendictine convent next to the church. The cross was built in 1143 and the inside is quite over the top with mosaics.
Here is a close up of some mosaics in La Martorana.
The main cathedral of Palermo was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption and is on the site of an Early Christian basilica which was later a mosque. The building was started in 1179 and has had many additions so that it is actually a late 18th century creation.
This chapel is for Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo.
We went down into the basement of the church where they have many sarcophagi.
We next went to the Palazzo dei Normanni which was built in 1130. We did go on a tour of the building which was in Italian so we understood very little. This is the seat of government for Sicily and we got to see the rooms where they meet. It houses the Capella Palatina which has extraordinary mosaics. The Capella was done by the Norman King, Roger II. Notice that Jesus is giving the Texas Longhorns salute with his fingers. We notice on this trip that he has his hand in different ways on every mosaic.
This is a photo of some of the mosaics on the side walls. We were not supposed to take pictures but I did take some. The two men embracing are Peter and Paul. This is not the only time we have seen them embracing which makes one wonder about their relationship. Peter appears to be wearing a blond wig in this mosaic.
This is the entrance to the Capella inside the Norman palace. Notice the two small planted trees by the entrance.
Outside the Capella we found one potted plant in the whole big area and that is where this cat decided to plant himself.
This is a photo of Chiesa del Carmine. This is the seat of the Carmelite friars and dates from the 1600s. The cupola on top is covered by tiles and is supported by four Atlantes - you can see one in the photo.
The Chiesa del Gesu was built in the late 16th century. This church represents the peak of Baroque art in Palermo.
The inlaid marble in the church was incredible and it was on every column.
This machine/ladder was obviously used to clean the marble. It was all full of marble dust so it must have been used recently.
This is San Giovanni degli Eremiti which was built in 1132 for Roger II, the king of Sicily. It was built by Arab and Norman builders and has a distinctly Arab feel and look.
San Giovanni has a very nice garden with citrus trees, pomegranate, roses and jasmine with views of the church.
One thing Palermo is known for is the markets. We wandered into at least three on our travels. There are markets that are mostly food and some with food and articles of clothing - both new and used. One market we came across had lots of antiques and some strange things for sale. One vendor was selling some old records and featured Ray Coniff's Greatest Hits.
The most interesting thing we found was a vendor selling silver torah pointers. These are used in synagogues to point to where the reader is. It just seemed strange to find them here since there have been no Jews on Sicily since 1492 when the Spanish expelled them all or made them convert. We tried bargaining with the vendor but he would not budge from the 60 Euro price for a small one. He said they were made in Poland in the late 19th century. When we later googled `torah pointers' we found that there is a whole market in counterfeit torah pointers that are being made in Poland and Russia.
Another vendor had a number of old typewriters.
One vendor just had his trunk open and he was selling loaves of bread.
One vendor had some worthless old Italian lira for sale and some worthless US dollars.
We thought this RCA record in Italian was funny. They translated `His Master's Voice” for the dog into Italian.
We wondered how the marzipan fruit was made and we found one vendor who was selling wooden molds to use in making this pastry. We guessed that after they are made in the mold they are then hand painted with food coloring.
The antique market was located on the outside of Piazza Marina - the largest square in Palermo. It was designed with a garden in the center in 1863 and large ficus trees were planted which today are very big.
This 15th century Catalan Gothic palace is now a large art gallery.
One of the most famous pieces is the Triumph of Death which is a very large wall fresco by an unknown artist. Death is riding a horse and there are many dead bodies in the fresco.
The other interesting item was many portraits and marble sculptures of Mary breast feeding Jesus. This is the only place where we have seen an exposed breast and nipple - and there were several of them in the museum.
They also have a huge collection of medieval crosses all made of wood and painted.
The highlight of the museum is the Annunciation which was painted in the late 15th century by Antonello da Messina.
They also had several 16th century paintings of Jesus being circumcised.
We found this very good pastry shop about three blocks from the Joli Hotel where we were staying. Each night we went and had an assortment of the pastries. The server wrapped them up to go in a very neat little box.
We tended towards getting lots of the marzipan.
The little dish on the left was like a miniature panna cotta - cooked cream with fruit.
We found an area with a number of restaurants located along one street that had been closed off to traffic. Each of them had an antipasto bar sitting outside. This is the one we selected for lunch one day.
This was out lunch.
This guy had too many lunches in this area.
Located on the top of a mountain about 45 minutes outside of Palermo is the town of Monreale with a cathedral that is famous for its mosaics.
The King attempts to take a picture of the two of us while holding the camera with Palermo in the background.
The cathedral, built in 1172, is a prime example of Arab-Norman art and is famous for its interior gold mosaics representing episodes from the Old Testament. This is the middle apse with Christ as the major subject.
This is a close up of the apse.
This is Adam and Eve.... all mosaics.
Next to the cathedral is a Benedictine monastery. It has two matching bell towers.
The Queen is in the interior courtyard of the monastery.
On each of the pillars in the monastery courtyard is a scene from the bible. This is Adam and Eve again. Looks like the snake is eating the apple and not Eve.
The two guys embracing are Peter and Paul. (See other comments about always seeing them embracing.)
Other column heads.
A short street in Monreale with the cathedral at the end of the street.