More than 1 million people live in Palermo and its immediate suburbs, a region that is believed to have been first settled as early as 8,000 B.C. Early Greek settlers dubbed the area Panormus, meaning “all port,” in honor of the natural harbor where so many boats and ferries still ply the waters today. Unfortunately, the architecture and monuments of Sicily's first people suffered remarkable damage during Allied bombing raids during World War II. Not much has been rebuilt or restored since troops invaded the island during the summer of 1943, so the island's beauty is now visible only through its weathered scars. Main sights include the town cathedral, another church called Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, the royal chapel Cappella Paletina, and the Teatro Massimo opera house.
The people who used the heliometer in the Cathedral of Sicily believed that every twenty-four-hour day began at sunrise, which of course meant that days began at different true times throughout the year. Always happy to stand apart, the Sicilians had no problem with the fact that their days had different times than those in Rome, including at St. Peter's Basilica.
Cathedral of Palermo
The Cathedral of Palermo dates back to 1185, but renovations changed its appearance to reflect the architectural periods from the 1300s to the early 1800s. There is an interesting feature inside, called a heliometer, a word that derives from the Greek for “sun” and “measure.” Essentially, the cathedral's heliometer — believed to have first been used in the late 1600s — is a hole in a dome that lets a sunbeam through so that it can shine onto the floor. The ends of a north-south line on the floor indicate the summer and winter solstices, and various points represent other dates throughout the year. The tool helped the church figure out when it was time to celebrate Easter, among other things.
The cathedral is open daily from 7
Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio
The stunning mosaic interior of Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, also known as La Martorana, makes it one of Palermo's most oft-visited churches (and premier wedding sites). Construction appears to have begun in the 1140s, and the interior mosaics also date back to that time, having been created by Byzantine artisans. Many of the mosaics are heavy with gold, which makes the interior positively sparkle when sunlight flows through the windows.
Is the sweet treat frutta di Martorana
Yes indeed. A convent of Benedictine nuns, founded by a woman named Eloisa Martorana, absorbed the church in the 1430s. The nuns were well known for their marzipan molds shaped like various fruits — hence the enduring name frutta di Martorana, which you can buy in Palermo today.
The church is open daily, but the best time to see the light glint on the mosaics is early morning. Doors usually open at 9:30
Cappella Paletina, which translates as the Palatine Chapel, is the royal chapel of the Norman Kings of Sicily. Its shimmering interior mosaics, like those at La Martorana, are exceptionally memorable, adorning virtually every inch of the walls, arches, and dome. Historians believe that most, if not all, of the mosaics date to the 1100s, and the scenes depicting Acts of the Apostles are renowned for their Byzantine beauty. The chapel is located within Palazzo dei Normanni, a palace that once served as the seat of the Kings of Sicily.
Palermo's Teatro Massimo is the biggest opera house in Italy, and the third-biggest in Europe after those in Paris and Vienna. It took more than twenty years to build, finally opening in 1897 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff. Originally, the theater was to have seated 3,000 people, but today, it holds just shy of 1,400. If you're one of the lucky visitors who gets a seat inside, then you might recognize some of the locations where director Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes from The Godfather III.
Twenty-five-minute guided tours in multiple languages are available for 5 Tuesday through Sunday from 10