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10 Facts about the City of Palermo

Updated on April 13, 2014
Teatro Politeama-Garibaldi
Teatro Politeama-Garibaldi | Source

Palermo is the capital of Palermo province of the region of Sicily, Italy. Sicily's main port, Palermo is situated on a bay on the northwest coast of the island. The city is surrounded by a fertile plain, the Conca d'Oro ("Golden Conch"), which is hemmed in by hills and mountains. Monte Pellegrino rises 1,990 feet (607 meters) to the north of the city. Though Palermo was severely damaged in World War II, it still is richly endowed with architectural treasures contributed by the disparate cultures that succeeded one another in Sicily. The city has a population of 655,979 (2010).

1. The city's economic activity centers on its port, through which much of the island's exports and imports flow. Its chief industry is ship repairing, and it also has factories producing cement, chemicals, glass, machinery, and processed foods.

Martorana Church
Martorana Church | Source

2. Little remains of the Roman, Byzantine, and Arab city, but admirable monuments survive from the Norman period, showing strong Arab and Byzantine influences. The Palatine Chapel in the Palace of the Normans was built during the 12th century reign of Roger II, Norman king of Sicily. The wooden ceiling of the nave is Moorish in many details, whereas the mosaics that cover the walls, cupola, and apses are the work of Greek artisans from Constantinople.

3. Roger II is buried in the cathedral, which was begun in the 12th century but today is an amalgam of many later styles. Near his tomb are those of his daughter Constance; of her husband, the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI; and of their son, Emperor Frederick II, who was crowned king of Sicily in 1198.

4. Some other churches dating from the Norman period are the Martorana, San Cataldo, and San Giovanni degli Eremiti. Among the mosaics of the Martorana is one showing Christ crowning King Roger. The churches of San Cataldo and of San Giovanni degli Eremiti are capped with red cupolas.

Santa Maria della Catena
Santa Maria della Catena | Source

5. The late 15th century is represented by Santa Maria della Catena (St. Mary of the Chain) and the Abbatelli Palace. The former takes its name from the chain that once was used to close the Old Port. The latter houses the National Gallery of Sicily.

6. The Spanish Baroque style of the 17th century is preserved in the Quattro Canti ("Four Corners"), the center of Palermo formed by the intersection of two main streets. The 17th century Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini occupies one corner of the Quattro Canti. Adjacent to the church is the university.

7. The gardens of the Villa d'Aumale and the Villa Giulia were laid out in the 18th century. The Villa Giulia is at the south end of the broad promenade along the bay that leads to the 16th century city gate called the Porta Felice. Just beyond the gate is La Cala, the Old Port, now used by small boats.

8. One of Italy's finest collections of prehistoric, Etruscan, and Greek art is housed in the National Archaeological Museum, Palermo. The large 19th century Teatro Massimo marks the boundary between the old and new parts of the city.

9. The founding of Palermo is attributed to the Phoenicians. The city, known to the ancient world as Panormus, passed to the Carthaginians, and then to the Romans in 254 B.C. It became a flourishing municipium and, under Augustus, a colony. With the decline of Rome it came under Vandal and Gothic rule. The Byzantines held it from 535 to the early 9th century, when it fell to the Muslims and became a cultural center of the Arab Empire.

10. In 1072 the city was captured by the Normans, who made it a flourishing commercial center and, after Roger II was crowned king, the capital of the kingdom of Sicily. Palermo's prosperity continued under its Hohenstaufen ruler Frederick, who was crowned Holy Roman emperor in 1220. After Frederick's death in 1250, the pope conferred the kingdom on Charles of Anjou, who was the brother of Louis IX, king of France. The Angevins transferred the capital from Palermo to Naples. A revolt broke out in Palermo in 1282 that ended in the replacement of Angevin by Aragonese rule of the island. Spanish control brought with it a long period of decline. In 1860 Palermo was seized by Giuseppe Garibaldi, and in 1861 it was joined to the united kingdom of Italy. In 1943 the city was repeatedly bombed before Anglo-American troops captured it and the rest of Sicily.

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