“Walking through the streets of Palermo, you will be captivated by the beauty of the domes and churches, but at the same time, you will be amazed at the sight of the ghettos which cluster around the fish market. But that is what makes Palermo so unforgettable – every street tells a story, and we can only really experience it personally. Palermo is famous for its markets, its heady mix of aromas, and we can also taste the famous local street food (pane con la milza, sfincone, arancini, etc.), which is authentic and unmissable!”
“This is where I found everything I expected in a city in Southern Italy. I’d even venture to say that Palermo is the city I’ve most fully enjoyed being in, ever.
The large, shabby, bustling Palermo may not be to everyone’s taste, and in fact, I’m sure the mixture of horrendous traffic, poverty, and baroque splendor might even scare the timid off. This is a city of contrasts, where monuments recalling the glory of the past stand next to and between modern residential houses and crowded neglected streets.
Buildings are forever fighting for space in a city whose Arab bazaars, thriving harbors, miserable hovels, and bustling main roads sometimes offer a shocking contrast between the past and the present. As such, it was partly – but not exclusively – thanks to the local people that it felt so exhilarating to be here. It also feels as though the city itself exerts a kind of hum of excitement.” (2017)
Getting to Palermo from our accommodation entails a longish drive, but we make relatively quick time on the motorway. It is unbelievable what a good road network Sicily has. We approach the city from the port, so we get to see some of the less upscale parts of Palermo as well. Reaching the city center, we search for a parking space as we venture into increasingly narrow streets. We will soon be swallowed up by the alleys of the old town. The streets are getting narrow and getting narrower. We are reminded of an old French film where fleeing bank robbers drove somewhere to one of the similarly narrow streets of Nice in their small cars, and the pursuers could no longer fit and got stuck between two rows of houses. We are not being chased, fortunately enough, and the locals are very helpful – maybe mostly because they would be happy for us and our car to get out of there. It’s a good thing our car is Italian-made – with a German or American car we’d surely have suffered the fate of the pursuers in the film!
After our escape, we learn our lesson, and from then on prefer to visit the fountain of Pretoria Square and the group of statues that surround it on foot. Then, of course, we walk through the must-see sights of Palermo: the Norman church of Martorana, the Palazzo dei Normanni, and the former royal palace, which is one of the most beautiful palaces in Italy. It is a pity that we cannot get into the building that was once built as an Arab fortress because the Sicilian regional government is located here. The greatest experience is, of course, Palermo Cathedral, which was once a Muslim mosque and was not converted into a Christian church until 1185. Today's building no longer boasts a 12th-century exterior – much more characteristic of its overall style are the late Gothic features and the 18th-century cupola.
We try to get back to our car the other way, shortening the distance, and taking every shortcut. This is how we get involved in the less touristy districts of Palermo, wherein some houses and their surroundings could easily shoot a movie set in a bombed WW2 city. Hundred-year-old facades tilt alarmingly, and bushy weeds grow from the bricks of the walls that have lost their plaster. We stumble into a market a few blocks away. It doesn’t really feel like an Asian kind of chaos, but a more familiar, European kind of market. The scent of Italian ham and citrus fruit wafts through the tourist-free crowd. A real southern cavalcade! After a few streets of slums, we reach the Arab part of the city: the smell of a hookah, oriental spices, only the muezzin is missing. And this is Palermo too!”
"After the quiet, peaceful small towns, Palermo, where I arrived during the evening rush hour, was quite a shock. I explored with the help of a ‘use it’ map put together by local young people, so in addition to the sights known to everyone, they also listed their own favorite places, including small, hidden shops and cozy cafes. (A similar map has been made in several big cities, including Budapest). Palermo is not as simple as other major Italian cities, where it’s easy to know just where to go for immaculate and impressive sights. There are one or two priority, must-see sights here, but beyond that, you’ve just got to head out there yourself and find the treasure among the mounds of rubbish.” (2015)